I know, from experience, that black men sometimes harass women. As a matter of fact, my father does it. As a matter of fact, he taught me to do it. But as a matter of fact–I never did. Shy and pensive, growing up, I walked the streets of my native city, Philadelphia, without ever once heckling an attractive girl. I couldn’t do it. It just seemed rude. Even if her outfit, bulging with the fecund fruits of womanhood, seemed to invite an appraising gaze, I floated by, on a mission of poetic solitude, my mind on writing nebulous stories.
When my father beeped the horn of his old Plymouth at hips crossing the avenue I’d hide my face. Sometimes I questioned him, “man, why you gotta do that?” My father would smile churlishly and punch me on the leg, “we’re just different,” he would tell me, “your Mom raised you right.” Hanging out on the corner, I argued with the dudes I hung out with whenever they cat-called, “Ay, whas ya name Sweetie?” they’d bluster across the Philadelphia evening. I’d get in their faces, “Come on yo, what you think, she gonna stop and give you her number. She don’t know you from paint!” “You just scared of girls!” they would blast back, and in a way they were right. I was scared of what a female traipsing by our corner would think of me, I was afraid of the fear she was feeling, the anxiety clawing her bowels as she passed us. I was afraid that she was soft and vulnerable in the mouth of a hungry city–and that we were the teeth.
I’m the color of coffee.Espresso more accurately.A little creme,.But not a machiado or anything. I’m a dark roast from some place distant. I’m a black man. When women see me they make assumptions, they grip their purse, they pull their adolescent daughters close, they cut their eyes. I have a girlfriend. I don’t want another one, but sometimes, on my way to the cafe to pluck away at the novel that may never materialize, I want to say good morning, or nod, or at least cross paths with a beautiful women without being lasered by her suspicious glares.
But this, I believe, is unrealistic.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.