Something extraordinary happened today. Something surprising; refreshing. Absolutely exhilarating.
As I made my way down a bustling Los Angeles street, a brother walked right up to me and saidÖ
Well, he smiled too. But that was it.
Period. Nothing more. End of story.
No lip-licking or fancy tongue moves. No barking. No "how can I be down" inquiries. No slimy looks that would reduce a womanís complex equation down to mere tits and ass. No "oh-you-donít-wanna-talk-well-fuck-you-then" type outbursts a sista is known to receive, when she doesnít opt to hold a conversation with a complete stranger. This brotha, bless his heart -- didnít even reach for his dick.
That Iím often prepared for such, says a lot about me (and a million other sistas), and what Iíve come to expect. Some male friends scoff when I describe what one encounters in this city, when youíre a lone woman simply trying to mind her own business.
They remind me that not all brothas behave badly.
Not all, I concede. But enough.
When I was sixteen and sat waiting at a bus stop, one brotha and his sidekick decided I should learn to answer "when a muthafucka talks to me." The fact that I had my face buried in an 11th grade Spanish book was, I guess, beside the point. My lesson that day consisted of dodging three, D-sized batteries they threw at me from their car window.
I consider myself lucky. Two of the batteries missed.
With this, one might conclude itíd be easier to take the more proactive approach, by acknowledging and speaking to a brotha first. Surprisingly, such a simple act of courtesy can also prove hazardous.
Some fellows mistake a smile and hello as an open invitation for sex. Failing to follow through with your name, phone number, and home address can constitute a fatal blow to certain types of egos. This can result in being cursed, harassed, followed, chased, threatened, or spit at. Over the years, Iíve had various parts of my anatomy touched, brushed against, grabbed, or pinched; without warning or approval. Despite my rage, I must secure a safe distance before unleashing a verbal reprimand.
It comes down to physics and biology. My offenders are usually bigger, stronger, and possess way more testosterone.
So, unlike carrying a concealed weapon, staying strapped with a feisty attitude is a legal mode of self-defense. And since I donít have time to distinguish the potential battery-slingers from the regular nice guys, I stick to the basic rules of street survival:
Avoid tangible eye contact. Donít smile. Always appear to be in a rush. Keep a full can of pepper spray within reach. Pray. Above all, keep moving.
Which is exactly what I was doing, when one brave brotha ventured into my space; smiled and said hello. Nowadays, since Iíve perfected the icy stare and standoffish demeanor, most folks just step out of my way. But this brotha was daring enough to approach, polite enough to speak, and secure enough to keep walking.
The unspoken meant more than the greeting he offered. To me it said: I see and respect you. I mean you no harm; nor do I want anything from you. I simply acknowledge a queenís presence, as any king should.
Period. Nothing more. End of story.
So, this is for the brother with the nice smile, who passed me on that downtown street during lunch hour; who reinstated a small piece of my spirit with a word and a smile.
This is for every man who makes it a habit to do the same.
Many shell-shocked sistas might breeze past you without returning a kind word; but keep in mind, there are two weíd really like to say:
From Inglewood, California, Jamal Sharif is the author of the book,
Pride, and Politickiní: Homegrown Poetry and Essays.