Friday, December 02, 2005

blog against racism: almost forgot!

[you think this is going to be about katrina, privilege or something that makes everyone get all upset and angry. no. it's about my hair. but hang in there; it's a story then a question. y'all have to answer the question.]

The Story:
There's a man in my office who has a certain fascination with my hair. He's older, in his mid-50's, and is one of the 3 men who work here. When we first met, he complimented me about my hair. Graciously, I said 'Thank you!' And I smiled. Then he kept doing it. Every day, something about my hair. How full, how glorious, how beautiful, how fabulous, how big, how stupendous, how whatever. And then he'd say, 'I mean this in a totally non-racist way, of course.'

Hmm, I'd think.

Then, when the snow and the cold came, I changed my hair. I blow-dried it straight so I could fit it under my hat. And when I came into the office, he almost died. He edged into my career station and said, 'Your hair! It's'

I said, 'It's only hair. But thanks.' And so it's been since before Thanksgiving.

If he talks about my hair one more time I'll blow. I've endured this since May and I will seriously have to read him a lesson if this continues.

The Question:
Why would comments about hair piss off a brown girl?

[yes, it's a test. it's much more interesting than asking if someone's been a victim of racism, huh?]


Gwen Stefani said...

So I am curious why no one has attempted to answer you? Do you find that odd?

I read this right after you posted. I was up at 2am. Anyhow, I had a little Vodka still in the system so I decided not to respond.

But I'll take a stab at it. Does it piss off a brown girl because these are continual comments directed at the fact that your hair is different (or "other"- the idea of "Otherness") and that difference is noticable and somehow keeps you as the "other", the one who is different. And maybe with that comes some sort of conotations?

I don't know. I do know I hate that people CONTINUALLY point out that I have really hairy arms. I tell them it's the Mayan in me (my mom is from Central America) and I love the Mayan. But I'm not sure that they love it.

ding said...

exactly. it's the hair as 'racial Other' signifier. and then there's that little 'i mean this in a non-racist way' that completely undercuts whatever it is he's trying to say to me.

for us ethnic people, it's not so much the attention (i like compliments as much as the next girl and, yes, i DO have a fabulous head of hair) as what's underneath the attention. and while some people might not say comments like that are racist (because they seem to be positive) they are signs of a racial privilege and/or ignorance that's annoying to the brown person.

like, get OVER it already. i'm black. you're not. how exotic.

and thanks for stepping up, GS. i have no idea why this one left everyone cold.

Sara E Anderson said...

From the way I read it, this guy was just refusing to let you be a normal person. There are differences between all people, but after maybe an initial question or two ("How'd you lose the arm?" "It's cool how you can do that with your hair." "Do you stay really warm with chest hair like that?"), it's time to get over it, because it's there and it's not important. Being put on a pedestal for no good reason is sometimes just as disquieting as being discriminated against for no good reason.

jesus chick said...

perhaps he doesn't know how to "behave" in today's sensitive social environment. some other brown girl might have gotten all bent out of shape from the get-go ("oh he's just saying that because i'm black"). so perhaps he's just trying to be careful? who knows. i think he's a nut just because he is WAY obssessed with your hair. dude. do you still live with your mom? in the basement. . . with the voices and the knives. . . . .

ding said...


i chalk up some of it to his age (he is in his 50s); i chalk up some of his behavior to his gender (he's one of 3 men in an all female environment and he's wigging out).

i chalk up the rest of it to his not knowing any people of color in any significant way and, therefore, not knowing how to deal with us.

Gwen Stefani said...

about the observation of few comments: I just think it goes to show that we are all hesistant to be wrong about the matter. no body wants to be the ass. these conversations are hard to begin, and when posed with a "test" nobody wants to fail. especially when we are personally connected. i'm in a place where i'm hoping for graciousness and mercy when i'm wrong, so I can learn and grow to understand such issues of complexity as they relate to my life.

Maybe no one commented because they were too busy vacationing, reading a book for the weekend, strolling in Central Park or just had no opinion on your prompting.

and maybe the fact that my mom's supervisor complains about not "Understanding your english" because of her accent is more a grammatical issue than it is a belittling one.

and maybe kanye west was an ass for saying what he did about Georgy W, because the fact that thousands of Black Americans in poverty Post-Hurricane and not getting help would have happened regardless of color.

and maybe, you shouldn't be so sensitive about your hair or me with my arms. .. because maybe we need to pull ourselves by our boot straps and get over the issue. it's us after all, who are perpetuating the problem.

so again, i think we are all hesitant to want to deal with the issue. and rightly so.

as for me, i can't deny the issues of Other-ness, especially when i hear mom's stories again & again after work when her supervisors have been assholes. i only wish i was a lawyer not a psychotherapist so i could kick some ass.

john patrick said...

I have found that some middle aged men just look for one way to relate to you, and then when they find it, they stick with it. Like the guy in high school who always had to be funny. Or the girl who could find a way to complain about everything. Or the coworker who always feeling the exact same headache/backache/cold etc. that you were, except she's feeling it 20 times worse. Or that 20 something relationship you had with someone that always wanted to argue.

I wonder if there are normal people in my life....

ding said...

(i had a whole post that just got deleted. crumbs!)

shorter ding: whatever the issue is, race/class/sexual orientation, i just wish we'd all just think a little bit more about what we say to other people or what we ask. if we took that moment to think about how our statements come across to others and how they'd be affected by what we say, things would be different. IMHO.

to me, that's what tolerance is. taking a moment to think about how others feel.