If you happened to be in Harlem this past weekend and thought to yourself “Hmm. That big-headed guy who looks like he’s lost and keeps walking in circles looks just like the Champ,” chances are that it was probably me. I made the trip to NYC to take part in MANifest — a seriesÂ created and organized by Ebony.com that gathered 20 or so Black men from all walks of life to discuss “…the challenges, but also the important nuances and undeniable triumphs of being Black and male in America.”Â in a roundtable format. (And yes, an extended “Champ’s thoughts on NYC” is coming later this week)
I’d been looking forward to this event for a while. I’ve been working for Ebony.com for six months now, and aside from Jamilah and Geneva, I’ve never met the rest of the team in person. Also, it’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to sit in a room with such a diverse group of Black men — straight and gay, liberal and conservative, old and young, “academic” and “street” — and share thoughts, feelings, and experiences.Â
Anyway, midway through the conversation, one of the men brought up the concept of code-switching in regards to how we deal with women. Basically, he said that we were all fronting because the language we use to describe women and the way we act towards them is different in a setting such as the moderated roundtable discussion at MANifest than it would be if we were at a bar or on the block. When the cameras are on and women are in the room, it’s all respect andÂ courtesy. But, when no women are within earshot and someone like thisÂ walks past, “nature” takes over. (And, in this sense, “nature” = “an uncontrollable urge toÂ ogle, stare, salivate, and scream “Damn!!!” while biting our fists”)
While I agreed with the idea that we all code-switch, the more I think about it, the more I have to say that I disagree with the implication that code-switching is wrong. Yes, it’s definitely wrong to behave in an obnoxiously disrespectful way when seeing an attractive woman, but I just don’t think there’s a problem if, when with a group of guys, you acknowledgeÂ her looks in a way that you probably wouldn’t if you were speaking to a woman. My reaction to a Stacey DashÂ doppelgangerÂ when I’m sitting with my boys is going to be different than it would be if sitting with my homegirl. Or my girlfriend. Or my parents. Or a couple of male co-workers I’m not really all that close to. Different language will be used, but code-switching in a context-dependentÂ way to verbally acknowledge and appreciate isn’t inherently disrespectful.
That being said, I still do wonder whereÂ acknowledgment/appreciation ends and objectification begins. For instance, the staff at Ebony.com is comprised of some very attractive women. Is it appreciation or objectification if, when meeting one of them for the first time,Â “She’s banging”Â was the first thought to go through my head?Â And, if having that first initial thought doesn’t make it objectification, when does it cross that line? If “Damn, she’s banging” stays the primary thing going through your head during your conversation? If you glance at her hands mid-convo to see if she’s married? If you watch her walk away? If you subtly position yourself in a way so that you’ll be able to watch her walk away?Â (Also, I’m aware that women do stuff like this too — and can even be more “objectificational” than we are — but it just doesn’t have the same negative connotation)
None of the actions mentioned are overtly obnoxious — silently watching a woman walk past might rate a 1.6 on the 10 point creepy scale (and 7.6 if you lick your lips while doing it) — but the intent is really no different than what happens when a group of men whistle at a woman walking down the street or when a man “accidentally” allows his hand to brush up against (and linger on) anÂ anonymouslyÂ mini-skirted ass at a club. All ways of expressing a sexual/romantic interest that has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the package the person is presented in.
Anyway, people of VSB.com, in your opinion(s), when does appreciation end and objectification begin? Since they’re so closely intertwined, is there even a way to really distinguish between the two? Also, does the answer have less to do with the intent than how the attention is received?
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)
***Are we to blame for Gwyneth Paltrow feeling “familiar” enough to tweet “nigga?” Check out my latest at The Root — “Gwyneth, the N-Word and Why We’re to Blame” —Â for an answer***