Street Harrassment and Racism

I was walking home last week, and two middle-aged men walking with pitt bulls off-leashes got close to me on the pavement. I startled, and backed away. I have no phobia of dogs, but a rather a healthy respect for big animals to whom I’m a stranger.

The man laughed and yelled to the dogs, “Leave the dark meat alone!”  

I stopped walking, confused. It took me a second to realize that the dark meat wasn’t a KFC special on the ground, but me.

The man breezed past me, and shared a cheeky grin with his friend about his comment, obviously delighted at his sparkling wit. The phrase ‘dark meat’ echoed in the hollows of my mind. It was a one-two punch of racism and sexism that left me feeling dirty and worthless.

It ignored who I am as a person, and reduced me to my two my obvious visible characteristics—my skin colour and gender.

I love navigating foreign subway systems, have a ridiculous sweet tooth, follow business news religiously, can quote large parts of ‘The West Wing’, and scored really well on my SATs but in that moment, none of that mattered. I wasn’t Sarah Rappaport, journalist and human being, but a commodity that could be bought and sold at a chicken shack.

Meat, as in part of a dead animal, and not a person. Just typing this makes me cringe.

I wish I could say that this is the one and only time that I had a comment like this directed at me. I don’t normally get comments quite so blatantly disrespectful, but as someone who isn’t lily-white, I get “othered” on quite a regular basis.

When I’ve been out at bars, I’ve had men come up to me and say that they love ethnic girls as an opening line, as if we’re all the same. Clearly, all non-Anglo people have the same personality, hopes, and dreams! It comes with the added melanin and resistance to sunburn!

Men have drunkenly uttered things to vulgar to print to me about how spicy I might be in bed because of the way I look.

I’ve had people not believe me when I tell them that I’m from the States. Where are you really from, I mean, where are your parents from? are the inevitable follow up questions.

The answer to this is Chicago. Shockingly, ‘ethnic’ people populate the United States as well.

I’ve had remarks about how great my English is, as if it isn’t my first language.

Dealing with these kind of remarks has become a sad kind of normal for me, but every time I hear a dehumanizing comment, it is still just as painful as the first time.

I wish I lived in a world where I wouldn’t hear racist or sexist comments from strangers. It’d leave more space in my brain for the latest article on The FT, being a better friend, catching up wth @NotRollerGirl’s hilarious jokes on twitter, or at the very least, my Netflix Queue.

By Sarah Rappaport
I anchored for Winchester News Online yesterday. It's a weekly bulletin produced by students at the University of Winchester.  Everything in the video--from the video editing to the directing to the story content itself is done by students. 

Take a look, and feel free to tell me what I need to improve on! I'm new to presenting, and know looking more comfortable in the camera can only come with more practice. 
The News Of The World had its final issue this summer, due in part to claims by The Guardian that they had hacked and deleted voicemails of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl*. During The Leveson enquiry, its come out that while Millie's voicemails were hacked, there wasn't evidence that it was the NOTW purposefully deleted any of her messages.

The Sun reporting that The Guardian 'sexed-up' their reporting has to be taken with a grain of salt in my opinion as it has the same owners as The NOTW did.

My question after reading this is does that make it any better? If her voicemails were just hacked and not deleted, is that less terrible? Does it make the Guardian's reports less legitimate? 

What are your thoguhts?

*I hate that 'murdered schoolgirl' is what has to come after every reference to Milly Dowler. If something happened to me, I'd hate being referred to as 'murdered graduate student'. I'm a person with character traits and flaws that extend beyond the age I am now, and I feel like the people who love Milly must hate that all people know about her are the tragic circumstances of  her passing. 

I'm an American living in England. I realize that this isn't a unique experience. There are plenty of essays and books written on trans-Atlantic life; jokes about American girls using the word pants when they should be saying 'trousers', how weird the phrase 'touch wood' sounds to American ears, etc.

The definitive guide for Americans in England in my opinion is The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to The British by Sarah Lyall, The New York Times London correspondent.

That said, having lived in England for around a year overall, here's a few of the phrases/differences that I find the most compelling:

You look smart!:
 This is British for you are dressed well/nicely. I put on a nice black dress to work when I first moved to England and someone said this to me. My first reaction was this: "Uh, thanks? I have been doing a lot of reading lately?" I did not feel intelligent when I realized this comment was about my outfit and not my brains.

You alright?
A common question asked that has the same meaning as "How are you?" The proper response is fine, thanks, but whenever I hear it a part of me still thinks that I don't look alright. My brain goes: "Oh god, do I look sick/tired/sad/etc? Is there something wrong with my face? It's the only face I'm going to get!" But it's just someone being polite. The state of my face has nothing to do with it.

In hospital/going to hospital:
For whatever reason, Brits drop the "the" when referring to THE hospital. No idea why. At first I thought someone just missed a word when I was editing a news report, but this is actually a thing. 

I do not generally think that Brits as a people are more or less polite than Americans, but they do use the word 'sorry' a hell of a lot more though, even when they don't mean it. If I, like Kate Fox did in her book "Watching The English", bump into somebody on a train, chances are, they'll say sorry to me even though it was my dumb ass that bumped into them in the first place. A lot of my Brit friends also start a lot of their questions with "Sorry." As in, "Sorry, do you mind if I ask you a question?" 

I am all for being polite, but do sometimes think that overuse of the word takes away from its meaning. I cannot always if some of my friends are genuinely apologetic or just using the word sorry to be polite.  

Americanisms that my Brit friends find strange:

Over-use of the phrase 'awesome'. This generally leads to them repeating it in a valley girl accent that is hilariously bad.

The phrase grown-ass woman. Apparently, this is new to British ears. Also, variations on calling someone a 'douche'.

Phoning it in, as in "half-assing" something is also an Americanism.

The Electoral College. I was discussing it after a lecturer brought up the Bush/Gore 2000 election debacle. But to be fair, I'd say that most Americans don't understand this either.

I find that generally most of my friends here have few problems understanding what I'm saying. A lot of them watched plenty of American TV shows growing up and know that I mean toilet when I say bathroom, etc. 

I think the two nations seperated by a common language expression is less true than it was before due to things like TV shows being broadcasted on either side of the pond, and the power of the internet. Still, it's been interesting being an outsider in the UK and learning new things, like the word 'naff' and what people mean here when they ask if I'm alright. 

There's a saying about weather in Missouri--if you don't like it, wait five minutes. That has been the general feeling I've been getting from financial news coming from Europe this week. Greek PM George Papandreau was having a referendum on the bailout, then he wasn't. There was reports that he was stepping down--no he's staying--but he's actually stepping down now.

There were reports that Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi--media mogul and "Bunga Bunga" party thrower--was stepping down, and the markets rallied. Then denials came out from Berlusconi's camp within the hour of reports he was stepping down.

If I scroll enough down on my twitter feed, all the news contradicts itself. It's an interesting time to be following financial markets, as the only thing that seems to be certain these days is a heavy sense of uncertainty. 
Isn't just what the public is interested in, according to the PCC.
The Public Interes Defence in Media Law:

1) Exposing Crime

2) Danger to the health of the community

3) Misleading the public generally

The third defence is the one that I would think comes up the most for working journalists. I think there are probably more philandering politicians who masquerade as family men and are "misleading the public" then there are children of thalidomide-esque chemical companies making people sick. At least, I hope there aren't. 

I'm blogging this three point system so I can remember why I went into journalism when I hear people complaining about journalism. For every phone hacked, there's been a Watergate unveiled by someone who cares about the public. 
I had a copyright expert who used to work for the BBC come and speak to my Media Law class. He mentioned how while news itself isn't copyrighted--once that news has been disseminated into an article or a broadcast--then it is.

However, those articles or broadcasts probably belong to the news organisation that a journalist works for, and not the journalist themself. The lecturer told us to read our contracts if we have any questions. I know that the work I've done for a TV station belongs to them, and not me, for example. 

Reading the fine print in life isn't such a bad idea. 

The lecturer also mentioned how parody, fair comment, and incidental use are exempt from copyright law. This brought me to my favorite parody-er, Weird Al. Here's my favorite song of his, in a parody of Chamillionaire's "Riding Dirty":
I grew up with a feeling of comfort with the American legal system. My Dad's a lawyer, so I spent many "take your daughter to work" days as a kid with him, in his office or watching him try cases or depose clients.

I took classes on the legal system during my time at undergrad, including a class on Communications Law for Journalists. I felt like i had a decent understanding about what was legal for journalists to do, and the kind of court system I would face if I broke the law.

That warm blanket of comfort I have with the American legal system matters little now as I've up and moved to England. I have to deal with these things called "crown courts" (none of them back in the states!) and a different set of laws for journalists. The American legal system did come from English common law, but we have more than 200 years of our own precedents and laws now to contend with!

What this means for me is that I'm now learning about a system that's different but not completely dissimilar from the one I know.

This past week in  my media law course we discussed defamation. Defamation is at its most simple, writing (or broadcasting) something about someone that lowers the opinion of them in the minds of right-thinking people. The term has the same basic meaning in America and the UK. 

However, in America, truth is an absolute defense against defamation. There's a famous court case from the 1700s where a published called John Peter Zenger printed articles with accusations against New York's governor. He was taken to court for "seditious libel", but not convicted as the things he printed were true.

Truth or justification is a defense for journalists (or anyone) accused of libel in the United Kingdom as well, although I got the impression from my lecture that it isn't an absolute defense. The right to privacy comes in at a certain point, and lecture next week will discuss what the right to privacy means to a free press.

For now, I will review my course notes from American Communications law and try to make notes of where our systems are similar and where they differ.

It's an interesting subject to learn, although in this case, I can't ask my father for help. 


I had heard a lot about Shame before I saw it at the London Film Festival. Namely, how "controversial" it was, about the full front nudity, about how the MPAA will probably give it an NC-17 rating, etc. But I had seen "Hunger" the earlier collaboration between director Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender, and it stuck with me long after I saw it, so I was happy to get up early in the morning and queue for tickets to Shame.

Shame is about Brandon, a 30-something New Yorker (Michael Fassbender). He's well-to-do with some sort of finance job and nice apartment, but he's a sex addict whose routine is disturbed when his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his apartment when she has no where else to go.

Let me start off by saying that it's the least sexy movie about sex that was ever made. It shouldn't be controversial because the nudity isn't titillating or graphic just to shock people--it furthers the plot and nothing in this film felt gratuitous or overdone. 

Michael Fassbender is a very handsome man, but the audience can't enjoy the scenes with him having sex because the character isn't enjoying himself. He's deeply sad, and I felt sad for him during the movie, and not shocked or turned-on.

It's an absolutely devastating film. The sex scenes are about as sexy as watching an addict shoot up, because that's what it is to Brandon. He's an addict, he's not connecting to anyone or even enjoying himself.

When he meets someone who he genuinely likes and has a connection with--the lovely Nicole Beharie who isn't in that much of the film but makes a real impression--he can't have sex with her because he's not comfortable with having sex with anyone he likes or cares about--or with anyone who actually cares about him.

Carey Mulligan in a real departure from her Oscar-nominated role in "An Education", is brilliant here as a young singer with severe issues. Like Brandon, she's sad and alone but instead of feeling nothing like Brandon, she seems to have lashed out in the opposite direction.  She sings "New York, New York," in a club and it brought Brandon and me to tears.

New York City is the other main character in this movie. McQueen has long shots of Brandon running through the city and taking the subway to and from work. The light blue tinge of the camera in these shots made me think how sad it was that in a city of so many millions of people, that Brandon can feel so absolutely alone. 

I lived in New York, and the long tracking shots of the city made the movie feel real to me. Like Brandon could have been one of the people I saw on the subway on the way to work. It's a realistic, stark film that made me both uncomfortable and sad, but I'd highly recommend seeing it. I'd rather come out of a film feeling something than nothing and forgetting it once the credits rolled. 

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan both give amazing performances, and any Oscar talk that's coming out is highly deserved. 

If you can see this movie and you're of age, I recommend giving it a shot. 
The East/West Institute brought a group of Pakistani journalists to the United States. They visited Hawaii, New York, Washington D.C., and interestingly enough, Columbia, Mo. They visited farms in the midwest, and toured my university; the world's first school of journalism. Because of my work with Global Journalist Magazine, I got to meet with these journalist and get the opportunity to interview them. I interviewed a woman named Mehmal Sarfraz, who is the Op-Ed editor of the Daily Times, one of the largest and most liberal papers in Pakistan. She's interested in social justice and change, and once got several death threats for publishing an article saying that the largest university in Islamabad should not have fired a professor just because she was gay. I asked her how she deals with threats, and here is part of her answer: MehmalBite by SarahRapp I was impressed by her courageous reporting in the face of very real dangers in Pakistan. It was a great opportunity to get to speak with her, and I hope she enjoyed the rest of her trip to the US.