Friday, October 4, 2013

Hollaback!'s Final Solution: An Open Letter To Ms. Debjani Roy

"When it comes to combating street harassment, increasing criminalization is not the answer."
-Debjani Roy, "Hollaback!: Finding Effective Solutions to Street Harassment", The Huffington Post, Apr 26, 2013

There have been those who have questioned me as to why I have chosen to focus on the matter of street harassment, and I have answered a number of those questions in previous writings on the topic here and other venues where my writings have appeared regularly; but perhaps a key, and major, reason, is, to use a metaphor, bring balance to the Force. In other words, I do what I do, and write what I write, because I see a massive imbalance and distortion with the way so many issues - in this case, and especially, those along Sexual Politics lines - are presented. I want to foster and open up a real discussion, conversation and debate about these issues, coming from a Black, male and blue-collar/working class perspective - one that is for all intents and purposes, virtually extinct from the extant "public square" that is the Internet and attendant venues.

It is with the above thoughts in mind, that I now turn my attentions to an article recently appearing on the Huffington Post website dated Apr 26, 2013 entitled, "Hollaback!: Finding Effective Solutions to Street Harassment", by one Ms. Debjani Roy, who is the deputy director of the Hollaback! organization. I got wind of her piece by way of one of her colleagues who I'm in contact with via Twitter, and who directed me to Ms. Roy's essay in response to my recent article "Move Over Stop And Frisk - Here Comes The Street-Harassment App!" - the argument, so says my Hollaback! Twitter friend, is that Hollaback! in general, and Ms. Roy in particular, doesn't support the criminalization of what they consider to be street harassment.

The problem, among a great many here, is the FACT that despite whatever Ms. Roy does or does not believe or advocate, and despite whatever the powers-that-be at Hollaback! itself does or doesn't believe or advocate, taxpayer monies were indeed given to the organization to develop a smartphone app for use in the City of New York, in Adria Richards vigilante fashion on largely Black and Brown lower class Men - full stop. Maybe Ms. Roy wasn't aware of what was afoot in NYC and the Hollaback! chapter there, or maybe she was and just wanted to go on the record as to her own personal views, knowing in advance as to what was coming down the pike. All's I know is this: Hollaback!, like so many Feminist organizations and groups, don't just want to "change social attitudes" - something that I find in itself deeply problematic for reasons that I will explain below - they want said "behavorial changes" to be backed up by the Power of the State. In this, Feminists have been quite consistent in their ability to have enshrined into law, their whims and desires. While one can debate as to whether said laws obtaining on key areas Feminists find to be important are indeed right and good, MY point is that Feminists hardly just want to "change hearts and minds" - and the recent creation and deployment of the Street Harassment App is yet another data point to toss on the pile in that regard.

I am very happy to have been made aware of Ms. Roy's existence, because like me, she too is a minority member of American society, and as such we can now have what I consider to be a much more "equal" dialogue, because let's face it - these kinds of discussions always tend to occur in White spaces and venues, and among White folks. Rarely do People of Color have a full throated discussion, that is truly inclusive of all sides and perspectives, on these matters - on those relatively rare occasions non-White people have the floor, it too is usually incredibly one-sided and myopic. So, as a life long Black Man and American, please let me say to Ms. Roy, that your organization DOES indeed intend to criminalize what it sees as "street harassment" and WILL, in the process, wind up harassing Black and Brown Men on the lower ends of the socioeconomic scale. Despite all of the points you made in your Apr 26, 2013 HuffPo piece, the fact of the matter is that the very organization you work for, has deemed it necessary to replace Stop and Frisk. I would love to see anything from you that directly responds to the point being made in this article and previous ones I've written.

As for your notion, Ms. Roy, of wanting to "change hearts and minds" - with all due respect, I've quite had my fill of Do-Gooders attempting to upbraid me on what I can or can't do, go, say or think, thank you very much. Although I don't personally advocate for guys posting up on the corner and commenting on a lady's hind parts, I can and will fight to the death for their right to do so - just I like I would as strenuously fight for the right of people to smoke when I don't, or for the right of people to gamble, when I never have. That - the right to civil liberties - is what makes us American, and developing a thick skin and a deep tolerance for others - especially those we may not like - is also what makes us Americans unique in comparison to other areas of the world. In a perfect world it would be great not to be approached by unattractive guys and the like, but that's not how the real world works. Guys can and will approach Women they find attractive; other guys may simply comment to themselves, other guys listening, or the Woman herself, what he thinks of her appearance, one way or another. While these acts may be personally unsettling, they are NOT illegal, NOR are they something we should attempt to "shame" out of existence; they are part of what it means to be an American. The "solution" to such a "problem", isn't to create yet another draconian measure, legal or otherwise, that will only wind up targeting Men already on the margins of American life, but rather, to grow a spine, keep it movin', and actually focus on ways in which we can REALLY assist such Men that will make a real difference in the overall scheme of things. As you even have admitted in your article, there are already laws on the books that can and will take care of those who have trouble keeping their hands to themselves, or who expose themselves in public spaces - and law enforcement can and should intervene on those counts.

No, what I am talking about is the right of Men to peaceably assemble and speak their minds - even if, in so doing, they come across as crass and uncouth. Feminism, was supposed to be about making a statement about how Women were just as resilient and tough as Men; but what has happened in more recent years, is that it has morphed into what Cathy Young has referred to as a kind of neo-Victorianism, where the Virtual Fainting Couch has to be brought out everytime someone (read: a Man) says something some Woman somewhere doesn't like. That's not what America is about, and that's not an America I would want to live in.

And neither should you.

In a word: Woman Up.

Now adjourn your arses...

The Obsidian
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