Race-work, Race-love

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Long Walk Home: The Race Analyst & Street Harassment

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2012 at 4:33 pm

You lived about 10 blocks away from a college your whole life. In that time, you’ve seen the ways in which the neighborhood has changed as if to fit the expectations of the college. But as hard as this college tries, they can’t get to everyone, some pockets of the neighborhood remain the same.

So you go to those pockets to remind yourself of where you came from and the reason why you wanted to go to that college in the first place. You go to those pockets because engaging in the life of the mind reminds you of how you could have been involved in the life of the streets. The ivory tower calls it “being a statistic”. You call it home.

Those streets that you call home and are simultaneously warned to not become them. Those streets that protected you while catcalling and whistling and hollering at you at the same time, reminding you that you are a female and that means you belong to them.


“Chula, ven aqui”

“Que Dios te bendiga, mami”

“Pero tu si eres mala, bembona”

Them. Show and prove means something entirely different for women. Show and prove means that you can be that cute girl while at the same time smacking gum with the message that you have the potential to smack someone too should they lay a hand on you.

Them. Those eyes that linger on you as if you are supposed to linger back, as if that should be enough to make you go to them and respond back, Hey chulo.

Their eyes linger on you, whether you think YOU are cute or not.

You know this, this street harassment is a daily experience in the city. So, in the morning it takes you double the time to get dressed. You want to wear something comfortable but nothing too revealing. You want to wear something that makes you feel good but that doesn’t attract too much attention.

You wear a long dress that covers your legs. It clings to your body so you throw over a purse that covers your back so that when the street harassers linger, they only linger on your purse. Not your behind.

Your head held high, your gum fresh, your elbows swinging with your keys or another potential weapon between your fingers — you are ready. You go out because someone told you that these streets could eat you alive. But you’re not about to let that keep you from enjoying your home and walking outside on a beautiful day. You are ready for battle and love. Those are the streets of Harlem undergoing change.

So you walk. The further uptown you go, the signs that you are leaving New Harlem is more real. New Harlem means you overhear conversations about the news or academic thoughts, ivory tower conversations, mostly in English. Walking uptown you hear the news. In Spanish.

You walk a little further and you walk past a huddle of young men, desperate to show and prove. As you walk past, you realize you interrupt their own version of street harassment. That one Asian young man in the huddle of Dominican men who gets slightly taunted enough for him to have a great comeback. The retort that makes you root for the underdog. You hear the retort, and you mistakenly smile. They catch your smile and give the young Asian man pounds.

But you wonder if they will resume to their taunts.

You keep walking further and you hear music that blares from cars, outside bodegas, and homes. Ranging from bachata, to merengue, to reggaeton. You feel very Latina – you know this neighborhood, these are your people. But you remember not to smile.

This time, you don’t make that mistake.

This is New York, you think. Fruit stands are outside because the bodegas sell outdated food sometimes. Mothers and children are struggling with each other to get home, neighbors see you and you stop. “Hey sweetie, haven’t see you in days, where you been?” they ask.

You love those impromptu conversations. You hear about the building you live in, any changes in the neighborhood. This particular neighbor has lived here for over 40 years. They can tell you about the changes, too.

You keep walking up and you run into the bodeguero that knows your father. “Please say hello on our family’s behalf!” Gracias, you respond back. You can’t help but feel proud that your family has built a solid legacy in this pocket of the neighborhood.

This is home, you think. The ivory tower can’t change me all that much. Your heart is warm and you smile again.

“Hey ma! Take my number…”

You come back to reality. You purse your lips, make sure not to smile and keep walking ahead. You see scaffolds ahead and make sure to walk around them. If you can’t avoid them, you make sure to be extra alert. Scaffolds mean more opportunities for lingering.

You are at home. But you are also an analyst. A race love analyst. Because you love your streets. You love your home. You work to improve the conditions of your people. And you know you get love back, too.

You count how many blocks you got before you reach your apartment.

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