Tag Archives: Rape Culture

Existing Resistance

It’s a Saturday night, and I’m in the first floor bathroom of the Brooklyn Museum, waiting on a friend. The whole museum is packed with people for First Saturday, and the bathroom is no exception. I look at the reflections of black women fixing their hair, touching up their makeup, smiling at each other. Strangers compliment each other’s style. It feels nice in here. My friend comes out, and we exit into a wave of black bodies, with occasional allies.

I did not expect to be here, or in a situation like this, for a long time. Two weeks ago, I stayed home during the Women’s March. Crowds make me nervous. Marches give me flashbacks to marching around campus with The Former Editor of the Ankh, and the aftermath that came from sharing the post I’d written about him, mainly from the people who had organized and marched with us.

I feel like self care at this moment in history is a luxury. Every moment that I take to recharge or focus on my mental state is a moment I am not organizing or protesting or calling my five representatives, something the newly woke people on my Facebook timeline constantly point out to me. And yet, it is so hard for me to get my body out of my house on the weekend. It is so hard to leave my bed, or turn on the phone when I’m not at work. I’m afraid that if I try to push myself in my Off time, I’ll have nothing left for when I need to be On.

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At the end of chess club, two students are late being picked up. They hang out as I organize my classroom.

“Why was Martin Luther King Jr. shot?” they ask.

“Do you really want to know?” I ask them. The two black five-year-olds nod, and move to lie down on my carpet, heads propped up in their hands as they listen to me explain capitalism, slavery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights in as simple a way as possible. Their parents come in midway through, standing silently in the back of the classroom and listening as I speak.

“As long as black people believe themselves to be strong, and powerful, and worthy of good things and good treatment,” I start to wrap up, “And as long as they continue to fight for everything they deserve, they will be a threat to wealthy white people. People care about money more than anything else. So they need to take away our leaders so that we become unorganized, and they need to do it in a way that scares us so badly that we stop resisting. That’s why they shot him. But it hasn’t worked yet. The struggle continues, and we keep resisting, because we have to. You have to, too.” I’m not even sure I’m saying the correct things, but no one says otherwise.

When everyone is gone from chess club, another teacher finds me on the floor behind a table.

“I’m just exhausted,” I tell her.

“I know how you feel,” she says. “Sometimes while I’m talking to them, I just get so scared. When we talked about Civil Rights and what’s happening today, they were like, ‘Wait, this isn’t over yet?’ and then I think, ‘Maybe you don’t actually have a future!’”

The next day, after Guided Reading, I tell the kids about Huey P Newton and Shaka Zulu.

“Teaching IS activism!” a former professor writes to me in an email.

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 This time last week, I was sobbing on the balcony inside Turtle Bay, because the bouncer had insisted I give up my mace, and my friend had wanted to go inside anyway.

“It’s not safe here, though,” I’d said. “I’m not safe. I can’t defend myself. They aren’t even checking any guy’s pockets! How can a place put out a dress code that makes it nearly impossible for women to have pockets, that makes it so women need to carry purses, and then only check purses and not check into men’s pockets?”

The bouncer was inside now. I walked up to him.

“So you just that guy in here with his knife?” I asked. There was no knife, but he had no way of knowing that. “You didn’t check him! You haven’t checked any men! How do you know he doesn’t have roofies?”

“Listen, ma’am,” he told me. “Usually, we do. We’re usually supposed to check men, too.”

“That’s not helpful,” I told him, “Because you’re being negligent right now. You’re only going into purses here, not pockets. So when I walk home tonight, I’ll be defenseless. And if anyone can’t walk home tonight, if anyone gets date-raped in here because you allowed someone in here with drugs in their pocket, that’ll be on you.”

“Whoa, whoa,” he held up his hands. “That’s not my call!”

“It’s completely your call whether you check or not!” I yelled, before walking away.

Triggers, man. They really sneak up on you out of nowhere. I hadn’t realized how much my peace of mind hinged upon my ability to fight off attackers. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I’ve internalized that I cannot control what other people will do to my body. That at this point, leaving my house makes me feel like I’m Asking For It. When people had started to write off the Women’s March as a white feminist movement that prioritized pink pussies grabbing back over all else, I’d felt validated for not going. Now, I feel Sojourner Truth by my shoulders, sadly whispering in my ear that I’m a woman too, and those issues actually still do severely affect me. You can’t protest if you’re afraid of going outside.

Everything is political. I lean into nihilism. I tell my students about Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Charles G. Woodson and Madame C. J. Walker. I read about Josephine Baker, already planning a school wide celebration for May 20.

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Tonight, Saturday night, I’m wearing jeans, a bodysuit, and an oversized cardigan. I have pockets, and new mace in my boot. As my friend and I walk out of the bathroom, our outfits blend into the crowd. Everyone falls uniquely into the same categories, either casually chic with splashes of ankara, or dressed fully to impress. Men are in dashikis. The DJ plays “Wobble” and everyone in the museum begins to fall into step. A little later, I walk past OSHUN, ever-sporting tribal marks, as they pose for pictures.

“This is a lot,” my friend says, and I agree with her. But in this case, “a lot” doesn’t mean “too much”, so we stay. We stay, and sit, and talk, and people watch. We catch the end of a performance.

“I was feeling so guilty about coming out tonight,” I say, “When I haven’t been going to any protests or being especially active. But this is sort of what we’re protesting for, isn’t it? These people all look like they’re enjoying themselves. They look happy. We need spaces like this to be human, to feel free. To just Be. And events like this are important to come to, because their popularity will increase their frequency, and because I love the way everyone looks. Afropunk used to be the only place black people could congregate en masse dressed like this. It’s like non-political existence is the greatest resistance. You don’t see this all the time, especially now, but it feels so normal and that’s beautiful.” Maybe we could make the world like the Brooklyn Museum, I think. Is that what Love Trumps Hate is all about?

When we leave to walk outside, I check to make sure my mace is still easily accessible. My friend asks me if I think I’ll pass my fears and anxieties onto my children. I think about the babies I saw at the museum tonight, the toddlers with their mothers and the happy families.

“No,” I decide. “They’ll know the world they live in, but all of my fears would be irrational to anyone to hasn’t had my experiences. I wouldn’t want to pollute their mental states. I’d shield them.”

“But you’d want to protect them,” she presses. “You’d say, ‘Here, take this pepper spray just in case,’ and then put it into your daughter’s head.”

“No, no, no, I wouldn’t.”

“Yes, yes, yes, you would! Because you’d be too afraid, otherwise, for her safety.”

And that’s when I remember: “You’re right! I would be too afraid, but that’s why I’m not having children anyway. I don’t want to pass anything on, and I don’t want to worry about anyone being raped or murdered. So this conversation is irrelevant!” I feel triumphant, but she’s laughing.

“You forgot that for a moment though, didn’t you?” she says. “You forgot that you decided that. The museum made you forget tonight.”

She’s right. For three hours, surrounded by generations of existing black people; smiling, confident women; and happy children, I forgot my learned fears. The fear came back when we left the museum, but differently. This time, it was accompanied by a tiny bit of hope. It was dulled enough to allow an asterisk next to my No Children decision.

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NGs

Walking to work, walking to work. It’s cold outside. I keep wrapping my scarf around the lower half of my face, but the loops somehow keep slipping down and exposing me to the wind. I start over again. Step, step, step, wrap. Step, step, step, wrap. Freeze (arms only; feet keep stepping) for half a second, return arms swiftly while casually to my sides. Tilt chin forward, fix eyes ahead on nothing, step, step, step, step, step.

There’s a man on the sidewalk, with a dog. The dog isn’t scary; he’s just part of the scenery. It’s the man. He isn’t necessarily scary, either. I just don’t know if he’s the type to try to call out and bother me or ignore me. I hope it’s the latter, make sure my hips aren’t swaying and my body isn’t suggestive, and walk past.

“Good morning” he says, when I’m behind him.

It isn’t a nice “good morning”, or a friendly “good morning”. It’s a “good morning” that makes a point, and the point is: You Probably Thought I Was Gonna Try to Holler or Bother You or Some Disrespectful Shit Like That, But INSTEAD I’m Just Out Here Trying to Greet People like the Good Fucking Person I Am and Look At You, Rude As Hell Just Walking By Any Old Stranger Without Having The Decency to Acknowledge Them Because of Some Preconceived Notion You Had About Men But You Should Feel Bad Because I Sure Proved You Wrong, Didn’t I?

No, you didn’t.

Honestly, I might have felt bad if he’d said, “Good morning” in a completely friendly, genuine manner. I probably would have turned around to say, “Good morning” right back. That’s happened a few times. This time, though, was just gross. It oddly reminded me of a similar scenario:

Walking home, walking home. It’s dark, and late. Two men are strolling in front of me, taking up most of the sidewalk. I’m a fast walker, to the point where the gait of these two men has my femurs and fibulas trying to jump out of their skin to get around them. I really want to pass the men, but to do so I’d now have to walk between them at an awkward pace. I don’t want to do that. Don’t want to draw attention to myself. So I wait until we’re all at a corner, and then use the widest part to quickly, yet casually, walk around them at as much of a distance as possible.

They notice me.

I can tell, because they’ve been talking the whole time, but are now both suddenly silent. Are they looking at me? It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, It’s probably nothing anyway.

“Don’t worry, miss,” one of the men says. “We’re nice. We won’t bother you. You don’t need to be afraid.”

Except now I’m not afraid, I’m angry. Angry at myself for being read so easily, and angry at the man for talking to me. If you recognized that I could be scared of you, and understood why, then why wouldn’t you change anything about the situation to to put me more at ease? Why not move to one side of the sidewalk so as to stop dominating it? Why not continue to talk with your friend, and not make salient my passing in front of you? Why not –

At the gym, at the gym. Cycling through the elliptical. Cycling, cycling, cycling. I’ve started using mantras to motivate me. I remember when my research adviser told me not to eat for thirteen hours before dancing, because it would make the body get stressed and go into a trance, so I could dance better. I’ve started to go into trances on the machines, feeling my body occupied by something that wants to make it powerful, rather than overpower it. I come up with curses for the men who have wronged me, and chant them to myself in time with the motion of my feet. To the second rapist, I wish “impotence…impotence…impotence”. To the liar I wish “isolation…reflection…penance…healing…”. To the first, I have yet to come up with a vengeance that is good enough. But everything helps, and when I get off I’ll feel accomplished and calm.

“How you doing?” asks the man who has walked past me four times now, whom I have ignored four times now. He hops onto the machine next to mine and starts chatting, interrupting my mantra flow. I don’t even completely know what he’s saying. Something about ‘Have I read his book yet?’ That’s right, he sent me a link to a book he’s written on finance. When he introduced himself, he immediately told me how lucrative his business is.

Gross.

“No,” I tell him. I could add that I haven’t had time, but I don’t feel like conversing. I want to get back to cursing. I turn my head away to focus, but he keeps trying to pull me back to talk about nothing (and not the good kind of nothing), and I keep turning back away. Finally, he says,

“You seem like you’re nervous, or scared, or something.”

I want to scream at him. I’m not nervous, or scared. We’re in the gym. I could get off my machine, kick him in the crotch, and leave. He’s at the disadvantage right now. I’m just annoyed, and bothered, and unable to focus on my work. But I look directly into his eyes and understand that he thinks I’m flustered because of the attention of a rich businessman. This whole situation is a power trip. I’m at the gym, so I’m probably insecure, and don’t know my own worth. He’s sees it in me, sees me as young and inexperienced, and is swooping down to show me as much of the world as will get him into my workout leggings.

Gross.

“You don’t have to be,” he’s still talking. “I’m not here to bother you. I’m nice.” Flashes his teeth.

Gross.

I don’t even know what I say back, but he finally leaves. I think about coming up with a mantra that curses men who understand what their presence could negatively do to women, but allow it anyway. If you think that your unwanted presence scares me, take it away. Don’t force your unnecessary company on me, simply because you want my attention, and want me to see what a nice guy you can be in the uncomfortable situation of your design. If I’m on the street and I clearly don’t want to be bothered, you telling me that you aren’t bothering me is still bothering me. If If you rudely tell me good Morning, to show how polite you can actually be, you were still rude. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want anyone speaking to me, that I need space to be in my head by myself, and your talking to me to disprove my thoughts is an intrusion that immediately strips the validity from whatever you might be saying.

“Well how am I ever supposed to talk to girls then?” a friend asks me as I complain to him.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Don’t? Not if you can tell they don’t want you to. Nothing positive can come from forced interactions. Is that really hard to understand?”

Who Wants to Be in a Piece?

I wrote this to be performed, then realized I have no performers. Eventually I want to turn it into some sort of visual story. As my visual skills are lacking, that may take a while. So in the meantime, here.

 

I heard that after she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her, so that she could walk outside and be sad without wearing sunglasses.

I wish I could do that. All of that.

I wish I could be publically sad. I wish I could walk around crying when I felt like it. More than that, though, I wish that I could want to go somewhere that no one knew me. I wish that living amongst strangers were an attractive dream, and not a nightmare. It would allow for the possibility of escape. But right now, walking amongst strangers is one of the most terrifying experiences I go through.

What are the social rules for when you walk through strangers?

Repeat: “After she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her, so that she could walk outside and be sad without wearing sunglasses. I wish I could –”

Whom do you greet? At whom should you smile? I want to be friendly; I want to be kind.

In high school, a speaker came to our school to talk about bullying. He told us the story of a man who was so depressed that he jumped off a bridge. In his suicide note, the man said that he would turn around and commit to living, if one person smiled at him on his walk to the bridge from his home.

I think about that story every day.

I think about calls I never made, and texts I sent too late.

I think about my own jumper.

I don’t want to be the inadvertent cause of another.

BUT –

I don’t really want to be that friendly, either. To strangers. Who don’t know me, and who could misinterpret my intentions in smiling. I don’t want to smile at the wrong person and then regret it.

Hidden Thought: “Edward”

What I didn’t realize would happen after I was raped: I became afraid of men. I don’t think many people think about the extent to which this happens. You think, Oh, well of course. A man did this to you, so you’ll have trust issues. What you don’t realize is that there will come a time when you’re walking through the city with an acquaintance, and you will pass by a group of guys on the corner. You will notice them noticing you, and why shouldn’t they? You look good. Hair nice, new lipstick, skirt with the slits. Let ‘em watch! you’ll think as you walk by, until you notice them peel off the corner and start to walk behind you. And for three blocks, as they continue to walk behind you, your acquaintance will talk and talk and never notice how silent you are, how rigid you are becoming. As you hear the low murmur of their voices, punctured by sinister laughs, as you begin to be confused about whether their footsteps are shaking the Earth, or you are just shaking, you’ll be thinking about the keys in your purse, wondering, if I push them between my fingers, can these work as brass knuckles? Or will that just make them mad, and rougher with me? If I just submit without trying, will they be gentler? Will anyone believe me after? Will they blame me?

Thought: “Of course they will.”

*Everyone pauses, Thoughts look at Khalilah, then all resume walking*

Repeat: “What I didn’t realize would happen after I was raped: I became afraid of men. I don’t think – ”

You will be scared out of your mind, because you will know that those guys are there to rape you, that they will rape you. This you will know, even after it turns out that the guys were just walking, and have turned off somewhere else, because this is what you have internalized: if someone you know and trust, someone who could be a friend, could do this to you, then there is nothing to stop a stranger, someone with no connection to you, and no reason to care about you, from violating you.

From One side: “You’re stupid to want to look nice. You’re an idiot, trying to be attractive, just luring them in, and expecting them not to touch you. *Getting closer to Khalilah’s face* Don’t smile at anyone! Do you want to be asking for it?”

From Other side: “Edward.”

*Thoughts begin to walk in imperfect circle around Khalilah, stepping out of the circle to speak, and then re-entering as she speaks*

There are too many dates on the calendar. On February 16, we found his suicide note.

“Don’t let him die.”

On December 24, he told me that he was better. That he was committed to being healthy.

“What’s wrong with him, Khalilah?”

On March 25, a jogger found his body.

“Why can’t you be friendly?”

On May 20, he told me he loved me as he invaded my body.

“I never said, ‘he did not rape Khalilah’. Stop worrying that I’m spreading a counter narrative about you, and worry about yourself.”

*Khalilah stops smiling, turns from a Thought*

“Well fuck you then, bitch.”

From other side: “Edward.”

*Everyone stops walking*

You ever get to a place where your traumas seem to trump you? Where you’ve got to choose to let one run wild over you, so you can combat the other? It’s like a game a whack-a-mole where I am both batter and target.

*Resume walking randomly, not in a circle. Thoughts should be pretending they have somewhere to go, intersecting Khalilah/each other like traffic, but without forcing anything (if that makes sense)*

He is 1,728 days dead. And she would be 301 days old. I’ve got ghosts on each shoulder.

Does he have any? Does he have ours? The man whose name I am legally no longer allowed to say. Would he deny his daughter? My daughter? The proof of his perpetration. His friends, fellow activists, would no longer be able to send me hateful messages, or accusations, or spread their guilt-induced counter narratives, not with her around. She would have to be female, I know, because I would hate any son in his image. Any man.

“Edward.”

Please, please stop saying his name. I’m not even thinking it. I’m not saying it.

Thought from other side of the room: “You can still feel his dreads sometimes. You still see him when your eyes are open, and feel him when your eyes are closed. You can still hear the contrast between your moans and his laughter – ”

*Khalilah runs over as it speaks, faster now*

I don’t want to, I don’t want to. Those aren’t things I want to hold onto, those are memories I want out of my thoughts –

Thought from the other side of the room: “Edward.”

*Khalilah whirls around*

NO! Stop. He isn’t here. Why don’t people understand the power of names, the power of calling someone? Call a living person, and you summon an idea of them. When someone is dead, the idea of them becomes their essence. I do not want to deal with his ghost right now. His nonexistence. He left. He left – me. You cannot call him; I cannot call him – 

*Thoughts have been moving closer to Khalilah as she unravels. They pull cords out of their pockets, and begin to move quickly around Khalilah like a Maypole, binding her*
*Different thoughts begin to speak, in round form. After the first gets out two sentences, the next begins, and the next after the second’s first two sentences*

“He is seventeen-hundred, twenty-eight days dead. And she would be 301 days old. There are too many dates on the calendar. On February 16, we found his suicide note. On December 24, he told me that he was better. That he was committed to being healthy. On March 25, a jogger found his body. On March 20, he told me he loved me as he invaded my body. You ever get to a place where your traumas seem to trump you? Where you’ve got to choose one to let run wild all over you, so you can combat the other?”

“I wish I could be publically sad. I wish I could walk around crying when I felt like it. After she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her. More than that, though, I wish I could want to go to a place where no one knew me. What are the social rules for when you walk through strangers? Whom do you greet? At whom should you smile?”

“You think, Oh, well of course. A man did this to you, so you’ll have trust issues. 

*When Khalilah is sufficiently bound, one Thought moves to cover her mouth. She struggles around, moving her head to get out the last bit of monologue, while one Thought goes to get tape*

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT MY THOUGHTS ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER MY EXISTENCE. SOMETIMES I THINK I’LL HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN GETTING BY AND LIVING, AND ACTUALLY MAKING SENSE OF WHAT’S HAPPENING.

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT I’LL GO INTO MY HEAD TO ORGANIZE MY THOUGHTS, AND I’LL GET LOST. I’LL LOSE CONTROL, AND MY THOUGHTS WILL ALL SWIRL UP AND CONSUME ME AND I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO COMPLETELY SPEAK AGAIN. IT’LL JUST BE ME, IN MY HEAD, MUTE, WITH MY TRAUMAS.

*Thought finally succeeds in taping Khalilah’s mouth shut. It gently runs its hands over the tape, pressing it down more firmly, as the others stand watching, still holding their ends of the cords*

*A New Person enters, dressed in ordinary clothes*

New Person: “What are you thinking about?”

Surreality

“How are you?” my white coworkers ask me at a meeting. I’m at a meeting.

This morning, I woke up and saw that Trump was elected president. And then I re-saw it, and re-saw it, because I couldn’t believe it was real. I don’t believe my reaction was uncommon. Apparently, though, it was uncommon enough to allow for the reality of the election results.

I really am a minority in this country.
That’s something you always know, but it rarely feels concrete to this extreme.

And now I’m at my real meeting, waiting for it to start, with real tears welling up in my eyes.

I am so. Scared.
And. Disillusioned.

“At least Trump is pro charter schools,” one teacher says. “So we’re safe! We still have our jobs.”

I don’t want to work here anymore. I don’t want to work here anymore.


“These charter schools weren’t even started by a black person, but they’re supposed to help black people?” he said angrily, at my old campus. He was a product of one of the first. “So much of it is bullshit. I used to get in trouble all the time, because if you cut corners in line you’d have to go to the end. They had colored lines on the floor to tell you where to walk! I was not about that shit, like are you serious? It was way too controlling, so I always cut corners just to show how stupid it was, and then I’d get sent to the end.”

“I think the benefit people see in these schools is that they recognize some of the world we live in,” I said. “We live in a white-dominated society. So if a white person wants to create schools that teach black kids how to successfully conduct themselves in white society, some people are for that. Some people think it can help. And we hope that along the way, the kids will gain confidence and connections. Maybe they’ll turn out like you, and see it all as a system of bullshit and wrongness, but at least you ended up at an elite university, with better tools to attack your problems.”

“Who would want to function well in white society though?” was all he had to say.


I always bought into the idea of teaching the whole person. I thought that learning chess would help with decision making, and round out the soul. I believed that it would help to learn how to conduct oneself in the master’s house.

What do they say? You can’t dismantle the master’s house with his own tools?


I need to go away. I’m still at my meeting, being antisocial as anything. I’m the only woman in the room, and I’m already pretty quiet to start with. I’m the only black adult in the room. White men, white men, white men!


“We’re not being sad today,” they say. “It’s bad, but we still have hope.”

“My friend got called a nigger in Times Square last night after the results came out,” I didn’t tell them.

“I’m just going to put positivity into the world today,” one guy says. “I’m going to smile at everyone I see.”

“Dude, you can’t do that!” The leader of the meeting says. “You’re a white man with a bald head! Someone called me a racist today when I ordered my coffee, and I voted for Clinton!”

“Clinton is racist too,” I actually do say.

I need to get out of here. I need to go to sleep.

No. I can’t sleep anymore. I need to be active. I need to do something. I need to quit my job. I need to take my money out of the bank. I need to join a gym, and get in shape. No longer for a rape revenge fantasy, but for actual survival. I need to cut down my eating, and cut out bad things. Carbs, sugar, anything that’s processed. I need to change my lifestyle.

I need to watch the news and read the papers. I need to stop hiding from everything. I need to be fully present in the world, because not enough people are, and then something like this happens. And in order to be fully present, I need to fully process every bad thing that has happened to me. I need to cry for a week, understand how things have happened and why. I need to get the flashbacks out of my head, or at least get to the point where my lions are only kittens. I need to, I need to, because my president has advised grabbing women by their pussies, and I have never taken the time to fully think about those implications.

I need to make art, and join festivals. I need to learn how to sew my own clothes, so I can stop being dependent upon companies, because if I lose my job, I lose my ability to go out and be frivolous.


“Political consultants have been predicting this for months,” one guy says. “It’s not about reality to them. It’s about opinions. And if people think that there are more pink Skittles in a bag of Skittles, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

Am I a Skittle? Are people like me Skittles?

I need the white men in the room to stop asking how I am without really caring about the answer, or I will scream.

Security

The one exception to the safety rule, the one time I feel completely comfortable in my body’s space, is very irrational. But I’ve dealt with so many irritating irrationalities, finding a helpful one is not something I’m going to worry about.

“I love your shirt!” the girl at the register tells me. And tells me, and tells me. She can’t get over it. “It’s just so cool, and the thing is most people probably don’t know what it means.”
Ah, we have a connection. Black women who share some level of consciousness.
“Yeah,” I say, gesturing with my thumb toward Darren. “He didn’t even know what it meant.”
She looks at him and nods like it’s nothing unexpected. “You should walk down 125th street in that.”

I bought this shirt partially because I like the design, and partially to spite my landlord. Since the second week I moved in, we’ve had ridiculous male-female debates over issues such as weaves, respectability, harassment, and hoe-ing.

“You’re a hotep,” I finally tell him.
“A what?” he asks.
“Look it up,” I tell him.

“This says, ‘an Egyptian word that means “to be at peace”‘,” he reads off his phone. “Hey, I like that!”
“You’re looking at the wrong definition,” I reply.

“Woah, woah, woah!” he comes back an hour later, reading off of Urban Dictionary.
“‘Black men who are only concerned about matters of social justice when it comes to black men and have little or no regard for the health and well-being of other members of the black race unless those people can serve to uphold their misogynistic societal ideas.
Hoteps are bitter black men who are somewhat progressive though undereducated on issues of racial prejudice and use pro-black rhetoric to support ideas that are clearly not in the best interest of all black people.
These men are typically misogynists who display a particularly high level of disrespect for the thoughts, bodies and experiences of black women, black homosexuals and black children. These men regularly espouse anti-intellectual and anti-scientific beliefs about nutrition, women’s menstrual cycles and child development on social media.’
“That’s not me! I’m not a misogynist, I love women! They just don’t know how to love themselves right!”

“Mmm-hmm,” I say, and go upstairs to order my shirt.
Four weeks later, I have it. It’s oversized, and I crop it badly, but not so badly that it doesn’t still look god when I wear it. A black tank, with orange and green designs around large letters that spell out, “AIN’T NO HOTEPPIN’

The shirt is perfect. I wear it the entire weekend. I go everywhere in it. My waist beads poke out from underneath it, the burgundy of my combat boots complements it nicely, I pair it with leggings and long skirts, jackets and sweaters, or by itself. Any other shirt that was cut this way, I would wear it in the daytime only. But this shirt, I almost prefer to wear in the dark. It protects me better than mace or an oversize pullover ever could.

Why? I think it’s the message. The message for monsters to leave me alone. Ain’t no hoteppin’ means I don’t have time for bullshit, for men who would harass me or waste my time, follow me or try to hurt me. When I wear the shirt, I am unequivocally Not Asking For It, or For Anything other than Respect. And despite the fact that most monsters probably don’t understand the writing, I do, and that means my mental state is secure and confident. I can stare men down, I can sit where I want on trains, and I can walk through the dark with less fear.

“Dear L train,
Thanks for Jessie. She wore, skinny jeans, no lipstick, and a pair of scuffed black boots that looked like they could kick God’s teeth in.”

That’s how I feel. Safe in my brain, secure in my body. I feel like even if a third rape were to be attempted, I would be able to stop it. And I would know that no one could ever call it my fault. That’s probably the best part: existing, and only being responsible for myself, without mentally taking on the responsibilities of those who would do me harm. It makes me feel lighter, clearer.

I wish I could translate it to my other clothes. I wish I didn’t need to wear my lack of consent in writing, in order to feel safer.

For now though, if it works, I’ll take it.

A Memory

The first time I can remember an adult man making me uncomfortable, I think I was about 6 years old. If I’d met him at my age today, I wouldn’t call him a man, I don’t think. He was probably only in his late teens, early twenties at most. This is what my twenty-two year old mind rationalizes. But to little me, he was a freaking man, and that impression clouds my memory.

He was also an art teacher at my summer camp. I think his name was David.

When I was younger, I would go to summer camp at the local elementary school. A lot of my friends did too, as well as students from the four other elementary schools in the district. The other girls in my camp group weren’t people I knew, although most of them knew each other, so there were a lot of times in the beginning of camp when we were supposed to be quiet in an activity and they’d all be talking. I mention this to highlight that while they got attention for talking to the friends they already had, I would stick out as a quiet girl. This was years before I became a quiet person. I was actually quite boisterous and loud as a child and I made friends pretty easily, but I also didn’t stress about it. So for the first few days of camp, I was very content keeping to myself in our group’s classroom activities, then ramping up the energy when I was back with my friends in the gym. My gym antics won me a lot of new friends. My classroom silences won over my teachers, sometimes a little too much.

David liked me because he though I was so polite, and also pretty. He said this, not just to me, but to the rest of my group, and really anyone around whenever we happened to bump into each other. The bumping into each other happened a lot more than you’d expect. I didn’t just see him in class. He was on the playground. He was in the hallways. I saw David more than I saw any other teachers or counselors, and each time I ran into him, he’d praise me. He got into the habit of just picking me up and putting me high into the air. He made a song about me, and he’d dance around like a lunatic singing it. When I saw him in the hallways, he wouldn’t let me go by without hugging him first.

I hated all of it.

At first, it was okay. It even helped me befriend the other girls in the group, but barely. The thing was, promises on promises, I was the only kid in camp who was being sung to. It made me stand out. I was always the first kid who “got” to be lifted into the air; it made me cool that I didn’t even try for it.

But I didn’t like standing out in this way. I didn’t feel that I merited preferential treatment. I found it strange, the way David held me when he lifted me up, with his hand spread so that his palm held my stomach while his fingers could press into my chest. When I was walking in the hallway, I just wanted to be able to walk without being stopped and pressed into a man’s body. Being serenaded made me boil over with embarrassment from the first day, but no one seemed to notice or care. If anything, my embarrassment made them all laugh, and David played off of that and hammed it up even harder.

The only thing I appreciated was that he appreciated how polite I was. My mom had stressed politeness pretty hard to me, and I knew it would make her proud that an adult had taken notice of my good behavior. So throughout the entire summer of camp, I was incredibly polite to David. I endured everything with a smile, and if I felt particularly tired or uncomfortable on a certain day, I would simply run and hide in the bathroom until he was no longer around. That’s how I got through the summer.

The next summer, I went back to camp and David was still there. I didn’t want to go through another summer of alternating hiding and endurance, so I decided to change my politeness tactics. That first day, we were coming inside from recess and David was in the doorway, waiting for me. He growled out my name, then began to bend down to scoop me into a hug.

“Hi David,” I said to him, extending my right hand for him to shake (in place of the hug). “Would you mind not singing to me this summer, please?”

In the car ride home, I told my mom about how David had been making me uncomfortable for so long, but how I had finally asked him to stop. I knew that she would be proud of me for sticking up for myself while using the tools she had taught me.

She was disappointed in me.

“Khalilah,” she said, stretching the middle syllable of my name ever so slightly, “That’s so sad. You must have made poor David feel bad. Just because you’re feeling sensitive, you still need to make sure you aren’t hurting someone. What if he doesn’t sing to any kids anymore?” Good, I thought.

But that’s the thing about childhood, and having behaviors ingrained into your system. I knew how creepy and strange about myself David made me feel, but my mom also made me feel incredibly guilty for trying to get the source of those feelings to stop. I’m sure she didn’t understand the extent to which David’s behavior with me was Not Okay. I’m not even sure if I’ve done a good enough job of outlining it to the readers here. I don’t remember everything that happened fifteen years ago, only a couple years after my memory had fully developed to begin with. All I remember now are snapshots of running into him, and the feelings of shame, discomfort, and mild fear this man brought to me. And then I also remember that for the rest of the car ride, my mother impressed upon me the importance of thinking of others, and not just our own feelings. That the feelings of others are vastly more important than our own, even if we don’t particularly like the others in question, even if they make us feel slightly unsafe or upset. By the end of the car ride, I felt like a piece of shit for speaking up for myself. Not that I had the vocabulary to explain that.

It turns out it didn’t even matter. The next day when I saw David, he made me hug him. And then he picked me up and sang to me, and didn’t put me down until the end of his song. I decided that if he couldn’t even listen to my polite request, I didn’t need to waste my time enduring him anymore. Thanks to my mother, I knew better than to stick up for myself any further, so I opted to spend the rest of the summer hiding in the bathroom whenever I thought he was around.