An Open Letter to Mama Becky

Dear Becky,

I saw that you shared that long-ass Facebook post about our community:

This was Boardman Sam’s Club and Walmart. Another friend told me this happened in Marc’s as well.

ALL PARENTS/GRANDPARENTS NEED TO LISTEN UP. I have gone back and forth as to whether to post this or not. It makes me a bit nervous as I would prefer others do NOT share my post. It is ok to COPY and PASTE, but please don’t share, as I’d rather not have my name and pics of my kids associated with it. In fact, I m thinking I am going to shut down my fb page as well as my girls. I have actually been thinking about it a lot lately. We live in such a bad world and fb is a danger. After yesterday I’m more convinced than ever to limit my girls exposure to the public.

Yesterday my girls and I went to Boardman to Sam’s Club. While there a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours. We had our own cart and i said, “No, it’s all yours. Must be your lucky day.” He had an armload of bags of chips and looked like he was ready to drop them. He was a nice looking guy. Probably 40ish or so. He was dressed in a hoodie and jeans and looked like a clean cut guy. He was an African American with a shaved head and facial hair like George Michael. He smiled and said thanks. He hesitated for a minute as my girls and I continued about our shopping. He then smiled at me and yelled over, “Hey you have a nice day ok.” I looked up again as I didn’t realize he was still in the area. I thanked him and told him to do the same. It seemed like an innocent encounter. We finished up our shopping and headed out. We stopped at Wal-Mart next. I will tell you I HATE that Wal-Mart but my Mom just got out of the hospital and needed to get some things. She asked if I would stop there next. We were over by the deli section and my youngest daughter was about 5 or 6 ft away from me. She was reaching up to grab something. My older daughter was close to her. I would say about 3 ft from her. As my younger daughter was reaching up I happened to catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw a man with his eyes PLANTED on her. He was feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter. It was the EXACT same man from Sam’s Club. He didn’t see me looking at him looking at my girls. I grabbed both girls and said, “Come on and stay close to me. We need to get what we need and go.” We started walking and I went to a different isle to try and get away from him. We started down a few dfifferent isles and as I turned to look, my girls looked with me. The man was following us. He saw us looking at him and he tried to look at shelves as if he were shopping. My girls both said, “Mommy that’s the man from Sam’s Club.” I said, “Yes it is. We need to go.” Obviously I was shaken to the very core. I have absolutely NO doubt that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell. Boardman is close to truck stops and the turnpike. Who knows if he had someone in the parking lot watching for us to come out. Given that he and I locked eyes and I made it clear from my resting B face that I knew what he was up to. He disappeared.

This encounter has literally shaken me to my core. To think some creep was looking at my young girls for vile intentions makes me physically sick. Is there a safe place to raise kids without so much evil? Sickening. What an evil/vile world we live in.

Please watch your children closely. Hold their hands. Keep an eye on other kids around you as well. Maybe a parent is distracted and their child is in danger. Everyone needs to be aware of what is going on around them. Never did I dream this is the world my girls would grow up in. Never. I feel like locking them up and never letting them out

Wow. Thank you for doing that public service by sharing that important warning about a black man shopping and looking in a woman’s general direction. While texting! And being friendly!

I know you shared it because you want to raise awareness that sex trafficking happens here and that women and their kids need to be hyper aware of it.

The thing is, the story is like so many others I’ve read:

It’s almost like such a story isn’t based in all that much fact and is more based in paranoia.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch out for yourself or your kids in public places. Creepy people will be creepy and they need to be watched out for. That’s common sense. I’m a firm believer in “fuck politeness.” People have no obligation to be polite and it is better to be an asshole and apologize later than risk your safety and life by going with the idea that you need to be nice. For example, a man asked to use my phone once when I was alone outside a concert. I told him hell no — I wasn’t about to let some strange man use my iPhone. He could run off it with! He looked heartbroken, but he can ask some other dude to borrow his Nokia or Jitterbug or whatever, not the random woman (me) who happens to have the type of face people think is inviting.

I’m not saying human trafficking isn’t a problem it is. It is especially a problem in northeast Ohio where we have a large number of interstates. There is even a task force in Ohio to combat human trafficking. However, it should be noted that the idea that human trafficking is based on outright kidnapping is a myth. 

From the International Human Trafficking Institute:

While social media posts gather likes and shares and comments, these posts also build myths about trafficking. Through sensationalist posts, like those found on my Facebook feed, I quickly realized that friends and family believed that they were at high risk of being kidnapped and trafficked. Their regular trips to shopping malls and offices now, supposedly, represent a risk to them and their daughters.

This level of awareness is more harmful than helpful for several critical reasons:

It promotes a myth that trafficking is a crime of kidnapping. Ideas that girls are vulnerable to being snatched off the street lead to terror and fear. Kidnapping victims is risky for traffickers; instead, human traffickers are far more likely to lure individuals into a coercive scheme by building a relationship with and/or promising something to them. When individuals come willingly – at least at first – there’s less risk for the trafficker.

It suggests that trafficking is an impulsive crime. Human traffickers target their victims. They identify men, women and girls who are vulnerable and appear to need money, a better life, love, friendship or security. Traffickers then groom them or construct a scheme that appears attractive to the individual. This process takes care and time.

It positions middle-class women and girls as the most vulnerable. Human trafficking disproportionately affects minorities and disadvantaged groups. Experts understand that individuals such as homeless and runaway youths, members of the LGBTQ population and children with histories of childhood sexual exploitation are far more vulnerable.

But putting or sharing some long-ass story on Facebook about some woman’s suspicions about a black man who is shopping is not going to end human trafficking or help protect yourself or your kids from human trafficking.

It is also NOT raising awareness about human trafficking in northeast Ohio. Try sharing information from Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking or the Polaris Project. Or, hell, volunteer for one of those organizations. Talk about how traffickers instead prey on the vulnerable – the kids who are lonely and posting about how they wish their lives were better, the women who are looking for jobs and are desperate, etc. Many trafficking victims go with their captors willingly after having been groomed. The incidence of child abduction by strangers, like someone you’ve shopped next to in Wal-Mart, is rare and it is not rising.

I don’t need to be a mom or have a mother’s intuition to tell me that these sorts of paranoid stories don’t do anything but stir up emotions. And in the case of the local scare-story, make other white people paranoid about black men who are just going about their business.

Yes, I mentioned race, Mama Becky. No, you sharing the story does not make you racist. No, I do not think that the race of the dude giving that woman the creeps was unimportant in the scheme of a report.

But let’s look at the reported story a little closer. Did the black man do anything wrong? He went shopping and had his hands full. He was friendly. He went to the store that happens to be in the same shopping center as the first store the woman saw him at. He looked at or in the general direction of the woman. He was texting quickly.

How does this align with the behavior of a sex trafficker? It doesn’t. A sex trafficker, especially one who is a black man, is not going to run up and kidnap two little white girls in the middle of the day in a suburban area, especially when they are right next to their parent. Granted, yes, Mama Becky, we live in a crazy world in which a man goes up and shoots another man point-blank, recording the situation on video to share on Facebook. Bad shit does happen. Would the situation I described above happen? Unlikely. Not because it is Boardman, Ohio, but because trafficking is not a crime of kidnapping, it is not impulsive, and it is not something disproportionately done to middle-class women and girls. Liam Neeson lied to you.

That’s not to say that harm isn’t done. White women spreading unsubstantiated stories about black men who were friendly to them but gave them a bad feeling is how we got Emmett Till and the Tulsa Race Riots. Black men going about their business and then being suspected of wrong doing just for being present in an area is how Trayvon Martin got shot and killed. Remember, Trayvon’s killer said, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good.” Am I saying that you’d kill the man in the Facebook story, Becky? No, but you sure do draw some similar conclusions about black men.

My point in bringing up how the scare story addressed race is that when white women such as yourself, Becky, put messages that imply other Beckies and their little Beckaroos be on the lookout for black men you are wielding your white privilege. Yes, Becky, privilege. You are utilizing the age-old narrative that white women are innocent and delicate and in need of protecting, especially from the scary black man. Its the narrative that Mayella Ewell used against Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird. Its the narrative that Rose was going to use against Andre at the end of Get Out. It is the narrative that this woman is teaching her girls — that they need to be suspicious of black men, even ones that are merely friendly to them and minding their own goddamn business. You know why he probably told you to have a good day? Because he was trying to avoid looking like the sort of suspicious man you labeled him as anyway.

Basically, when you share stories around your social media that vilify a black man in this way — he seemed so nice and good looking, but he was a sex trafficker, I know it! — though HE DID NOTHING WRONG and was unlikely to do anything wrong to you, you are sharing something racist. You are contributing to a societal attitude that says black men are worthy of suspicion and promote the stereotype that black men are inherently threatening. Besides, Mama Becky, look at who was recently caught for sex trafficking – white men who were considered upstanding citizens!

I realize that because I am not a mother, my words will not hit home with you, Becky. I lack a mother’s intuition, I am told, therefore the facts I present and my thoughts are meaningless. I think your argument is bullshit. That’s like saying that men cannot understand rape. That argument, too, is bullshit. 

You may also dismiss my words because you’d rather be safe than sorry. Safe than sorry for whom? For you and your other (mostly white) moms in your circle? Are you actually that much safer? After all, your family and friends are much more likely to be traffickers than a stranger in Wal-Mart. Your family and friends are much more likely to abduct your child than a stranger or a slight acquaintance. Just like you’re much more likely to get raped or sexually assaulted by a relative, friend, or acquaintance! Isn’t all this posturing about stranger danger futile?

Of course, I was also told, “It’s not like we took a picture and said ‘LOOK HERE’S A SEX TRAFFICKER!'” Thank everything sacred that you didn’t! That would not only have been libel (I just saved your ass from getting sued, Becky!), but would have probably ruined that man’s life. God forbid some vigilante take it upon himself to do some old-fashioned justice on the basis of your report, Becky!

Again, and just because I want you to get it, I am not saying that it is ever wrong to mention race. You get raped? You get mugged? You get stabbed? I want you to give as detailed a description as possible. Blast it all over Facebook. I will help you hang signs up and down Federal Street in Youngstown with a description of your attacker. But before you share a story about a black man who gave some woman – a woman who admittedly wants to lock her children away because of perceived dangers in the world – a bad feeling, I want you to think about whether the story makes sense given what you now know about sex trafficking, what you now know about other stories being false, and what you now know about the racist undertones of such stories when the suspect is a man of color.

Above all, consider that sharing such stories does more harm than it does good.

You are not being safer than sorry.

Yours,

Mandy

One thought on “An Open Letter to Mama Becky

  1. Laura Goist says:

    WELL SAID! I’ve been livid about this BS. I bet he was texting his wife that some looney white woman followed him from Sam’s Club to WalMart and was giving him bitch face for no reason

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