Holla at Me: Talking to Men in Harlem About That Infamous Catcalling Video

Hollaback's street harassment video went viral, but it doesn't show the whole picture. Here's what men in Harlem had to say about it.

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Complex Original

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No matter who you are, you probably feel some type a way about this harassment video. Since Hollaback dropped it on the Internet earlier this week, everyone's had something to say. Clearly, the video tells a story, but what type?

Was Shoshana Roberts—the actress who walked the streets of Manhattan for 10 hours straight—being catcalled, complimented, or just straight up harassed? Was it all three? Why does the video have an overwhelming number of shots filmed in Harlem, suggesting that men of color are the only men responsible for this kind of behavior? What neighborhoods did Ms. Roberts skip? 

While producers have said any perceived racial bias in the video is unintentional, the fact remains that its lack of diversity serves to perpetuate a stereotype of black and Latino men as sexual predators. But what do the men in Harlem—specifically, on 125th Street, which featured prominently in the Hollaback video—think about all of this? We talked to a few of them about the video, race, and how to talk to women on the street. Check out their answers both in the portraits below, and the video above.

Lauretta Charlton is an Associate Editor at Complex. She's not a TiVo, so don't ask her to smile on demand. She tweets at @laurettaland

Kevin, 35, Lower East Side

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(Ed. Note: Before I was able to interview Kevin, we were interrupted by a man who looked about 40 years old. He wanted to share his thoughts on the situation. I've included his remarks below.)

"You’re a female, right? I’m a male. Certain ladies shouldn’t be wearing certain stuff. Was she being harassed or was she being complimented. Those are two different things. What was she doing? Why you say she’s being harassed? Certain girls be wearing, I don’t want to say it, but you dressed like a slut and somebody try to holler out you. What happens? Listen, I look good. There ain’t no gay shit about me. Sometimes I have a gay guy say, "you look good." It made me feel [makes face suggesting that he’s flattered], but I know I ain’t gay. If somebody gives you a compliment, take a compliment. Ain’t nobody harassing nobody."

Are Black and Latino Men more likely to catcall?

I think black and Latino men, we pull women that way, so to put it out there, we are fishing, so if there’s like 100 fish, we’ll probably say 100 things. It isn’t so much disrespect, but you never know where you’re going to strike gold, so you’re kind of like digging everywhere to see where you hit the gold mine or where you strike oil pretty much. Most of the time those guys are the nicest guys in that circle, who step out front, but the guys that yell, “You’re a bitch!” from afar or whatever, that’s the asshole in the group.

Was there racial bias in the video?

The butt smiled. Like, you didn’t even have to see her face. She could have been ugly and guys are still gonna scream from across the street.

If you actually put a black girl in a white neighborhood, the white guys would do the same thing. They’ll be like, "Oh my god, I’ve never seen a black girl as sexy as you," or whatever. They [Hollaback] just didn’t take it there. They didn’t use a black girl. If they would have used both sides of it then it would have been more of a comparison. They just, you know, like, put somebody in the hood, and, you know shit’s gonna happen. It’s a man thing. It’s not a white or black thing. It’s a man thing.

Is there a criteria for making it work?

The criteria of setting up that it works is hollering at as many ladies that you can. You never know who you’re gonna meet. If a guy sees something he likes, white or black, he’s gonna say "Hey."

Is it fair for women to have to deal with the constant barrage of catcalls?

No, it’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the beast. I just think it's the nature of the beast. Like, a guy’s gonna see a girl, his eyes are gonna get wide, he’s gonna poke out his chest, we gonna be a little bit more, you know, on the corner or whatever. And she had on, like, the black tight pants, and from the video you can see that she, you know, she was definitely shapely. So walking uptown with some tight jeans, it’s like, you’re asking for it. Not so much to say that it’s a bad thing, but "big butt and a smile." We’ve been rapping about this for years.

Did you notice she didn't smile or respond in any way in the video?

The butt smiled. Like, you didn’t even have to see her face. She could have been ugly and guys are still gonna scream from across the street.

What's the line between harassment and a compliment?

The line between harassment and a compliment is the approach. A simple "excuse me," if she doesn’t acknowledge your excuse me, I think that’s harassment, but if you say "excuse me" and she stops and you’re like, "You’re looking good today," I think that’s a compliment. Yelling across the street is definitely not a compliment.

Does catcalling work?

Catcalling works. It just works on the right type of woman. So you don’t know what type of woman you’re dealing with. But women also catcall as well. Like, if a guy is walking by in a tank top or whatever, the ladies stop and they might yell and he comes across the street. The difference is, the lady keeps walking.

Abdul, 22, Harlem

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Jonathan, 23, South Bronx

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Kashief, 23, Harlem

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Marion Gavon, 54, Harlem

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Why do you think she was catcalled so many times in the video I just showed you?

You must want attention coming outside looking like that. You want attention. You walking.

Unless you’re deaf, dumb, and blind, there’s no disrespect. But in Midtown it’s a different way. They’ll call the cops on you.

Why do you think most of the footage in the video was from Harlem and not midtown?

We speak to our ladies walking down, say hello, if they have kids, we say hello. They speak to us. Don’t anybody speak to anybody in midtown? Black or Latino? Ask them where you going, they ask you where you’re going? It’s just surviving.

Was this a compliment or harassment?

It’s a compliment. That’s our lingo. There’s nothing wrong. You’re a dime piece. Come on. Sometimes women speak to you. It makes no difference. Unless you’re deaf, dumb, and blind, there’s no disrespect. But in Midtown it’s a different way. They’ll call the cops on you.

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