By now, most of the country has seen the video of a young woman being catcalled and followed by men on the streets of NYC produced by an organization called Hollaback! to draw attention to the sexual objectification women are subjected to when out alone in city streets. It’s a worthy cause; I have heard far too many stories from different women over the years about dealing with creepy or disrespectful men to doubt the necessity of calling attention to the issue of street harassment. My only problem with the video, and its creators, is their use of Black and Brown Boogeymen to literally scare up attention.
Whether by accident or by design, the makers of the video, Rob Bliss Creative, edited out all the white male catcallers. The end result is footage of a girl menaced by men who are all Black and Hispanic. The images play on the stereotypes of men of color being hyperagressive sexual beasts that Birth of A Nation made overtly and King Kong alluded to with slightly more subtlety. It’s a stereotype that, historically, countless numbers of black men paid for with their freedom and their lives.
According to the director there was 10 hours of footage shot and edited down to make the video that went out. During the editing process, no one, not the producers, or the organization for which it was made, had a problem with the white guys, of which there were many, being deleted from the final reel. When called out on the disparity, Rob Bliss gave an explanation that might have been plausible, if editing software that you can download to your smartphone for free wasn’t available to a professional filmmaker in far better quality. Needless to say, misogynists and racists have flocked to leave hateful comments on sites hosting the clip.
There’s a case to be made for the honesty of the video creators when they say the removal of white catcallers was unintentional. In America there has always been a tendency to overlook, excuse, or explain away the social transgressions of white males. It’s a tendency so ingrained in American society that people do it subconsciously. Even people dedicated to raising awareness of male privilege can be blind to how they inadvertently reinforce white male privilege.
Ensuring the freedom of women to go about their business in public spaces without being made to feel in danger of their safety is absolutely an issue that needs to be addressed. No sane person would deny that. But so is the demonizing of men of color. It’s a shame is that a very necessary national conversation about the objectification and reduction to body parts that millions of women deal with has been sidetracked because of it. And it’s sad that Hollaback! and Rob Bliss chose to combat sexism by reinforcing racism.