I’m back from outerspace, otherwise known as Real Life. But I’ve got special treats for today’s post: a collaboration between me and my best WG Kevin (white guy/white gay, up to you for interpretation) about a subject quite dear to my heart and head: hair. Specifically, the relationship between BW and their hair. While he couldn’t answer that question from the position of a WG, he did come up with a list of rules white people should follow concerning black hair. Take it away Kev:
First, let’s just start with some full disclosure here. I’m bald.
Or, rather, I shave my head because there isn’t enough hair growing there to warrant an attempt to re-grow what was once plentiful.
I’m fortunate, I suppose, because my head does not have an odd shape, and I’m repeatedly told, “It looks good on you.” I’m sure this last comment is meant in good faith (and, hey, who doesn’t like to hear they look good), but many times it comes across as an awkward apology from someone who recognizes the violation baldness enacts on our normative assumptions about beauty but doesn’t quite know what to do with that insight except feel pity: “I’m so sorry your bald. But, hey, at least it looks good.”
- Even Dubya has sympathy for the bald guy.
Perhaps more apropos to this website (though certainly with a much more problematic and violent history) we might translate it as, “I’m so sorry you’re XXX. But, hey, at least you’re not super dark. ” Oh, people. Sometimes you’re a group of ignorant fools.
If baldness is a disability in the beauty game, I am going to argue it’s made me more attuned to hair-ography. Just as a blind person hears better than the rest of us, I feel my insights into hair are heightened too.
I’ve been invited to this site to offer a guide to black hair for white people. This list emerged from a series of conversations between DBW and myself. Some of those conversations were about black hair. Some of them were about racial difference in general. Nevertheless, the key here is to recognize the information below emerged from dialogue. In our opinion, the mutual engagement in discussion is a key strategy in overcoming our discomfort with difference. It will set you free, but dialogue is something special. It takes effort. In some cases, the right to discuss must be earned, not assumed. I’ll returned to this point at the end, but without further ado, here’s the list:
- Don’t touch it.
- Don’t ask for weave advice.
- Don’t ask “is it real”?
- Don’t ask “how’d they do that?”
- Spring Break does not grant you white person, the right to braid, twist or row your hair.
- Don’t think unwashed=dirty.
- Don’t touch it.
- Black people are embarrassed about the Jheri curl too. Best to not ask about it.
- The fro is political. Not style*. (DBW in: Not necessarily. Sometimes it is totally style. But you can’t ask.)
- The exclusion of the phrase “why do y’all…?
DBW back in: But, before a conversation about this list is had, let me try to explain why these rules exist.
1) Don’t touch it: Much like a pregnant woman’s belly, BW’s hair for some reason strikes white women as this object of fascination.
White ladies love to go up to large baby bumps and just rub—rather they know the victim or not. I do not understand this. But in similar fashion, white ladies like to touch BW’s hair. I have to tell this story (and if I get mad in the middle of telling it, just forgive me…one day I’ll get over it without wanting to stand up and shout): So , I attended this outdoor holiday party. One of two BFs in attendance (the other BF was a BW), I sat with BW#2 and chatted about life or whatever tomfoolery was coming out of my mouth. Now we’re sitting outside in these chairs minding our business when this white lady who neither of us know that well comes up to BW #2 (who has natural curly hair) , puts her hand on her head and pats it. Then she committed the federal offense of saying the following: “it’s soo fluffy.” At that point ladies and gentlemen I was in total fight mode. I’m not really a violent person but with my mouth agape and eyes wide, I got up and moved my chair out of the way because I just knew that fisticuffs were about to be had. You just DO NOT touch a black woman’s head. It’s not a matter of us literally being sensitive to touch—we just don’t like it. Admire it from afar. Compliment it. But unless it is offered, consider it like the friggin Mona Lisa: Don’t photograph it, don’t touch it or we will kick your ass.
2) Don’t ask for weave advice: Listen, I doubt that many white ladies will ask me about weave. But if such were to happen, I’ve got nothing to say to you except that I saw Jessica Simpson’s line of weave by Ken Paves on sale at the TJ Marshall’s for $9.99. Go get it girl. If that’s not good enough, go on to the Sally’s Beauty Supply and find Paris Hilton’s magical extensions. In short, I cannot help you.
3) Is it real? Well, a black woman who has paid exorbitant amounts of money may be pleased to hear you ask that question and inform you that while a) it’s real to them that in fact, b) it’s Remy (special grade Indian hair that according to Chris Rocks’ “documentary” Good Hair, BW are to blame for because we want it in such great excess that Indians are sacrificing their hair to their gods as a way of backdooring it to us. Does that make sense to you? Nah, me either).
- Dear ma’am, I promise you I am not going to chase you down for your hair. I promise you I am not responsible for people allegedly (and according to Chris Rock’s documentary) chopping off unsuspecting women’s braids in Indian movie theaters.
- But again, don’t touch it and really know the person you’re asking.
4) I know we can do some real fancy things with our hair. We can turn it into a helicopter. We can transform it into a fruit basket or a cockatoo.
But uh, we weren’t paying attention when our stylist performed our hairstyle. So don’t ask us. And, please, DON’T TOUCH IT.
5) OMG. This one is so important. Listen, we don’t own the copyright on the cornrow or the braid, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that it looks best on a particular type of hair. And that hair is NOT yours. There is nothing that makes us giggle or shake our heads more than a white girl who just left vacation in Jamaica and decided to get that ONE braid. Folks, Bo Derek was hot to white men in 10 because her hairstyle allowed a distraction to them for fantasizing about black women with cornrows.
I mean, do y’all realize how strange your scalp looks with cornrows? No bueno ladies. If you must get the do because the “natives” whose livings are made off of tourists insist that you get it, make sure you take that stuff out by the time you return to the homeland. I’m serious…quit it.
6) Listen, the rules that white ladies observe about hair washing do not apply here. I repeat: The rules that white ladies observe about hair washing do not apply here. We BW need a little oil. Our hair can withstand a week without washing (some of y’alls can as well as I’ve been told). So if one of us says that we haven’t washed our hair in a week, don’t make a face. We don’t need to as often. And also, if we allow you to touch our hair, don’t do the thing where you rub your hand on your jean to wipe off the “excessive oil.” RUDE, obnoxious and offensive.
7) See #1.
8) It is a tragic part of our hair history, the Jheri curl is. The 1980s were not kind to us.
But we don’t need a reminder. We have photos. We have Coming to America. Just don’t bring it up.
9) The note explains it. Just because you wear a fro doesn’t make you Angela Davis; just as wearing a chemical relaxer makes you Laura Bush.
10) Why do y’all is the worst, worst, worst start of a question that ends up going to bad places. I’m speaking of us in a collective sense right now (and this is geared toward humor)–we don’t all do the same things. Can you believe that some of us don’t tie our hair up at night (I don’t even understand that)? Or that some of us are so strange as to wash our hair every day (I don’t even understand that)? These things happen. Don’t make it a “you all” thing. We don’t ask you all why you fetishize pig tails. Or Justin Bieber. So return the favor.
Back to Kev (who I lurve because he keeps it classy while I clown–as he puts it, we’re like balsamic vinaigrette, but ask him to explain it):
Now, a final thought about dialogue. It’s a difficult process. It’s not an immediate process. It’s a process people (yes, dialogue involves more than one person) must earn from each other. How the right to dialogue happens is cumbersome, but my desire to emphasize it here emerged from what I detected as a difference in my take and DBW’s take on the issue of black hair. I emphasized conversation. She wanted white women not to touch it. Period. Of course, our differences here are very much entwined with the histories of our own positions (me–a gay white male, among other things, and her–a black straight female, among other things), but we kept coming back to the same question: how can we alleviate the fetishism of black hair through dialogue without engaging in the very same issues on our list? Dialogue doesn’t just happen. It was clear to both of us upon further reflection that the right to speak and the right to listen emerged from the history of our own friendship, one that is predicated upon respect, thoughtfulness, trust, and long-term loyalty. In brief, DBW knows that I’m not interested in taking a tour of black culture through her hair.
In the end, we agreed dialogue was necessary to alleviate some of the cultural fascination with difference through understanding it (demystifying it?) but not through assimilating it. A lofty goal, perhaps, but one no less important: to be at peace with difference without eradicating it. That this can’t happen (nor shouldn’t happen?) in a random meeting at a dinner party or as you pass someone on the street (DBW in: or at a holiday party!) only further reinforces the responsibilities it involves.
Questions? Debate? Disagreement? Comment, dammit!