Disclaimer: Please note that my views of sexual harassment on this post DO NOT represent all black communities but are based on the perception I have of the town in which I grew up.
Since Sunday I’ve seen thousands of women share the tag #metoo on social media. It is painful to know that so many women are victims of sexual harassment yet very few ever speak out.
I too am not a stranger to sexual harassment. If you follow me on social media, then you probably have seen the video about my train ordeal. That wasn’t the first time though.
My first time was before I was even ten. I grew up around a well-known pervert. Everyone knew about this guy, but nobody cared. He would show us (other kids and I) his genital, make sexual gestures but nobody cared! Instead, it was all a big joke; we were told not to mind him because he was also somewhat mentally ill. Yes, he was sick but sane enough only to do these things around girls.
When I was in university, there was a lecturer who used to touch me inappropriately. He used to rub my neck, my shoulders and once gave me an unsolicited massage. I remember feeling uncomfortable about it, but we got along really well, so I didn’t overthink it. One day I was in a workshop with a friend, and they were telling us about what sexual harassment is. It was this time that it dawned on me that I had been sexually harassed. I immediately told my friend but guess what? I laughed about it because 1). That’s how I knew people to react to such and 2). I couldn’t even convince myself that it was sexual harassment, so I let it go.
The way our communities treat such issues plays a significant role in how we as victims treat them. I grew up in a “sweep it under the carpet/ peace is important” type of community. A community where victims of rape and physical violence were/are encouraged to forgive their assailants (families would have meetings, and all would be forgiven). A community where, if something like that happens to you, you’re not allowed to dwell on it, but you need to pick yourself up and move on quickly.
In 2014 a distant relative raped two of my family members while at a party. A year later, one of the victims told me about it in the most casual way possible. She spoke about it like it was nothing “Oh *Swize raped me but it’s not a big deal, I’m fine.” I remember being angry at her not only because she didn’t do anything about it but because she was so calm when she told me. When I asked her why she didn’t report it, her response was “we’re fine, we get along really well now. I’m sure he didn’t mean it. He was drunk”. I was livid by the whole thing and wanted her to tell other people so that guy can somewhat account for what he did. I also didn’t want to act as I know it all and open a can of worms; so the end, nothing happened. Life moved on.
It’s always easy to know and tell others what to do when you’re not the victim. It’s up until something similar happens to you that you realize it’s not that easy.
What I’m trying to highlight the problem in communities, especially black communities. We are raised to be strong and resilient so much that we don’t know when it’s okay not to be. We are not allowed to be emotional, deal with our emotions or dwell in any pain. When something happens to you, you’re supposed to deal with it, pick yourself up and move on with life. Hell! We’re not even allowed to cry about a lot of things. Counselling? What is that? I’ve witnessed a lot of women (young and old) go through some of the most traumatic experiences ever, but I’ve never seen a single one of the receive counseling, even when it was offered; because it’s not seen as necessary. No one ever thinks of the long-term psychological effects of all of that.
We need to stop condoning silence for the sake of peace, we need to speak up and we need for our families and friends to let us know that it’s okay not to be okay, it’s okay not to act strong all the time. And yes, we need teach our sons, brothers, nephews, etc., to stop victimizing women.