Yesterday, I was walking my dog with my mother in a local park when we witnessed a young Black man push a young woman onto the ground in broad daylight. The first time he did it, we were stunned, shocked and horrified. A hispanic couple– a man and a woman– passed right by them and never looked back a single time. Eventually, the girl got up from the floor and began to walk away, at which point the young man ran after her, tackled her onto the ground again and this time swiped the sneakers off of her feet.
“Call the cops,” my mother urged as I began to walk in their direction. I could not just stand by and watch, but my mom understood how dangerous the situation could be.
“He could have a knife or a gun,” she cautioned.
I quickly dialed 9-1-1 and began to follow the couple who split into two directions. The young man stopped and sat down and a playground nearby and the girl continued to walk towards the parking lot, where she plopped down and started to cry.
“I’m in the park and I just watched a man push a woman down and take her shoes,” I explained to the dispatcher who finally answered the call (after 6 rings).
“Ok, police are on their way,” he said.
My mother and I stood with the girl, who we found out was more than an hour and a half away from home, until two cop cars zoomed by and screeched to a halt where the young man stood holding the pink shoes in his hand. It pained me to watch the first cop– a white man in his 30’s– rush out of his car and push the guy onto the hood of the vehicle to check him for weapons, while the lights continued to flash red and blue in the background. I was also frightened for his safety. The thought “should I have called the police” pulsed through my mind as another cop, a middle-aged white woman, pulled up to the scene and jump out of her car to provide backup. A hint of guilt, fear, anxiety and sadness over came me. The girl quickly arose and rushed to the scene, perhaps similar sentiments overwhelming her.
“Let’s go,” my mother urged.
We turned and walked away.
When I got to the car, I was still feeling guilty that I called the police. That I could very well be the reason why another Black man will have an arrest record. That he could have been shot right before us if he took one wrong step.
And then I remembered the reason why I called in the first place: HE ASSAULTED A WOMAN IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. Somehow, in my mind, her struggle had become secondary to his; her safety less important than his own. Despite all of my intellectual arguments that claim the contrary, emotionally my reaction focused on the well-being of the Black man which still took precedent over that of the Black woman. That, I am somewhat ashamed to admit. But beyond the shame, more importantly, is the realization that in spite of my “womanists” leanings, that I purport myself to be an avid supporter of women’s rights– especially the right to physical/emotional well-being– and the belief that Black women’s issues are as important as men’s, even I have internalized a bias that is strongly “pro-male.”
It makes sense that I have. The Black man is often displayed as society’s most vulnerable victim: More likely to be incarcerated, their murders at the hands of police widely disseminated, discussed and politicized. We rally against Black male vulnerability and disenfranchisement and ignite revolutions in their name. To a large extent, however, the Black woman remains nameless, faceless; her issues secondary.
I thought that I had somehow managed to escape that kind of thinking and that I had educated myself to value the struggle of Black womanhood. That I casted those societal biases from the depths of my soul and consciousness with reason, logic and reading. This experience showed me that the journey to get to that point is far longer than I anticipated.
The ongoing narratives that are packaged and sold to the mass media still places a premium on Black male disadvantage, while female-centered narratives remain in the shadows. My consumption of that narrative, absent of the faces of women, only further reinforces it in my subconscious. For that reason, I now understand– more deeply– the importance of what I consume from the media. And how important it is for me to reshape those stories to include the women who are also affected by racism, while battling pervasive sexism. Emotionally, I have just come to understand and recognize what I have always understood intellectually.
Today, I say with conviction, that I feel no guilt or regret about my decision to call the police. Those feelings have subsided, replaced by pride. I am proud that my mother and I decided to take action, regardless of the outcome. I also know that, despite the fact that I am still working on coming to terms with understanding my struggle, I will never stand by idly as a Black woman is harmed. Not out of fear. And most certainly not to protect the well-being or egos of another.
I refuse to feel sorry for Black men, who feel nothing for Black women.