Two Things That May Not Be So Different

By Barney Blakeney  

Work with me, ya’ll. I want to talk about two things – while the “#MeToo!” outcry is resonant, reality demands caution; and people in Charleston sure can’t drive. That also requires a lot of caution.

I find it hard to write about the #MeToo phenomenon. Some things really are touchy, and when emotions get caught up in issues, it’s easy to be insensitive. I don’t want to rub anybody the wrong way, but I think we really ought to be realistic about this long awaited and very necessary discussion about sexual abuse and harassment of women.

Like most stuff, it’s complicated. I guess that’s putting it lightly – the relationship between men and women always has been complicated. And controversial! They wear revealing clothes so we can see stuff then ask us what we’re looking at. It gets deeper. People have the right to wear what they want. But in the real world there’s cause and effect, action and reaction.

I read an editorial a couple of weeks ago in which the writer called on brothers to recognize that we sexually harass women on a regular basis in regular ways. Sometimes innocently as wolf calls and remarks about wide loads, other times more vulgarly as comments about grabbing genitals. A lot of guys are guilty of both encroachments. I know I’ve done stuff I’m not proud of, especially when I consider some of the stuff I’ve done that probably was offensive.

Then I read another editorial by a woman who said assaults perpetrated against Black women throughout their history in America makes the exclamations now being made seem almost frivolous.

A few years ago I saw a television movie about slavery – I can’t remember its name or plot. One scene is stuck in my mind. As the slaves were being transported from Africa during the Middle passage, a white sailor went into the hold of the ship where the slaves were chained, singled out a female then raped her.

I was infuriated watching the scene in a movie. I can’t imagine how the men who actually experienced such atrocities felt. But my thoughts about that scene are from a male perspective. I’ll never know what Black women felt – women who were violated even before they reached American shores to experience horrors infinitely more unimaginable.

I won’t use this space to argue whether Black women or women of other ethnicities are more abused. What I will do is say the issue is more complex than Oprah Winfrey’s impassioned exultation that a new dawn is on the horizon. Before that day arrives, men and women’s mindsets will have to take a 180 degree reversal. I think that’s why we must proceed with caution as a new discussion about women’s abuse begins.

The wheels of progress turn slowly, too slowly.  I think it’s delusional to get caught up in the hype. People’s attitudes don’t change overnight. Certainly age-old attitudes about sexual roles won’t change easily.

Similarly and just as seriously, our attitudes about driving must change. (Okay, that’s not the greatest transition in the world, but it’s all I got.) But for real, just as our attitudes about the abuse of our women affects people’s lives, our attitudes about driving are affecting lives. With all that snow and ice on the roads during and after last week’s snowstorm, there were people on the roads disrespecting Mother Nature.  One lady on Ladson Road in North Charleston, an innocent victim, paid for that mistake with her life. The young brother who killed her also will pay. According to one report, there were some 340 car crashes in the Tri-county area.

The same way we need to get more serious about how we treat our women, we need to be more serious about our driving. I get a lot of police reports. Some of the most frequent and alarming are reports of crashes in rural areas. About a year ago I wrote a story about St. Paul Public Service District first responders. Those folks respond to more car crashes than fires! Earlier this year I started seeing so many fatal accident reports out that way, I called Charleston County Sheriff Office spokesman Maj. Eric Watson. He said that by November 1 there had been 54 fatal crashes in Charleston County.  Of those, the Sheriff’s Office worked 27 of them. The fatalities were spread throughout Charleston County. Inner city fatalities usually involved pedestrians, he said.

Watson said most of those accidents involved speed and/or alcohol. I add that it’s just too many cars and too many people who don’t know how to use them properly.

Despite the caution to stay off the roads during the snowstorm, one report said the 17-year-old who slid off the road into that innocent woman in North Charleston was just out joyriding in the snow.

Fatal accidents occur any time of day, Watson noted. I got one report of a car that ran up under a tractor trailer about 5 p.m. during the day. But the nights are dangerous, Watson emphasized. Rural roads are unforgiving. Cars travel at higher speeds on tree-lined roads with sharp curves and narrow shoulders. Accidents under such conditions usually are disastrous. But we can impact the devastation, he said. Continued education, practicing highway safety and obeying traffic laws are keys. And wear seatbelts, he implores!

I think some of those same actions may help us realize a different reality when it comes to how we treat our women.  Certainly there has to be better education. We’re taught that some behavior is okay. As a teenager I often heard the saying, “Find ‘em, fool ‘em (fornicate) ‘em and forget about ‘em.” Now what the heck is that to say about our mothers, sisters and daughters? I always thought that was the stupidest thing in the world. But like a lot of the guys, I repeated it.

A great editor, John All, once told me it’s easier to learn than to unlearn. We’ve got a lot to unlearn.

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