The crux of intersectionality encourages us to realize how various forms of oppression work against the variety of the collective human experience. This phenomena was recently highlighted in this viral video which poignantly showcased the severity of street harassment.
The video project was a joint effort between Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment nonprofit, and Rob Bliss Creative, a viral video marketing agency. Together, their work can be considered a success; with over 15 million YouTube views, street harassment is now the go-to feminist talking point.
The video succeeds in making us realize that street harassment is a subtle form of gender-based violence. It’s a sexist element meant to attack the nature of female identity. The video is courageous and timely, especially as media caught wind of the grotesque murder of Mary “Unique” Spears, and the assault of an unidentified women. Both women were targeted after they turned down romantic advances.
But when I watched the video, my Black feminist inklings didn’t emotionally tingle. Sure, I placed the video within my Black feminist framework, but I didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the message without significant reservation.
My hesitancy comes from the racially insensitive overtones which riddled what could have been a perfect message against street harassment and sexism. As Hanna Rosin of Slate pointed out, white men were explicitly edited out of the video.
Rob Bliss took ownership of the exclusion, justifying that certain external factors precluded the participation of white men in the video. But, as Rosin notes “That may be true but if you find yourself editing out all the catcalling white guys, maybe you should try another take.”
Bliss is familiar with racially insensitive controversy. In promoting Grands Rapid, Michigan, he was criticized for excluding people of color and the poor.
The multimedia industry is trained to play on societal temperatures. This basic fact does not escape this recent mark in social justice filmography. After all, there’s a reason why Hollaback! and Rob Bliss chose actress Shoshana B. Roberts to play the role of the harassed woman. She’s unbelievably attractive, curvaceous, and is racially ambiguous; a factor which relies on our obsession with proximity to whiteness while wrapped in exoticism.
This is no way justifies what she went through on her 10-hour journey. Nor does it excuse the heinous rape and death threats that she’s been receiving.
But her selection does complicate the ultimate mission if all factors are contextualized under the mongrelization of the Black male. The video perpetuates the fiction of Black men being uncontrollable sexual deviants with no regard for chivalrous civility. Throughout history, white racists and propagandists propelled this myth to justify racism. They were especially particular about the Black males’ rapid sexual appetite for white female flesh. The hypersexualization of the Black male has contributed to the destruction of the Black communal unit as a whole.
And the remnants of this trope are still felt today. We saw it with Donald Sterling, who was especially troubled that his racially ambiguous girlfriend V. Staviano, was keeping company with BigBlackSuperSexualMongrelNegroes.
It can be construed that this video plays on this trope, and that disturbs me.
Which leads to the personal realization that my Blackness often comes before my Womanhood. Black unity is more significant to me than my gender politics. Often times, I feel the weight of my oppression on my Blackness versus my gender.
My gender identity is relatively new to me. Feeling shunned from the mainstream feminist community, my pro-Black politic embodies the complexities of intersectionality in ways that feminism fails. As feminism becomes more trendy and corporate, the message of gender equity is lost. Recently, feminism shies away from intersectional racial politics and ethnic experiences in favor or YouTube views and soundbites.
The pro-Black struggle hasn’t sold out in this way. It hasn’t weakened the message in favor of corporate sponsorship, nor has it compromised the underlying premise that racism exists and hides in between institutions, structures, and subconsciousness.
Furthermore, my pro-Black politic encompasses my gender, it doesn’t exclude it. My pro-Black politic captures that not only have my people been marginalized for centuries, but some factors of said marginalization is especially unique to both my race and my gender.
Feminism, as a stand alone belief, doesn’t speak to me in the ways that my Blackness does because it refuses to acknowledge the intricacy of my existence. And that’s why I put my race before my gender.
Arielle Newton, Editor-in-Chief. Get at us @BlkMillennials.