Friday, 9 March 2012

The Black Specimen


Not only do I not want to write this post but I don't want to read another post like this again, but I'm sure I will. Why?
Because, as the saying goes: "There's always one!" So here goes my RANT of sorts....

Last week at work it happened...the first time I've ever been offended by that age old question:
"Can I touch your hair?"

Please note, this is by no means the first time anyone's asked to touch my hair, what it is, is the first time I've ever been offended by it.
Personally, I like when people ask to touch my hair, I like to think of it as a thing of beauty like an artistic masterpiece, if you will. 

In my opinion we all have times when we're driven by curiosity or admiration to touch something different or beautiful. More often than not, I don't think the request "can I touch your hair" comes from a bad place. Many people may disagree with me but I generally take it as a compliment, and call me strange but I often think:

  • Touch is a natural way to explore the world, so how does someone without Afro hair come round to seeing it as normal, if its constantly locked away behind an air of mystery and defensive attitude?

  • Maybe if our hair wasn't treated as such mystery Black females themselves, wouldn't find the prospect of getting to know their own hair so daunting.

Don't get me wrong, I completely understand the history and politics that have made touching Black hair such a sensitive and worthy issue, however, I dont know about anyone else, but when I'm doing my hair I tend to end up playing with it so much because I love the way it feels - so much so that I usually want to tell people to touch it! (#HairPride)

However, when this one particular girl at work asked to touch my hair, and I said yes. I almost instantly knew I shouldn't have.

No sooner had I said yes, than she took her 2 hands like this....
The Claw of Horror
...and grabbed my hair/ head and began squigging and squeezing my bun - with both hands! - like a sponge while saying in her ridiculously posh voice:

"I just looove Afro hair!"

Oh my Gosh! It was so cringe worthy, and although I couldn't see them, I think by the silence behind me, that all my colleagues who were present (all of whom were either mixed race or White) where doing exactly that - Cringing!

But, as if that wasn't I walked away thinking "What a twat!" (but at the same time feeling kind of sorry for her), she then killed it.....she then said:

"So do you have a tub of grease that you just slap on every morning!?"

At which point one of my colleagues, who is White, and seemed more offended than me, exclaimed in horror "a tub of grease?!" with a supporting look of disgust and outrage at this other girl's patronising attitude and general oblivion to the fact that she might be being remotely offensive.

I was kinda in bewildered and casually stated that conditioners do me just fine.
It all happened so fast! Lol.

Right now your probably thinking 1 of 2 things, either:
  • What a twat that girl must be.
  • What's the big deal? Black people do use grease right?

While I was struggling to put my finger on exactly why it was offensive, my same colleague (who'd shot her the looks of disgust) pointed out to me that she wouldn't go up to someone who was bald and start asking to rub their head, so why should she feel it's acceptable to act that way with my hair?...Which I think is a good point.

In all honesty, I think my problem was the "know it all" attitude with which this girl made the comment, whilst clearly knowing very little. She seemed so proud that she knew that Black people use oil often referred to as "grease" on their hair. But there was something about the attitude with with she touched my hair and made the statements which left me feeling like her token Black acquaintance that she couldn't wait to tell "Mummy and Pappa" about when she got back home to the countryside.
South Park Character "Token"
Although she probably only meant something like this...
 It felt to me, more like a reference to something like this...

I'm still struggling how to explain it. As I said I usually like people touching and admiring my hair, but in this instance I felt more like a Black specimen that she could boast about having made contact with.

Later that day I did make a point of going up to her with my Science of Black Hair book and stating that if she loved Afro hair so much she should try reading it as there's a lot more to it than just tubs of hair grease.

Although I took offense to the situation, I do actually find it all quite funny and it's people like her who do provide the true comedy value for classic vids like this - (Replace the American accent with a silly posh English one and the blonde hair with brown, and you've got the girl I work with completely! ...

In conclusion, I really dont want to gain a stereotypical attitude over my hair (I used to have one, I dropped it and dont want it back smh) and I dont want my hair to be such a sensitive subject that people feel uncomfortable discussing it with me, I'm happy to have it admired and touched and answer questions of curiosity, but please, while recognising that it may be different from yours, please also note that it's not some strange abnormality - in fact it's perfectly natural.
Rant Over!!! 
...... Oh, but I also thought this was kinda funny too...


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  1. Gotta love the ignorant. They're so special, it's almost cute.

  2. Such a great post, I think I understand what you mean. In some cases I hate for people to touch my hair because I hate feeling like the black specimen, to me that is almost the equivalent of going to a white person and asking to touch their hair because it looks so silky. In general I've resorted to keeping my hair in protective styles because I've grown tired with all the ignorance that some people walk around with. Your colleague is something else though hmm I don't know what I would have said in that situation.

  3. You handled it well Crystal and thank goodness you weren't made to feel like your reaction was unwarranted. Glad your colleagues got it.

    Showing your colleague your book was also a nice touch. It's important to correct someone who has offended you immediately, but to follow-up with information really lets the message sink in.

    As much as I dislike stereotypes someone always comes out of the woodwork and proves it to be true.

  4. I really love how you wrote this in such a humourous way :) I just had to giggle while reading it. I totally agree with you on the touch my hair thing, that it isn't always a negative thing, but she was definitely out of place. It's all about the attitude and the intent isn't it?

    Plus that cartoon sent me over the edge!


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