Street harassment is a daily reality for many women and LGBTQ individuals, however it skyrocketed to the spotlight earlier this year when a video commissioned by group Hollaback claimed to document over a hundred separate instances of street harassment as experienced by a woman as she walked the streets of New York City for ten hours while being recorded by hidden camera. That video sparked a national conversation on street harassment — what it is and why it is damaging — but the video was also criticized for its clumsy treatment of race: the woman in the video appears visibly White while nearly every documented harassment is committed by a man of colour. Hollaback has been accused of subtly reinforcing anti-Black stereotypes through shoddy methodology and selective editing: most of the examples ultimately included in the video were recorded in Harlem. Hollaback responded:
Hollaback! understands that harassment is a broad problem committed by a broad spectrum of individuals across lines of race, location and class. We know from the 8,000 stories we’ve collected on ihollaback.org that there is no single profile for a harasser, and harassment comes in many different forms. We are deeply invested in a movement that is multiracial, gender inclusive and incorporates place-based leadership specific to each locale.
But, to paraphrase Ta-Nehisi Coates, do we really want people of colour rendered by the same hand that failed to see the problematic racial dynamics of the initial video? “Invisibility is bad,” Coates says, “caricature is worse.”
That’s why I fully support this project by imMEDIAte Justice (@imMEDIAteFilms), a WOC-run organization that hopes to specifically empower WOC and LGBTQ individuals to tell our own stories regarding street harassment.