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Hollaback responds to criticism of racial bias in street harassment video

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Anti-street harassment advocacy group, Hollaback, has responded to concerns over a viral video that some felt unfairly depicted men of color. Following complaints on social media and on the many Web sites where the video was posted, the group has released a statement, saying “we regret the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video that over represents men of color.”

In the video, which has received millions of views on YouTubeViral, a woman is subjected to more than 100 catcalls as she walks through New York City. It’s been lauded as a poignant depiction of the prevalance with which women are subjected to street harassment, but the video has also led to discussion around the fact that the majority of the men featured in the video appear to be black or Latino.

In a piece for Salon Wednesday, writer Emily Gould described the source of the criticism:

Because the woman who volunteered to be filmed is white and a lot of her harrassers are not, an uncomfortable and likely unintended subtext crept into the video. While Hollaback’s blog post about the video makes sure to point out that “street harassment disproportionately impacts women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and young people,” that wasn’t the dynamic that the video represented.

The video was filmed by viral video director Rob Bliss. Bliss also responded to the criticism — on Reddit — as noted by Slate’s Hanna Rosin.

This doesn’t mean that the video doesn’t still effectively make its point: that a woman can’t walk down the street lost in her own thoughts, that men feel totally free to demand her attention and get annoyed when she doesn’t respond, that a woman can’t be at ease in public spaces in the same way a man can. But the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break. As Roxane Gay tweeted, “The racial politics of the video are [expletive] up. Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”

Emily May, Hollaback’s co-founder and executive director, could not be reached immediately for comment. The group’s statement also criticized some media coverage of the video and denounced those who have barraged the actress in the video, Shoshana B. Roberts with online threats. “The onslaught of rape and death threats that have been directed at the Shoshana B. Roberts, the subject of the video, are unacceptable but sadly unsurprising. When women are visible in online or offline spaces, they experience harassment. When women demand change, they meet violent demands for their silence.” 

The conversation over the video doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Even celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates jumped into the fray on Thursday. Responses to her tweets highlight the complexity of the discussion.