Late last night, after repeated attempts over the past two years, to dissuade my next-door neighbor from unsolicited advances on no fewer than three separate occasions, ranging from suggestive texts to his decreeing approval or disapproval of people I'm dating, to physically invading my personal space, he texted to tell me that the last incident on New Years (how long it’s been since I have communicated with him) was months ago. He said he realizes that it was a party foul on his part, but could I blame him for wanting to kiss a beautiful woman on New Years, and that he was willing to deal with my silence, but because I avoid him, now he feels I am punishing “everyone.”
Everyone means several of my other neighbors—we’ve been a fairly tight-knit crew up until the New Years thing. Brunches. Shrimp boils. Halloween. Christmas. Shenanigans galore. Last year, I was with my neighbors when we all found out about Prince. And when we heard about Ali. For the past couple of years my neighbors have been my sanctuary. With them, until now, I have never had to wear my armor indoors. They have, for the most part, been my oasis in the midst of all my life’s crazy, particularly as I rebuild my life following a fairly public divorce and while completing a terminal degree. And I have cherished getting to know them all, even this man at one point before I realized what he was, because he's charismatic with a vibrant personality and intelligent and he has a crude way about him but he can also be unexpectedly kind. And we've all stayed up late around a picnic table or fire pit to listen to music and drink beers and talk and laugh long into a Kentucky summer or autumn night. And now, apparently, I have ruined that family dynamic because I no longer wish to hang out around someone who has the distasteful habit of inevitably preying on whomever he perceives as an available woman.
I learned just this past week from former neighbors that this man has groped and assaulted women right in the shadows between our buildings and chased them to their door under the spell of inebriated lust. He has made women afraid. He made me afraid on New Year's. But he never really remembers the details, for instance it wasn't just a kiss he was gunning for that night judging by the long, groping embrace he caught me up in minutes before. Or the texts he sent afterward with a link to a music video insinuating fate had brought us together (even though his girlfriend at the time, another one of my neighbors, was just downstairs as she had turned in early). But what I have also learned is that he always apologizes so sincerely that women inevitably come back into the fold. Even I didn't realize this was his predatory pattern since the first two incidents with me were fairly benign to begin with and so far apart. And maybe I should have known better than to rejoin the crew after he apologized the second time. Maybe I was being rewired like the others and being taught to simply chalk his comments about women and to women as part of his regrettable but what-ya-gonna-do he-is-who-he-is shtick.
But now that I am all the way woke about what is going on and how I've been duped, let there be no question that I do not wish, nor have I ever wished to be a willing participant in the imaginary harem of a man who thinks every woman within a one mile radius is his by right since some occasionally acquiesce, whether she’s a lesbian (given enough time, a condition he believes he can remedy) or married (same) or just not interested (same). And if she’s a Black woman? Well, now. Now we get to try the Plantation Fantasy variety of the cereal box samples, right? And when any of the women don’t appreciate his amorous attention? He'll ratchet up the intensity and come on stronger and stronger and yet, STILL no one says anything to him. For whatever reason, my beloved friends and neighbors are wary of confronting him. No. Not wary. Reluctant. Willfully too blind to confront him? So, guess who it’s left to to come off as the asshole in this situation?
A few weeks after I stopped talking to this guy, one of my neighbors sent me an esoteric text encouraging me to make nice. Later, I found out that someone else, one of my oldest and dearest friends (as in maid of honor at her wedding), was instructed not to confront him on my behalf, even though she has said in the past she can't bring any of her girlfriends outside of our block over because of him. And they all just continue to socialize with him night after night despite what they know about his duplicitous interactions with me and with other women in the past. So, to my knowledge, no one has said anything to call him on his behavior, because after all, it's not like he's an actual rapist. He just gets a little rape-y every now and then. And besides, he apologized, kind of. And besides, that last time was months ago. I guess the implication here is to make nice even though I am the one who felt violated, grossed out, and completely disrespected. And that pisses me off. I am also angry at being put in the position to have to draw a line between me and neighbors I have come to adore, which adoring neighbors as an adult for me is a first—I am sad and angry because the building and people I used to seek refuge in have now become a space I dread coming home to. And what makes matters worse is that I have to still live here until I move this summer, but what’s the alternative? To say nothing? To allow this guy’s behavior to go unchecked because I am somehow making "everyone" suffer by my choice to withhold contact? What is worth continuing to enable a predator with silence? Apparently, it’s friendship.
But, just out of curiosity. Do you know what some of the common character traits pathological cult leaders share? Here are just a few from the highlight reel: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/201208/dangerous-cult-leaders
- He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
- Demands blind unquestioned obedience.
- Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
- Has a sense of entitlement—expecting to be treated special at all times.
- Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
- Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
- Takes sexual advantage of members of his sect or cult.
- Sex is a requirement with adults and sub adults as part of a ritual or rite.
- Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others.
- Has ignored the needs of others, including: biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs.
- Doesn’t seem to listen well to needs of others, communication is usually one-way in the form of dictates.
- Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated or exploited for personal gain.
- When criticized he tends to lash out not just with anger but with rage.
- Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”
- Is superficially charming.
- The word “I” dominates his conversations. He is oblivious to how often he references himself.
- Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.
- Has isolated the group physically (moved to a remote area) so as to not be observed.
So, as a single Black woman in the South, as always, when confronted with encounters such as this, I am programmed to think how could this play out and what are my options? I am basically dealing with a shade-tree cult leader as my next-door neighbor who insists on communicating with me when I have asked him repeatedly to stop. I could file a restraining order or call the police if it got too bad, I guess. But then I start thinking about who’s going to listen to whom when we file the report. And then I inevitably consider all the deaths of brothers and sisters at the hands of the police nationwide and then the Muslim sister from New York who recently made history by becoming a judge and they found her floating in the river just this week—nobody knows how or why. Too many of those stories where no one really ever knows what happened rush to the forefront of my mind—things that sometimes move too fast for anyone to figure out who reacted to what first. Next thing you know, I’m a hashtag.
Yes, unfortunately, that's where my mind goes, because I have heard too many stories, witnessed too many interactions between "friends" gone wrong. And I’m still aware for all my letters and accomplishments, I still live in the South. I am still a Black woman in a one bedroom apartment I found for cheap in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood, and that I’m telling a white man, no. And that at the end of the day, the white folks seem to stick together, no matter who is toxic among them, so if I want to speak up, I will be outnumbered and feel alone enough to question my own sanity and principles even as I write this blog. Am I polarizing? Am I generalizing? Is it me? What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong? How will people see me? Is it just me? No, it can't be just me. This is the effect of systemic psychosis on the oppressor. Did I lock the door? Is it me? What did I do wrong?
I find it super ironic and surreal that as I am literally days away from defending a dissertation that revolves around how Black women undermine narratives of male dominance, that I am having to wonder aloud to the internet, WORST case scenario, if he becomes enraged and really wants in, what are my odds of making it out of here alive? Like, I have to think that extreme. Because I honestly don't know what he is capable of but I do now know I can't trust him. I suppose I could ask my ex-husband to be on standby for a 911 text and then what? Exchange, no matter how temporarily, one man’s sense of dominance for the one I’ve left behind? The options get slimmer and slimmer the more I think about it. But mostly I am confused and I am angry.
Because it’s like—who else? Who else am I missing? Who else am I not seeing coming? It’s not just this one guy I live next door to but it couldn’t be all white men, could it—who react poorly when they are told “no”? And by react poorly, I mean essentially throw a temper tantrum.
What about the white men who year after year after year for going on twelve years now inevitably resist my authority in the classroom at every turn in terms of both my gender and my ethnicity in every town I’ve ever taught? Snide comments. Outright anger and verbal abuse. The merry-go-round of administrative pass-the-hat when I try to report an incident that’s gone too far. But that happens to all teachers at some point right?
What about the white men who practically walk through me in stores or on sidewalks as though even a dog had more right to cross their paths? They don’t even see me, so do they count?
What about the random white guy just this morning who tried to compel me into pouring sugar in my coffee at the coffee kiosk next to him because “After all, we can both get in here,” and when I declined, got annoyed and took the entire sugar container with him? He wouldn't try anything if pushed would he?
What about the white men who are for all practical purposes are good guys like some of my neighbors that aren't this man—they would never dream of hurting anyone, least of all me, but they just—don’t like confrontation—because perhaps that would also mean confronting some aspect of themselves. But hey, in all other respects, they're the good guys.
Tonight, I was prepared to read poems at an event where, like the Lorax, I’d be speaking for the trees. But how can I possibly speak for the trees when so many of y'all out there ain’t even hearing me when I speak for myself?
How to Make a White Man Angry in Ten Easy Steps
Tell him he can’t have something.
Watch the shutters come down
behind his eyes as he attempts
to figure out what you just said.
Because it couldn’t have possibly been:
You cannot touch this.
You cannot take that.
You cannot have this.
You cannot break that.
You cannot say this.
You cannot do that.
Tell him you do not want to hear
what he has to say—you do not wish
to hear another word about
how he tried to be reasonable with you
but now it’s you punishing everyone else
by protecting yourself.
So, tell him you are done listening.
Say it again, louder this time because
he is just waiting for his turn to speak.
Tell him he is wrong.
Do not let on that words
such as, privilege and oppressor
and internalized dominance have flown
your mind as you consider dialing
your ex-husband to ask him
to defend you one last time.
Do not let on that you are afraid.
Practice not letting your voice crack.
Practice not letting your limbs shake--
not with anger, not with fear.
Do not buckle.
Do not alter the determinedness
of your stride when you walk away
not even once,
not even when you are safe behind your door,
because safe—you aren’t even sure
what safe looks like anymore--
because at one point
you thought he was safe.
Tell him his opinion doesn’t matter.
He’s had so, so long to speak his piece.
In fact, for hundreds and hundreds of years
he hasn’t shut up.
Tell him to shut-up.
Tell a white man to stop talking
and see what happens—even when he’s trying to explain.
Tell him that you are done making exceptions for his “I was raised like this.”
Done validating his “It’s not me, it’s you.”
You are done sanctioning his “But, we were all having such a good time.”
You are done cosigning on his “It isn’t my fault I can’t resist.”
Tell him he can’t buy you.
Tell him you are not for sale.
Not for compliments.
Not for his too-little-too-late-never-shoulda-in-the-first-place apology.
Tell him he can’t buy you.
He couldn’t afford you even if he could
because he can’t buy what he can’t break.
Call him on the gaps in his logic.
Point out his strawmen,
his ad hominems,
Remind him who would be able to cite
the white man’s rhetoric better than him
because they've been kept
in place by it for so long.
Remind him he doesn’t have absolute control
over a situation—nor over you
and it’s only a matter of time
before he realizes it too.
Tell him no more.
No more self-flagellation for not knowing
what to do with the mess that he created,
and no more hero’s journey narratives
glorifying said mess where the hero comes
to save the unwashed, unlettered, colored masses
from themselves but not ever from him.
No more code-switching with me during conversation into slang.
No more narratives that romanticize slavery
or the Civil Rights Movements or the “country” of Africa
where Black people are depicted as infantile and benign.
No more fetishizing Black bodies.
No more attempts to stick his dick or his legislation
where it is not welcome (the two
are not mutually exclusive).
You want to know how to make a white man angry
in ten easy steps?
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
Tell him, no.
And watch the shutters come down behind his eyes.