As I was riding from Mitte to Prenzlauer Berg last night feeling giddy from the warmth of the night I came across the sight that always brings me to my senses. A group of young boys standing on the corner looking at me with clear intent.
Many people here look at me in ways that would be considered rude in America. They stare coldly, unsmiling, and often even hold my gaze when caught staring me down. Many kids ask their parents about me in loud German and I try not to intervene as the parents give hushed, often ignorant answers.
Most of the time this staring is benign, part of the white noise that one learns to deal with while living in a brown body in Europe. Usually I tune it out but my spider senses tingle when I recognize purpose behind the staring as I did last night. You never know how it will go. Even though I was on a busy street and on a bike, I kept my distance. After instances of public apathy; the unwillingness of people to step up when they witness violence and injustice, I lost faith in the safety in numbers.
They boys started talking about me with obvious abandon and pointing. One yelled something that did not understand and another yelled loudly to me “I like black girls!!” I responded with “Out of all the things you could have learned to say, you learned that?”
I am familiar with cat calls because I grew up in an area with so much street harassment that people have organized a campaign against it. Women walking outside doing things as seductive as buying groceries are often reminded rudely and publicly how they appear in the male gaze. A cat call is not a compliment. Each one implies violence because it is a demand of attention. Strange men forcefully demanding anything from women they see as attractive usually does not end well.
Since I have moved to Germany, almost all of my cat calls have been racialized. Usually if a man is simple enough to yell his affections to me on the street, his views on race leave something to be desired. Since I try to clear my mental cache of nonsense regularly, I’ve forgotten most of crazy outbursts that I’ve received but they usually center around a few misguided ideas:
- My blackness is the single most important, attractive/repulsive attribute that I have
- In the face of racism, I should welcome any compliments even when shouted at me
- Being able to sexualize a black woman is equivalent to being anti-racist
Last week, I went around the corner from my house to catch a taxi. As I was talking to a shop owner, I was inundated with yells of “Schwarze Pearl!” (Black Pearl) I let it go and went into the store for 5 minutes. As soon as I stepped out, the dude starts up again with repeated “Schwarze Pearl!!!” so I responded in a loud and unladylike manner that embarrassed him and shut him up quick.
People should have the right to walk the streets whiteout having their race and gender announced to them and everyone else within earshot.
As always I thought of a better retort to the “I like black girls” comment too late. If I had it to do over, I would have said “If you really like black girls, leave us alone.”