Monday, March 15, 2010

Natural African American hair isn't difficult

[Tami's note: When I read this post over at Los Angelista's I knew I just HAD to crosspost it. I shared with Liz that I had just, the day before, run in to what I like to call a "nappy sidler." A nappy sidler generally greets you with a compliment. Your hair is so cool! This gushing is often provoked by the simplest of natural hairstyles. On the day in question, my twists were in a...wait for it...ponytail. Often the sidler's eyes are kind of glazed, fixed above your hair line. But what is most disconcerting is the way the sidler draws ever closer to you, like a lion stalking its prey on one of those Animal Planet shows. He or she quickly breaches the accepted bounds of personal space. The sidler's eyes become expectant. The air holds a charge of tension. You know what's coming if you don't back away fast. The hand, reaching...

You straight-haired folks think I'm exaggerating. The naturally kinky folks know that I wish I were exaggerating. People mean well...mostly. But there is a definite weight to having your appearance always either exoticized (nappy sidler) or demonized (basically the rest of American culture and the beauty industrial complex).

I just want other people to view my natural as...normal.]


written by What Tami Said guest contributor Liz Dwyer; originally posted at Los Angelista's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

I just got back from getting my right tail light on my car fixed. It was out so I stopped by Jiffy Lube to replace it. It only took 10 minutes to fix, but after I paid and walked out of the office to get back in my car, one of the employees felt the need to interrogate me about my hair. She was all, "Is that your hair?"

Oh lordy. Here we go. Yes, you dumb heffa. It's ALL my hair. Every. Single. Last. F*%!#@. Strand. And it's all natural. This is what grows out of my head.

But you know, I'm nice so instead I politely replied, "Yes, it's all my hair."

"Well is your mom's hair like that?"

Wow, talk about nosy... but again I nicely explained that both my parents have different hair, and my hair's somewhere in the middle of theirs.

"Did you ever used to straighten it?"

What was with the long interrogation? But again, I explained that yes, I did, but I quit in 2007.

"Don't you miss straight hair?"

No, not at all. I don't miss straight hair one bit. I find this much healthier and easier than chemicals and flat irons.

"Well it looks really difficult," she said.

"What looks really difficult?" I asked.

"Your hair. It just looks so difficult. Like, how do you even brush THAT?"

And that's when I lost it.

First of all, I've politely answered all your questions, but don't you DARE call my hair "THAT". It's hair and quite frankly, it looks a thousand times better than that bullshit you have going on on your head.

Second of all, I can brush it with a hairbrush, just like everybody else does, but it's not a good idea to brush any curly hair when it's dry.

Third, do you know how RUDE and stupid you sound telling a customer that her hair looks difficult? I just paid your hourly salary and you're asking my dumb questions about my hair!

And then I walked off, got in my car and left. I guess I should be grateful I didn't have to pull out my Do Not Pet My Afro card.

If you're saying to yourself, "She was just being curious. You should've been nicer to her," I completely disagree with you.

People can be curious all you want about black women's hair, but don't be rude or stupid. Don't try to act like our hair is difficult or weird. There's nothing exotic about it, nothing strange, nothing out of the ordinary. It doesn't have mystical magic negro powers. It doesn't heal the sick, give alms to the poor or do one handed push ups.

I get it - our hair goes against the standard of beauty in America and folks are just soooo curious and confused about it. But cut the rude, prejudiced questions, because not everybody has to be nice when they respond to them.

photo courtesy of Flickr user Timothy Valentine


The New Black Woman said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had a while back with a friend who is natural. She said a white friend of hers was so fascinated by her hair that she reached over (without permission) and placed her hand on her hair.

Now, if that were me, I would have had a few words with this chick.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

Thank you for the guest post!

I started the argument with my own mom about this sort of thing. My mom is one of the many "nice white ladies" out there who thinks her compliments and desire to touch (she was a pedo-nappy-sidler, that is, did it to children) are well-intentioned and thus there can't be anything wrong with it.

We actually had to have quite a bit of talking before she saw it any other way. Last time we talked about this I said, "I keep hearing you defend a right to be curious or whatever. But what about the experience or rights of the other person? What about what they've grown up with, the fact they don't have a choice as to who comes up and asks or grabs? You and I don't get grabbed by our hair. Ever. How would that feel to you?"

This argument seemed to get through to her more than any other. God knows my mom, just like myself, grew up in the beauty ideal where you envy what you cannot have. Still. Your responsibility to other people doesn't end there. We are not four year olds on the playground, curiously touching one another out of wonderment and discovery.

I dislike the "curious" defense. If someone is really curious, why not go home and google and read up on AA / curly / nappy hair? Tons of great information.

Sorry for the long comment.

roslynholcomb said...

Oh Lord. My husband jokes about this all the time. Before I locked I mostly wore my hair in twists and this was one of the reasons. Anytime I wore my hair "out," and I admit it was a pretty impressive 18" afro, I would literally stop traffic. People would stop and interrogate me like the freaking Gestapo. Even worse, they were mostly black women! Now keep in mind, I have Grade A 100% Kizzy hair. In other words no one ever accuse me of having "good hair." Yet somehow my hair left people literally gaping in amazement. One night at the mall I finally got irritated at a girl's ignorant insistence that I was wearing a weave and she could find the tracks I sat down and told her to "Go for it." You can imagine what an idiot she felt like. I have a big head with a lot of hair. If I ever put weave in it I'd look like a chia pet.

Now that I'm locked my hair doesn't get as many comments, though a lot of folk assume I'm wearing weave because of the length. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling us this.If this were a few months ago I would have had questions mixed in with plenty of compliments.I don't think I would have been rude to you at all but I think sometimes the fascination comes off as rude in it self.

I must say that the way you've described this behavior with grown folks and their reactions to your hair seems eerily similar to the way an uneducated or poorly raised child would point at a handicap person and then ask what's wrong with them.(Only of course folks with natural hair are'nt handicap)If the parents have any sense they'd tell the child BEFORE they go out into the greater society that people tend to look different.And that it's not polite to point,poke, stare or ask intrusive questions about a strangers person.

I like natural hair just as much as i've liked processed hair but I find natural so much more fun and fascinating.Which is why I even felt the need to comment on it.I like it to the point that I want to go natural and have been considering it for months.I think this is why women are checking your hair out like that because they want it.The dunce in me recently figured out that instead of accosting strangers on the street for natural hair info I could go talk to a natural hair care stylist and even look online for info.This is definetly better than going up to women we don't know and looking at them like some kinda zoo animal all the while grabbing their hair asking all kinds of personal questions.

I guess sometimes the MOST normal things can be very fascinating though.Kinda like seeing black couples together on television.

With no intention to offend and openly covetting your hair Tp

D said...

I see the perplexed gazes butno hands yet. I guess that's because I look like I might have to cut a .....LOL

Renee said...

After wearing locks for nearly a decade I decided to cut them off and try something new. I just needed a change. I have not relaxed me hair in over a decade and have no desire to. I find that no matter the length of my hair people want to put their hands in it and honestly I find it beyond rude. I have a tendency to act defensively for my son more than I will myself. I want him to no that he has the right to say no whereas I might be more polite when it comes to me. I think that bottom line is that people should realize that they cannot go around petting someone because they are curious.

Razzberry Jam said...

I feel you.

I have long, coarse hair that flows past my butt (thanks to my Cherokee ggggrandma). I have more than my share of people who feel that they have the God-given right to handle my hair.

In fact, just a week or so ago, an administrator at my JOB walked up behind me, grabbed my ponytail, and told me that she was going to CUT IT OFF AND DONATE IT!!

I was polite, but what I really wanted to say was something like, "B*, this is MY F*ing hair, if you want to donate some hair, grow your own out and get your F*ing hands off me."

Of course I didn't say it. I almost wish I had, maybe she'd learn some manners. Instead I told her (while moving away from her so she'd let go of my hair) that I have no intention of cutting it or donating it. She acted all surprised at my reaction, like it was just such a reasonable thing for her to do. But she backed off, so maybe the edge in my voice was showing more than I thought it was.

Just thinking about gets me all aggravated all over again. Why should I cut my hair, that hasn't been touched by scissors in over 25 years, just because some fool thinks I should? GRRRRRR

Moni said...

I don't get much exoticization from white people, but I get it from fellow black people. Yesterday I wore my hair out for the first time this spring and one of my friends (somewhat snarkily) asked if I was done "putting my hair up for the winter". What's so strange/exotic/whatever about not wearing your hair out during the cold Michigan winter? I couldn't figure out why this was something to joke about. Our other (black) friend put in her place by telling me to keep doing what I'm doing because my hair looks great.

Shukura said...

i hate hte

your hair is soo cool comment
i got it so often...its jus another way of saying i dont know what the hell that it or why it looks like suh

but its interesting


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