A Cautionary Tale

So it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve laid down some observations, a little thing called brain drain from a particularly grueling to-do list at work has led to a slow down of my opinion pieces, but today I witnessed something ‘special’, a white girl running her hand through a black woman’s locs (aka dreadlocks). Why, you say, is this so ‘special’, I mean they could have been in a relationship or they could have been good friends who don’t mind these types of intimate encounters, but people, this was none of the above. Let me break it down for you…

Today during lunch a black woman and I were in the midst of a discussion about our hair. Both of us have locs and were talking about how dusty we felt they looked due to ‘new growth’- for those not familiar with that term this is the untwisted hair at the scalp (or new hair) that has grown in since our last hair appointment, and the light halo of fuzz- which is basically loose sprigs of hair at the crown rubbed free during slumber. We’re busy talking when all of a sudden this white woman dives into our conversation or rather our airspace, since she didn’t say anything at first, and runs her fingers through the other woman’s hair. Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, and in fact it kind of wasn’t a big deal because this happens all the time in every state I’ve ever lived and the culprit is always a certain kind of white woman- meaning not familiar with any other culture but her own. Let me be clear, this is not a rant against my white sisters, rather it’s a word of notice to women who aren’t your hair stylist, friend or girlfriend, who have no relationship to you besides colleague or acquaintance, who for reasons only they know deem it acceptable to run their fingers through another woman’s hair. Usually, like today, the running of the fingers through the locs, braids, weave, or any kind of natural (meaning hair free of straightening chemicals) is augmented with ‘ooooohhhs and ahhhhhs’ about texture and ‘how cool’ it is. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a compliment any day, so try telling me ‘your hair looks lovely today’ and taping your hands at your sides if you must.

So why does this type of behavior rev up my irritation? It’s because, in my opinion, there’s an inherent feeling of entitlement that comes with being a certain type of white woman in America and sometimes this entitlement leads one to imagine an intimacy that is not truly there. This type of behavior is not indicative of all white women and not one of my white girlfriends has ever done this to me, probably because they grew up in diverse neighborhoods or schools or perhaps had a close black girlfriend who may have kindly schooled them at a young age. Now to shed a little more light on today’s specific incident, the woman whose hair was being fondled just kind of glanced at me; I looked away from this familiar scene and sauntered off since I figured she’d say something if she was bothered. The perpetrator of this crime is painfully unaware in other culturally sensitive arenas too, for instance when she is talking on the phone to the Spanish-speaking international student body, she always opens her conversation with “ahhh-low” which is her version of saying hello in Spanish, she then follows that up with “speaka zee englaise?” I swear this is not a joke! Meanwhile I’m shaking my head because she’s speaking as if English is her second language, except it’s her first and she speaks absolutely no Spanish. She has no idea that what she’s saying is totally ignorant in the dictionary sense of the word. While she’s busy trying to sound like she’s connecting with people, she’s really pushing them away. I’m guessing that my current reading material, The Help, the de rigueur book right now due to the very popular movie of the same name, has brought into focus some of today’s observations. This book follows the story of three main female characters, two black maids (aka ‘the help’) and one white woman who has grown up with maids during the early 1960s. In a nutshell, these maids and others tell their story of working as ‘the help’- sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly, it just so happens that the woman who compiles the stories is white but not down with the status quo. This book was written by Kathryn Stockett, a white woman from Mississippi, this is an important detail because she was able to capture the voices of all of her characters without turning any of them into caricatures. If this author was able to so succinctly write about these women’s experiences, although fictional, then I have hope that we all can have a conversation about those similar experiences we all share, no matter racial/cultural background.

Now back to this woman from earlier today, she is perfectly nice but oblivious, which is why this is a cautionary tale. If she was to run her fingers through my hair, I would be more than happy to school her, what she needs to know is this: since none of us are the same, she might come across a whole different scenario with someone else; no one ever wants to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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