Black Men, Please Play Pokemon Go If You Want To.
I’m not saying it’s without risk or that it’s fair, but playing Pokemon Go is part of fixing this.
I read this now very popular piece on Pokemon Go, and it resonated with me from what I know about the history of police in America.
American Policing, even its its present form, reflects its inauspicious start as white slave patrols before America was America. From those slave days through Jim Crow and segregation laws (many of which were all over the country, not just in the south) policing has retained this legacy of denying public space to black people. Even when other parts of America have confronted their past with varying levels of success, policing still has not. And so, a black body, out of the house, is a body under immediate suspicion, subject to control by the state. A black body is a body that can be violated by the state.
Police don’t have to know this history to emulate it. Not knowing history, letting it enter you as culture, is one of the best ways to end up retracing the steps of the past without knowing why or that it’s happening. Police have put black people on notice for hundreds of years that when they leave the house they risk violence, harassment, jail, beatings, and death. They have not worked to change this anywhere near enough, and it’s made the policing of black people source of national shame and scandal as well as a human rights tragedy.
On a given day, police violence is not likely to happen. As horrible as the violence is, it’s statistically unlikely on any single trip outside. But that is the clever method of this kind of violence, and the fear of it, is that the police don’t need to do it so often to scare everyone in line. This was especially true when the violence is public — as media, social and traditional, has been doing so much recently. While it’s not on purpose in the same way it was in the days of lynchings, it has a similar effect. Everyone knows to live in fear, every black person knows public space does not belong to them.
As a woman, I know these feelings. I learned that public space was not meant to be mine, as well. Instead of police, it’s men that try to drive me out of public space, and men have been trying to drive women out of public space since time immemorial. But, like many women before me, I have rejected this, and decided to make public space my own space. I believe that I have a right to public space any time of the day, and anywhere the space is public. I have been told, so many times, that this belief that I have the right to walk around public space in certain places, at certain times, is stupid, and that if anything happens to me, it’s my fault for being so stupid. I have learned sets of skills for coping with this, but I’ve also paid.
It’s scary to claim public space from powerful people who will kill you. I have dealt with the constant undertone of street harassment, and the equally constant threat of sexual assault. I get groped, every so often I get slapped. I have, on two occasions, been fairly badly beaten. In both cases, a couple of men just decided to start hitting me, and I made it home bleeding, broken, but alive. Every time a strange man stares at me hard, I wonder is he going to kill me?
None of these things happen if I have a man with me, then I am allowed to be in public. The rules have been make clear to me, but fuck that.
I decided as a teenage girl, if I don’t take up space, how will this change? And how will I have any fun in life?
Since then, I’ve traveled alone in the Middle East and Africa. I’ve gone to Korea, India, Hong Kong, throughout Europe and America, and always walked alone. I have gone into one of the all male cafes on Habib Bourguiba Ave in Tunis and ordered a coffee, because I wanted a coffee. Every man was staring at me, some saying gently threatening things in a language I didn’t understand, but with an intent that could cross any language barrier. And no, I don’t think every woman has to do this. I don’t think every black man has to play Pokemon Go. But the more we take up space, the more we can take up space.
I learned this, in part, from black people in America. There is a history of America that is the history of black people taking up space, against violent resistance, and claiming their rights to be human beings in public. It is reading that history that has inspired some of my determination to take up space as a public, queer, woman. (People can’t look at me walking alone and see I’m queer, but there’s been those times, too.)
Along came Pokemon Go this year, a year when public space has been frightening to everyone. Pokemon Go is fun, and it’s an amazing way of going outside and being part of the public, along with who-knows-how-many other people, playing alongside you. I’m been going to lures and giggling at all the people, from all walks of life, wandering, looking up, and looking at their phones in a way I’ve learned to recognize. I’ve realized they know what I’m doing too. It’s a little bit embarrassing, (I’m a woman in my 40s! What am I doing‽) and a little bit thrilling and transgressive. But it’s also gotten us all out of house, into the public, sharing space. I love getting out of the house.
I know this isn’t easy. I have literal scars from my battle to take up space, but as we do it more, we win.
There are things we can do to help each other. It hasn’t come up often, but if I see the police approaching a group of people of color in a casual situation, I walk up and introduce myself and make conversation. I don’t know if I’ve changed the outcome, but the police have been well behaved the times I’ve done this. (And usually they’ve talked to me, which I found amusing.) As a bonus, I’ve also made a couple friends that way. So, I recommend that to white people. If you’re out playing Pokemon Go, and you see a woman getting harassed, you can step in as well. It doesn’t have to be a fight, it can be a casual conversation, even if you just talk to the woman, treating her like a person in front of the aggressor, it can defuse the situation.
There’s a script that has often said that the two peoples denied public space the most — women of all races and black men — present the largest threat to each other. It’s one of many scripts that keep people with a common interest alone, afraid, and divided. It keeps things the way they are, which is terrible.
We can flip the script on sharing public space, Pokemon Go is a perfect way to do it — everyone knows why you’re out, when they hear it. It’s fun, and kind of silly, and something we all instantly have in common. Whether you’re Instinct, Valor, or the best team, Mystic, you’re team Wander-Around-with-a-Cell-Phone-Trying-to-Catch-Cartoon-Animals. How can that not be fantastic?
I have fallen in love with Pokemon Go. I have been walking all over, often late at night, playing it in London. So far, no problems. One black man stopped by me at about 12:30am, to make sure I was ok. I said yes, and as he walked away, I shouted “Thank you!” But I know there’s likely to be some problems at some point. Someone will decide it’s the wrong time and place for me to dare to be outside. I hope that I will be able to talk them out of hurting me, or fight them off. I hope someone will help me, I hope I don’t get beaten, raped, or killed. But I’m not leaving the public, and I hope I get to share that public with black men, playing Pokemon Go.