Last week, the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback released a video featuring a white woman marching through the streets of New York City for ten hours, and being catcalled by mostly black and Latino men. It frames the woman, an actress named Shoshana Roberts, as perpetually harassed and afraid. That video painted a grim picture of life for women in New York, and it served as a de facto cautionary tale: to avoid black and Latino men at every turn, because from the looks of it, they alone are loathsome predators.
It turns out that the video was edited to exclude most of the white men who hollered at Roberts that day. The video's producer, Rob Bliss, wrote an explanation on reddit: "We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera." For whatever reason they were edited from the video, that omission is powerful.
Additionally, black and brown women were excluded, as if we do not exist, or are not affected by street harassment when, in fact, we are more endangered by it. Black and brown women, women of color of size, and trans women are among our society's most vulnerable. Black women are at a greater risk of domestic violence. For trans women, even leaving the house can be fraught with emotional and physical violence. Women of color, regardless of gender expression, have an extra layer of fear and anxiety when walking down the street. The Hollaback video's omission of white men, and the omission of black and brown women, worked together in an sinister alchemy to reinforce centuries-old stereotypes about who needs to be saved and protected and who needs to be feared and controlled.
After much criticism, Hollaback apologized for its overrepresentation of men of color, and stated that the money raised from the video would be put towards creating videos that were more inclusive: "We agree wholeheartedly that the video should have done a better job of representing our understanding of street harassment and we take full responsibility for that."
Their apology recognizes the racial bias of their video, but did nothing to acknowledge its erasure of black and brown women. So l ast weekend, I took to the streets of New York to speak to some fellow black and brown women about their experiences with street harassment.
As (bad) luck would have it, while we were shooting a video about how women of color were affected by street harassment, one of our interviewees was approached — totally unsolicited — by a white man who asked her for a kiss.
No editing necessary.
UPDATE: Hollaback! released a statement on Tuesday apologizing for the racial and class implications of the video and are starting a new project to make the conversation about street harassment more inclusive: "...we're using the money raised to create our own video series — with the first one currently under development and scheduled to release within the next two weeks."
Collier Meyerson is a writer and producer living in Brooklyn.