Trigger warning for general safety issues. I can’t say if it’ll trigger emotions for you, but I’d absolutely prefer it if you protected yourself.
This weekend was… okay, let me explain.
Last Thursday, The Mister took off for a forever-day excursion to Las Vegas, mumbling something about a bachelor’s party. Personally, all I heard was “mumble… mumblemumblebootyglittermumble… mumblemumbletequilamumble… mumblemumblepenthousesuitemumble… mumblemumbledontspendallthemoneyupattheshoestoremumble,” because I was beyond annoyed. I, quite frankly, didn’t want to be left alone.
I’ve admitted before that I’d been having difficulty with going out alone, simply because I don’t know the area very well and had, ahem, been made uncomfortable before. Since I’d written that post, a lot has happened… enough so that the Mister could take a forever-day excursion to Vegas all in the name of booty glitter and $5 bottles of water.
That blog post – the one where I talked about my discomfort with big city livin’ and the sexual harassment that comes with it – was cross-posted on Racialicious, where one of the commenters had the brilliant (yes, that’s sarcasm) observation of “I don’t think NYC – or any large city – is right for you.”
I actually gave it some thought. Maybe I’m not cut out for a city this fast paced. Maybe I’m not cut out for being around so many people in such tight quarters. Maybe I need a space where I can keep my eye on everyone and everything.
But, if I were completely real with myself, I’d have to admit – that’s not possible. It might potentially be about the fact that I have to get acclimated to living in such a tightly-packed city; it might be about the fact that sexual harassment, in a patriarchal society, goes unchecked. It may be both. It may be neither, and the person was right – I need to leave. (They’re not.)
Either way, if there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way, it’s that I can only focus on the things I can change, and I can change my approach to sexual harassment as well as creating and enforcing boundaries for myself as well as my child, whenever we’re out alone.
I mean, that’s what I’ve learned most of this is about, for me – understanding boundaries and identifying when someone is encroaching upon crossing mine. It’s one thing for someone to say “Hey, pretty lady” or “Good afternoon, lady” as I pass them on the street. It’s another thing, entirely, to follow me up the street talking about my “gap.”
When we tell people who are walking down the street to be “observant,” we’re implying that we need to watch for people who appear to be crossing an imaginary line that we set for ourselves. You can only follow me around so many corners before I “stop to send a text message,” BKA “snap a photo of you just in case.” You can only say so much to me, from behind, before I just all-out cross the street on you.
I had a very long talk with my mentor about this safety issue. I told her how this felt like it was encompassing my entire life – I felt unable to function because I couldn’t figure out how to get beyond it, and that’s when she brought the second piece of the puzzle to me: you set boundaries, sure, but how do you enforce them? How do you defend and protect yourself? If, by the sheer numbers of potentially coming in contact with a thousand people in a single day in comparison to the less than 100 a day I encountered in Miami, the likelihood of me having to go toe to toe with someone came up, what happens then?
I, apparently, needed to be prepared to use the guns. And I’m not talking’ .38 caliber. I’m talking’ about those Michelle Obama arms. Apparently, I needed to enroll in Ass Whipping 101.
She shared with me the story of how a dear friend of hers was attacked on her way home, but she whipped his ass… to the point where, when the police arrived, she had her foot on his neck trying to explain how she wasn’t the criminal, here. I, apparently, needed to become that girl.
Luckily for me, the Mister could help with that. Him, being a man whose primary concern for safety meant “being robbed,” actually was pretty fluent in Ass Kicking. Ever since I showed him that post to read, we’ve been low-key battling it out every couple of days, close to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, similar to Fiona and Michael. No matter where I go, self-preservation will always be an issue and I have to prepare. If I can prepare for the zombies, I can prepare for this.
The day that my mentor shared her story with me, as I was leaving the gym, I told the Mister what we talked about. I told him that I felt relieved – literally, weight off my shoulders-relieved – that this wasn’t something that was solely attributed to my emotional recovery and dependent upon my ability to heal. He apparently took that as a hint…
…because I came home to “a gift” of a 15-pack of Ass Kicking 101 classes. I’m pretty sure this means no more World War III in the living room with him, but I think I’m okay with that.
There’s also the issue of “getting to know the city.” Where am I going? What am I doing? This all became far easier after I got this little beauty…
…which, after that whole “Oh, I forgot how to ride a bike” business, was quite fun. What started out as a very suggestive Mother’s Day gift (yes, Erika, you too can explore the city all on your own!) turned into my saving grace. I need something from the grocery store? I can hop on my bike and get there almost as quick as taking the train. Running late to get the kiddo? I can hop on my bike and zoom faster than a harasser can yell. The bike has actually restored some of that feeling I’d lost, but in a different way. I feel the curiosity that originally brought me to New York in the first place; not because the bike made it interesting again, but because it has helped me find new routes, new places that were interesting enough to overpower the anxiety.
Sounds like a lot has happened in six weeks. Feels overwhelming to write about it.
But here it was – the weekend of the godforsaken party that was going to take my best friend away from me for several days, and I was going to have to find something else to do with my time. My goodness, with him not around, what the hell was I supposed to do? Be productive? Enjoy myself? Pardon me while I scoff.
I have to admit.. I’m so proud of myself.
After I wrapped up some much-needed work (and found out that I’d won a pretty epic contest, OMG?) I packed up Mini-me, hit the gym… and then headed west.
The Brooklyn Flea…it was calling my name. I like unique, eclectic, vintage, hippie junk and felt like I’d be right at home. Of course I was, but that’s beside the point.
The next day… that is when the greatness happened.
One of the primary reasons why I’d left Indiana for Miami in the first place was because I needed to see something less… beige. I needed sky, I needed sand, I needed sea. Living there helped me appreciate culture, and the intrinsic value of learning about someone else’s culture. Going to school with Jamaicans, Trinis, Bajans, Haitians… living on a street where you can hear four different languages/patois/kreyol and ebonics… you just develop a love of appreciating the little things that make people who they are. That’s what made it so easy to move to New York. There’s a little bit of everything here, and I love being able to soak that up.
Enter… The Dance Africa Bazaar. Hosted by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, there were soooo many people there sporting gorgeous head wraps, loss, afros (y’all know I’m partial to the afro), braids, weaves, wigs and curls (it was humid and those relaxers and presses were strugglin’ out there.)… wrap skirts and kente cloth robes and the longest of maxi dresses and the shortest of shorts… little girls (and us big ones, too) in the middle of the street playing with hula hoops and riding horses – yes, yes y’all… horses – all shades of skin tones from the faintest of pink to the deepest of brown. I just soaked it all up like fresh sunlight… took it all in.
If you know me, you know I love culture. It’s what made living in Miami so much fun. Being able to appreciate the nuances of other cultures was what brought me to a place where I could appreciate my own and what it contributes to who I am. I loved being in Indiana because of the education I received, but there’s so much more to life than that.
Being holed up in my house all this time… I couldn’t thrive emotionally or physically, but I also couldn’t thrive culturally, either… and I realize that’s a huge part of me. Being at the Bazaar – not so much the vendors, though there were some amazing ones there, but the people who were there alongside me – felt like a re-awakening of a part of me that I’d lost during my time of being fearful. I took a chance, stepped out, and felt like I was starting to win again. No matter how fearful I am, I still have to take that first step. I’ve always hated standing still, anyway… metaphorically or otherwise.
To put it plainly, I had to make a compromise with myself. I had to accept that I’d always have an issue with safety no matter where I went, and would have to do what I could to prepare to defend myself and my space. I’d have to create a sensible and respectable understanding of what counts as “my space,” and I’d have to enforce that. At the same time… the city is nowhere near what I thought it was, and in any other case we’d tell ourselves to not let the bad outweigh the good, especially when the good allows for beautiful things like this to happen.
So… I’ve called a truce. I’m learning to set new boundaries, but I’m also not going to blame the city for the bad behavior of a few. Annnnnnd, to show The Mister that I’m coming around, I got the quintessential “buy-it-but-don’t-you-dare-wear-it-when-we’re-out-together” shirt:
…and I’m gonna judo chop him one good time, too. Just because I can, now.
wow erika, i’ve never commented before but this really touched me. i’m so glad you are able to get settled into your new home. the bazaar sounded great and i hope you are able to get out to more of the wonderful things ny has to offer. 🙂
This is an awesome post Erika. It is truly inspirational. I too need to start learning to explore the city, particularly Brooklyn on my own(and I’ve lived here for 10 years now lol). In general,especially as a child, I have been fearful. I attribute much of that to my shyness which is on a slow, and steady progress to improvement.
I was at the DanceAfrica Bazaar(I went twice). It was so awesome seeing all the various!! natural divas and so great to see such a dynamic and mixed group of people having fun, enjoying great food and melting in the HOT sun 🙂
You inspire me so much, Ms. Erika! I love it that you choose to tackle things head on. I’ve had similar safety issues before, so I know how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by fear and stay inside instead of exploring the world outside. Back in the day, I did the easy thing and moved back home, but I hope more women read this and feel inspired by your resilience and strength.
Kudos to Mister and your mentor, too, for encouraging you to learn self-defense skills instead of suggesting you buy a gun. It sounds like you’re surrounded by very loving, supportive people. What a blessing!
It sounds like you are smart and cautious the way I am. I think it’s better to be careful especially since there are a lot of crazies out there.
My sister recently dated someone who lives in Brooklyn and she’s totally exploring a new area. She stuck to Manhattan for the last few years 🙂 Gorgeous pictures!
I had a really hard time when I moved here too (took me at least a year to really acclimate and not feel lost and anxious all the time), but now the place is in my bones. I think it’s all the amazing food.
Glad you had an awesome day out!
Awesome, Erika!!!! I am so glad and proud of you for not allowing some folks in NY or BK to rob you of your joy and peace. Safety is a big issue for all of us (men and women) and it feels especially so for those of us in the communities that are emotionally in a lot of pain.
But you have given me some food for thought and I think I will look into some Ass Whipping 101 classes myself. :O)
Erika!! I’m a longtime reader. I relocated to BK from Indianapolis (alone, no friends or family) about 2 years ago. I moved to the Bed Stuy ish/Crown Heights esque part of Utica. I absolutely love being in a sea of folk who look like me, if you catch my drift.
But on topic. It’s weird that safety was never an issue for me. I guess because I moved here at my biggest weight, I in a sense felt “safe” because I was pretty ignored for the most part.
But enough of that. I’m so happy that you are enjoying Brooklyn!
Mama, don’t try to force it. I wrote about, before, how some past experiences have made “safety” a hypersensitive issue for me. I can totally see how someone who might have different experiences wouldn’t develop the frustrations I faced…shoot, I could see how someone who had similar or the same experiences as me could have no issues or have issues that manifest in different ways. Our experiences color our perspectives, and I think it makes perfect sense that we’d all feel differently about the same thing, regardless of size.
Hi. I like your post because I too had a problem for a long time with living in the city. But as I get older and I looked at my life I realize some of the points that people told me were true. for instance, at the time I am single- go where I can meet people and have a good time without having to travel far. At the time, I am looking for a place that has a lot of activity to offer outside of my apartment that I like to do. And I am looking for a place that has easy access to transportation. The downside, is the places appear to be small and they appear to be high priced. But fear not I had hope recently with this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/nyregion/stalking-the-600-apartment-in-a-changing-brooklyn.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=nyregion&src=me. And this gives hope for those looking for a find like her.
So I am happy for you. I like actually Hoboken NJ to maybe find a place to stay in but I dont believe it will be Hoboken. So I am not sure where I will end up when I get my own apartment. And when that will happen. The one guy who might have helped was I think maybe not so forthcoming with the help today or maybe after yesterday due to an outburst that happened on my part. But i haven’t given up hope.
I really like and appreciate your blog and the articles. There is always something here for me to read.
Thanks for sharing your mind with us.
I am really glad you wrote this Erika. The thing is this, there is NO such thing as 100% safety. I was born in NYC, sure there are harassers and stuff, but I’ve been harassed in small towns in the Northeast, the West, the South, the Northwest, even overseas. But your mentor was right, know your boundaries and keep them.
I’ve lived in Brooklyn all my life (except for my college years)… you have to be keen and remember to just do what everyone else does… Ignore these guys. They just want to get a response from you. It’s a sport to them.
Erika, congrats. I read your previous post about the city and I completely understood. Growing up in Brooklyn toughens you out to the point where you shamefully get used to the rudeness– the grittiness of it all.
I knew however, in time you would be a perfect fit for Brooklyn, and you will start to see the insane beauty of our borough and nyc…that overshadows all the other mess. Welcome to brooklyn, if I see you around I’ll say hi! 🙂
I am so happy to read that you’re learning to enjoy New York! Everything you’ve done sounds amazing, and the bazaar sounds like it was so much fun. If you ever want to experience some Asian cultures, you should come to Flushing for all the Chinese and Korean places there are here.
I am TOTALLY trying to visit Flushing. I’m tryin’ to test out every different kind of food I can. LOL
I’m so glad you reached a truce with Brooklyn. I’m a native New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. NYC is not for the faint of heart whether you are homegrown or a transplanted New Yorker. You learn to develop emotional and physical armor. Have fun this summer exploring your new town.
We met this weekend at Blogging While Brown (we were tweeting about the lack of good breakfast). I didn’t know that you were new to Brooklyn. I write a lot about food and dining in the area as well as things to do (plus domestic and international travel). I’d be happy to show you around BK more. 🙂
Ohh, you are awesome. 🙂
Hi Erika, as a born and raised new Yorker and brooklynite, I just have to say Bk is amazing and so full I life and culture. Happy you has an awesome BK summer weekend, this is just he beginning. I wish you happiness here. You have to of course always watch your surroundings but I think you are so built for NYC. If ever you need suggestions in places to go, etc I am an email away.
*big hug* Thank you. 🙂
I knew you were just going through an adjustment period. There’s too much to enjoy in NYC to let the bad stand in the way.
One day I am going to get like you and take Ass Kicking classes, instead of just thinking about it.
So pleased to hear about your breakthrough. While I’m in the seemingly safe confines of central Ohio (more green auras, than beige, lol), there are those instances where my comfort levels are tested. My anxiety became amplified, with my physical changes. And I’m currently fighting to break my reclusive habits, because of it – in a city I KNOW. Anyways, you sharing your experience and triumph, is more encouraging than you may ever realize.
P.S. Now with your bike, you can explore the city with ease, all the while telling those intrusive fools to watch your dust! ;o)
PAULA. Where are you?!
I’m here, Sis, lol! Just digging myself out of the rubble that was my first semester in this Bus. PhD program. On Summer break now, trying to catch up on my favs and garnering the inspo to get back into “the ‘sphere.”
Girllll, take CARE of yourself. I mean, you went AWOL on us, LOL! I was wondering about you a month or so ago, and hoping all was well. I miss you! *hug*
I’m glad to hear from you and am looking forward to calling you Dr. Madame, but take CARE of yourself.
I’m proud of you. 🙂
I wanna hug, kiss, love, and hump (inappropriate much? *shrugs*) this post! I’m so happy for you and your re-acquaintance with your love of culture and facing your anxiety in your own unique way. I was getting ready to write off our friendship in my head if you couldn’t love NY the way I do, but I knew you’d come through in your own way. Friendship saved. Amen. There’s sooo much to love about NYC and I think most people would find something to love about this place if they try or didn’t try. I’m glad you found something to make you smile about the concrete jungle. =)
P.S. You are a brave heart for hitting these streets on a bike. With these crazy drivers out here, I wouldn’t feel safe in an army tank *__*
Hey! I’m one of those crazy drivers! LMAO!
No, but I only bike in certain places. I think the bike situation is new to BK (correct me if I’m wrong, please), so I make sure I go places where bikes are reasonably accounted for, you know?
As a mom how was the move/transition for your daughter? My husband and I separated, I lived in the Washington, DC area but moved near Delaware (close to my job) and I cannot take living in a town. I’ve been more at fear living in this small town with people that don’t look like me then when I lived in the city with teenagers in my hallway smoking weed, and gun shots…and the list goes on. I know that may sound crazy but when I moved to MD 10 years ago I had your initial concerns but threw myself into Baltimore, Wash, DC and Phili(and enjoyed myself)….now I’m in a small town and it’s just me and my 5 year old…I feel out of place. I’m originally from upstate, NY and want to transfer my job to NYC, but I keep hearing negative comments regarding parenting in the city. What are your thoughts?
You know what? This is a really deep question.
I’m a hyper-involved parent, so for us, it hasn’t been too tough. In fact, in dealing with a lot of the issues I’ve dealt with over time, my pseudo-answer was to be more supporting at her school. There are tons of playgrounds and lots of safe places for her to mingle with other children like her, loads of libraries for her to visit, museums to take her to, and lots of other stuff I didn’t have access to in other cities. No, you’re not going to have a front yard (or a back yard, for that matter) for them to play in, and that results in me keeping her in the house more often than not (which a LOT of parents do, never mind the effects this has on the obesity rate)…
…actually, this is a blog post. LOLOL
Glad to hear you’re finding a way to weave yourself into the tapestry of BK on terms you can live with. Keeping a box cutter on your person can also provide a bit of extra comfort #justsayin.
I love y’all. Really, I do. <3
Beautiful article! I’ve soooo been there 🙂
Erika, I’m so glad you found what makes NYC so special. And while I’m a Queens girl, I’m glad you fell in love with Brooklyn.
You found what I love so much about NYC, but I didn’t realize how amazing and special it was until I left and went to college in Upstate New York. When a place still has issues over race, you know you have problems. Yikes.
I had to be in another place to realize how culturally diverse New York is, and how it’s unlike anywhere else. It’s a hard place, sometimes, but it’s worth getting to know in the end. Like I said before, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!
<3 <3 <3 and welcome to the city!
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