things to think about

today i am thinking about: CAB FRUSTRATION
December 20, 2009, 3:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So it’s about one million inches of snow on the ground and I was coming back from a party. And it is one million more inches coming from the sky, and my friend is cold and I’m cold and she’s cranky and I’m cranky, and by luck we happen on the most transportational of Brooklyn’s black market economies, that of the gypsy cab. And I have never been so happy in my life.

So we’re driving along, we’re making awkward conversation, he drops my friend as close as he can get her and then he wants to know if she is my girlfriend.

No, she’s not. And no, I don’t want to get in a bed and hold her and no, I don’t care how nice she is and no, she’s not my girlfriend and no, I don’t have a boyfriend, and no, I don’t want one and no, I don’t want you to be my friend and no, cab driver, no, I don’t want to keep talking about this.

I got out a few blocks early and walked.

I really think hard about encounters like this. I think everyone who is at all female-appearing has had about 100 of them. I get so annoyed: I just don’t want to talk about it.

But you know, this shit is raced, right. I am working across a cultural divide, a language divide, and I am not unaware of the fact that it is me, a white woman, and the cab driver, a black, immigrant man. We come from different cultures and at the end of the day I really want to be sure before I consign this guy to the heap of another fucking jerk who wants to talk about why it is I don’t have a boyfriend.

Am I missing something in the language? Am I missing some nuance of translation? I make this assumption that when he asks if I want an African man for a friend, he is not saying he wants to come over and play Scrabble. This assumption is based on patriarchy and my experience being sexually harassed by dudes, and most often — I mean, it’s true — dudes of color. But what of it is also based on my inappropriate assumptions? Am I assuming too quickly it’s sexual? What of it is based on some sort of notion that I ought to say no, that I don’t want to “do that.”

I know people who have said yes — who have done it with their cab drivers, a couple of different people — and part of me is unsure why I just automatically assume I will not be one of those people. Sure, it is unsolicited, but there are other unsolicited sexual offers I would be fine with. What’s the difference?

Part of it IS a raced idea of gender and my own need to self-protect. It is this idea that there are MEN OUT THERE, many of whom are men of color, who WANT INTO MY KNICKERS and I have to keep them out. Part of it is the idea that nice (white) girls — even nice (white) queer girls like me, nice (white) queer gender weirdos like me, all of it — just don’t say yes to men who solicit them and certainly extra not if that man is your Guinean cab driver.

Part of it is genuine annoyance when I really, really don’t want to deal with having to say no to a question I don’t want, and I feel like there is something really honest and true about being tired of the patriarchal ways in which men think they can ask about the things that happen in my underpants, or invite themselves in. But it seems so shortsighted to ignore the ways in which this is also raced, and the ways in which I am assuming the worst. It is not like he was physically threatening me, or talking about me in a vulgar way. What if he did just want a friend? Or if he did want to sleep with me? Is that necessarily, and automatically so bad?

Lately I have been having 100 conversations about fear and gender. Or more accurately, about the ways in which I police myself and my friends police themselves in order to feel “safe.” I walk down the street and I make assumptions about men based on the ways in which I anticipate the threat of violence, and those assumptions are absolutely raced. Growing up a white girl means being worried about who might take advantage of you.

And I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to keep doing this math of danger but it’s math I have had a beast of a time unlearning. I wonder if I am taking on too much of his bad behavior here, and I mean that as a real question: am I implicating myself in someone else’s bad behavior? But is it ever really as simple as calling someone a douchebag and moving on?

I really want to know how other people think about these intersections, especially other people who get harassed in cabs regularly. I need another point of view (or 5, or 10) to figure this out.

5 Comments so far
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I have so much to say about this and am so angry when people make racially-based excuses for black men and their disgusting behavior I am about to explode in my seat. But I have work to do so I will refer you to an extensive conversation on the subject here:

Comment by emfole

There is nothing racist or culturally insensitive about expecting immigrant men, men of color or black men specifically to treat all womyn as if they were human beings. It IS racist to assume that these men are too stupid to figure it out and therefore, as privileged white womyn, we should give them a pass. In fact, white womyn should USE our privillege to call moc out on their bullshit because it is often too dangerous for woc to do it!!

Comment by emfole

woc = womyn of color

Comment by emfole

Ok, I have thoughts about this.

So, the kind of comments/interest I get from random guys rarely have the squicky queerness aspect to them: it is usually a simple “you are a pretty girl and so i am assuming/hoping/acting like you are available to me.” This happens in ways that range from the friendly & fairly gentlemanly to totally nasty and gross and violating: and which men of which races fall where on that spectrum varies widely.

So I think it is good to be aware of if race is playing into things, but honestly, it doesn’t sound to me like it was really a major factor in the cab interaction. I suppose, sure, maybe he wanted to play scrabble, but since he had mostly asked invasive questions up to that point, I think it is just fine to assume he had not. If we’d been having interesting political conversation or something (which I have certainly had with cab drivers), I might feel differently. But I think it is okay to say “eww, that was not a good interaction” no matter what race the man in question was. sure, he maybe just wanted to sleep with you: but it sure didn’t seem like you wanted to sleep with him, meaning it is just fine for you to say no, you don’t want to hang out.

What you bring up about being taught as a white girl that there are MEN TRYING TO GET YOU- and that if they aren’t white, it’s more likely THEY ARE OUT FOR YOU- now, that’s totally true, and it’s some fucked-up, deep shit, and I have that too. And I am also trying to unlearn that to some degree- but I don’t think that means deciding that interactions that feel squicky in your gut are ok. You know? It’s like, the “biggest female leprechaun” guy is not out to get you, and the guys who chat me up at Shorty Deli are not out to get me- and we both know that despite the raced shit we’re taught, just from paying attention to how those interactions feel. but obnoxious people are still obnoxious.

that is my tired, long-winded comment.

Comment by aleza

As a mouthy, queer, femme, female of color, I can honestly understand where you are coming from. And I think that the experience is a rather universal one for all women.
I get hit on and harassed by cisgendered fellows pretty often (10 or more times in a given week), and that’s spread across all ethnicities. It seems that the more insistent come ons originate predominantly from men of color (or straight white dudes at Sugarland). It’s an observation, take it as you will.
My own personal hang ups, and the racial biases that have persisted make the perceived threat of violation much worse when the come ons are happening (1) late at night, (2) when I am alone, and (3) when I am in an enclosed space like a stairwell or cab.
I don’t think you were off base in your interpretation of the Scrabble playing offer. I can’t count the number of times when a man has asked to be my friend after I have told them I have a (made up) boyfriend or girlfriend.
Unfortunately, lying and walking a few extra blocks is usually a better answer to my discomfort than letting the moment carry on.

Comment by Kansas

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