This Is How a Black Woman Unravels

Illustration for article titled This Is How a Black Woman Unravels
Photo: iStock

I walk a lot.

I have a car, but sometimes, it’s nice to be able to look around you and see what’s out there.


I lived in New York City for about four years, so walking is no big deal.

Cat-calling is no big deal.

I was walking, today, in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. It was broad daylight. 2 p.m., or so.

I was minding my business—I’m always minding my business.

I saw a boy—couldn’t have been more than 17—walking alongside me, but it really isn’t a big deal.

I call him a boy, because I’m almost 30, and anyone who is less than 25 I equate to be the same as my little brother; He’s 21 and to me, he’s still a kid.

A kid walking beside me isn’t a big deal because I’m used to being spoken to, or flirted with.


I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. I’m polite (if they are). I decline. I keep it movin’. Whatever.

I have my headphones in. The Carters are playing and I hear this kid saying something to me.


I think I hear him, but I’m not sure. My music is kinda loud, kinda not.

He says, “Do you suck d—k?”

Nah, he can’t be talking to me.

I keep listening to my music. Walking. He’s closer now. I lower the volume. He’s closer. He’s testy. He’s agitated.


He repeats.

“I said, Do You Suck D—k?”

I’m looking around like, “Who the **&# is he talking to?”

I’m wishing my girls are here, because they know I’m crazy.

I’m wishing my husband is here, because he knows I’m crazy.

I’m sizing him up, because he must think I’m someone else.

He’s a good 5 feet 11 inches, probably 180 pounds.

He looks like he tried out for the football team and didn’t make it.

His clothes are dirty.

He’s sweating.

He’s raggedy.

I see what this is.

Maybe he thought he would try to say something slick because my headphones were in and he knew I couldn’t hear him, so he’s practicing.


Maybe, he’s the guy that doesn’t get girls and is trying to play tough because some girls around his way like to be spoken to like that.

I pause.

I tell myself, “Maybe you can use this as a teaching moment.”

I say to him:

“You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I’m proud.

I handled that like an adult.

He’ll feel bad.

He’ll say, “Damn. My bad shordee.”

He’ll be sorry.

He looks at me. Dryly. Directly.

“Shut the fuck up before I take you behind this tree and rape you.”

It’s like I’m hearing in slow motion:

“Shut the fuck up before I take you behind this tree and rape you.”

I see red.

Then and now.

If you’ve ever been to the Inner Harbor, you know that it’s kind of like a strip with no beach, just struggling shops and a body of water that goes around the city.


I think, “Maybe I should push him.”

Maybe I should push him in the water so that he can never say some BS like that again.


Or spit in his face. Or slap him. Or kick him. Or something.

Or something

Maybe, if I hurt him, he will never say something like this to another woman again.


I stand there for a second and try to think of what I should say.

What do you say to someone when they tell you they’re going to rape you?

I’m a hot head so I have insults for days.

I’ll start by telling him he’s a piece of shit.

How he’s never going to be anything.

How only someone who was nothing would say something like that.

I can’t do this.

How can I look a black boy in his face and tell him he is nothing?

I crumble.

I hate him and feel bad for him at the same time.

I wonder who failed him; Who in his life made him feel like it was OK to be like this.


I start to walk away.

In a split second, I go from angry to anxious and I have this sudden feeling that I’m in danger.


My bag is dangling on my shoulder, but I quickly switch it to cross-body position.

I start speed walking to put some distance between us. I look over my shoulder.

He’s sitting down on a cement-like bench near the water, staring at me. Smiling.


I want him to fall in.

I wonder if he can swim.

I hope he can’t.

I literally want to scream and in frustration, I tell myself to snap out of it.

I’m looking around and there are families—white women with babies and strollers.


Police officers.

No one seems to notice.

I ask myself if I should go to the police and tell them what has happened.

Tell them what he said to me ...

I can’t do it.

I’m disgusted.

I’m angry.

And I’m looking at myself like, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

How is it that despite everything that I feel, I still somehow tell myself that I have a responsibility to save this person that I don’t even know?


What is it about us that always wants to save someone?

I start to wonder: What if the circumstances were different?

What if it was the middle of the night, I’m by myself, and this same conversation happens?


What if he actually tried me?

I start thinking about all of the women who have been raped or victims of rape culture.


I think about all the times I’ve empathized but never really understood.

I think about hip-hop, R. Kelly, and all the blind eyes I’ve turned because of second chances, good intentions, and not knowing all the “facts.”


I think about Nia, Sandra and the dangers of being a black woman.

I think about how black men don’t stand up for or protect us enough.

I think about how people only care when it’s too late, or worse, watch while it’s happening.


I think about my 20th birthday when I was half drunk, half asleep in my room and my roommates f**k-buddy came in, trying to force himself on me. I think about how I told him to get out and he forcefully unbuttoned my pants. I think about how I started screaming my roommate’s name and she acted like she didn’t hear me. How I literally screamed, “Get out of my room!” and she called out, “Is everything OK?,” but never once got up to check.

I think about how he finally left and then saw me around like nothing ever happened.


How I ran into him last year, in Los Angeles, seven years later, and he’s a big IG influencer/YouTube star.

How he says, “What’s up” when he sees me and I say, “Fuck you.”

How he says I shouldn’t say anything because, “That was a long time ago, man.”

I see the police again.

I want to approach them, but I know that when I tell them a tall black teenager threatened to rape me


I know that if I tell them a tall black teenager threatened to rape me, what I’m really telling them is ...

I can’t do it.

I keep walking.

I get cat-called.

I turn my music back on.

It’s not the same.

I can’t ignore it.

I’m not OK.

Temi Oni is an artist, writer, and entrepreneur. For more on her work, visit


nasty woodland creature

> How can I look a black boy in his face and tell him he is nothing?

Girl. He looked you in the face and told you you were nothing. It’s not ok to threaten you with rape just because he is black. Sometimes, even in a culture which regularly tells black men that they are nothing, some black men really are nothing, and you can tell them so.