YouTuber ‘ Smooth Sanchez’ went viral on Monday with a controversial video streamed live from the New York City #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) protests, in which he pretends to work for BLM, and asks white people to kneel in solidarity. Despite the cheers of encouragement in the live chat replay, it’s clear Sanchez has failed to read the room, given the disparity of 2.1k dislikes (about as many as he has subscribers for the channel) compared to just 377 likes. During times of great civil disturbance, we can rest assured that it’s business as usual for edgelord trolls. The following Friday, #GoBaldForBLM was trending on Twitter, which encouraged white women to shave off their hair in a similar display of solidarity. Unsurprisingly, this action had nothing to do with BLM, having originated on the website 4chan. Given that both of these pranks target women specifically, it says much more about the misogyny and opportunism of the posters than it does about the “self-hating” white people it sought to expose.
In the original video, ten out of the twelve women in total who kneeled were on their own. Out of the solitary women, 83% kneeled; compared to 50% of the solitary men. Women were much less likely to kneel if with a male partner, with this figure dropping to 33%. Sanchez interacts with over ten men without asking them to kneel, and yet out of all the women he spoke to, only one woman was not asked — probably because she quickly got off the bus to get away from him. In subsequent videos, women are asked to hold his drink as they kneel.
One woman repeatedly asks Sanchez to stop following her, stating “I just don’t want you to follow me anymore. I’m sorry, I feel really uncomfortable” before finally kneeling in order to get him to leave her alone. She asks that he not use the footage for anything, to which he agrees, not informing her it’s being broadcasted live. This clear disregard for women’s boundaries makes for uncomfortable viewing. Running across the road, the next woman he approaches is visibly startled. Later, he asks another woman for her number. When she politely declines, explaining that she is in a relationship, he starts shouting at their group “lesbian” and “you’re a lesbian, get away from me!” Other charming remarks from the stream include: “I’m on the prowl, I’m looking to fuck somebody’s wife” and “I kept them right in order” after the women kneel.
There is a clear element of sexualisation within these interactions. The striking imagery of women, in masks, being told by a man to kneel in respect, was not lost on viewers, who commented: “she ready to suck”, “damn I’d ask for a bj”, “damn this is giving me a fetish” and “she kneels before guys often”. Another commenter says “now pet her head” and compares women to dogs; while men who kneel are described as “simps” and thought to be emasculated. That the whole stream is a joke just adds an additional layer of humiliation.
For a video designed to make a mockery of the concept of privilege, it certainly proves the point of male privilege. For women, being approached by a man on the street is inherently intimidating. In the U.S., 9 out of 10 rape victims are female, and 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.(1) 29% were traveling to and from work or school, or traveling to shop or run errands.(2) Women live with the very real threat of harassment, assault and rape and have to make quick assessments when in public as to the possible risk of interactions. My guess would be that the women interacting with this stranger — who is chasing them down, acting aggressively and talking about being on the prowl — have acted on instinct. It is therefore unfair to paint these women as pitiful, self-hating masochists when what we are actually witnessing is self-preservation.
Not only is there an inherent physical intimidation behind these interactions, but also an overwhelming social pressure. One woman, after being asked to apologise for the actions of Derek Chauvin, pauses and after being rushed, explains “I’m just trying to think of the right words to say.” Sanchez shouts at another woman who resists: “so you’re going to be a racist on camera?” In the U.K., radio broadcaster Stu Peters was suspended from his job after making comments online questioning the need for people in the Isle of Man to protest events overseas. Whatever your opinion on Peters and his use of “all lives matter”, it’s clear that the stakes are high for getting this wrong. Being put on the spot unexpectedly, in public, on a livestream, is a huge amount of pressure to be under and it is no surprise that most of those approached opted for the path of least resistance.
This physical and social intimidation is not being taken into account, instead, the women harassed in this video are being seen as hilarious examples of “white guilt” and self-flagellation. Personally, I would not have kneeled. That these people were not able to spot that they were being mocked can only be testament to the fact that social justice politics are becoming indistinguishable from satire. Nonetheless, all this video proves is that the right are not averse to engaging in their own bullying tactics.
This bullying seems to take a common theme. The #GoBaldForBLM makes a similar spectacle out of women’s submission, calling for them to shave their “white” hair in solidarity with BLM. Of course, this has nothing to do with the official organising of BLM, whose efforts stop just short of tonsure. Again, women find themselves as the political football tossed between the left and right. Here, the devotion of female BLM supporters is questioned through religious-like calls for head shaving. Female hair is often politicised and seen as a marker for their sexual availability. For context, Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:
“For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.”
This passage has often been interpreted as justification for the punishment of ‘disobedient’ women. After the second world war, women who slept with enemy soldiers would have their heads shaved in a public display of humiliation. Both Sanchez’ video and #GoBaldForBLM make a similar exhibition out of women and their political alliances. As Sanchez explains, his motivations are to keep women “right in order.” The women he confronts have two options: denounce BLM, to a supposed representative of the organisation; or do as he says. Likewise, the manufactured, false narrative encouraging women to shave their heads in an act of religious devotion reminds young women that what matters, above all, is their physical appearance.
Following and harassing women on the street, or goading them to shave their heads, is not social commentary on the tactics of a movement you disagree with; it is a display of entitlement, ownership and ridicule of women and their perceived political affiliations. Politically engaged women, whatever you might think of their opinions, deserve better than being made into the brunt of the joke.