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November 30, 2017 What's Social Media

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Web 2.0 Vigilante – Racism and Classism cloaked in Citizen Journalism: Holla’ed Back Video
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As a woman, I totally understand what it feels like to be cat called when walking by a group of guys. when I first moved to the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn from California, I experienced some of the most offensive cat calls – with many references to my supposed ethnicities – some days I was Korean and some I was chinese to the men on the block. Working in the South Bronx and living in Bedford Stuyvesant – both Latino and Black communities, I feel like I’ve heard every possible cat call. It was a definite contrast to my reserved chinese upbringing where you don’t say anything positive about anyone’s beauty or achievements, even if they are deserving of compliments. I also grew up in my teenage years in white middle-upper class gated community suburbs where there is a politically correct way of saying everything- essentially complements are coded in polysyllabic words. So coming from that background into the middle of a Latino community was quite a culture shock.

However, watching Ryane’s video, Holla’ed Back left a very bad taste in my mouth. After thinking about it, I realized this eerily is a modern parallel to the lynching of Emmett Til in 1955 Jim Crow Mississippi. Like the construction workers, he holla’ed at a white woman by whistling at her. The woman reported Emmett’s behavior. Now what’s different is that Ryanne reported the mens’ behavior herself. Media activism + participatory video lynching right?
While I believe Ryanne attempted to document the men’s behavior to demand respect, I believe that she mistakenly took the men’s unwanted attention for egregious misogyny. She ignores the racial and class issues of the men’s action. Working class construction workers and Black culture has their own forms of cultural practices in appreciating women’s beauty. Cat calling on construction sites is practically a tradition inherent to the job. I am not claiming that cultural norms are not sexist or even excusing the men’s sexist behavior.

It’s just that what was scary about Ryanne’s video is that there was a spirit of citizen journalism that called for justice and signaled future punishment – when she ends the video with telling them she has them on camera. Beware Black Man – I am watching you!
I believe it’s important to be critical of patriarchy and sexism (many social commentators and artists have done amazing projects on the sexist behavior of cat calling) – but when it’s done with the zeitgeist of a Web 2.0 Vigilante, the dialogue is furthered in a direction that I believe is unconstructive. It worries me that more citizen journalism media will take on a neo-conservative agenda – especially when the very tools necessary for citizen journalism is reserved for middle-upper class incomes. therefore, with racial stratification based on income, I worry that we won’t hear perspectives from those who don’t have the disposable income or time to produce civic journalism. (this also reminds me of the Minute Men Project)
But I think women have a lot to learn from Ryanne’s video, in that she was fearless in challenging sexism, and her documentation is about confronting the power dynamic that she refused to submit to. Sites like aare passive in the documentation and function to empower the woman who posts a picture of her cat caller. The cat caller is never truly confronted for his behavior, therefore it’s not really effective in preventing harassment as there is no true confrontation. How do we find empowerment in documentation and effective confrontation while being senstive to socio-economic dynamics?…

I wrote an amended letter to Ryanne here and here. Please read these 2 posts for clarification.

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