Friday, April 11, 2008

pet black people

This example of stuff white people do is something that only some white people do. The number of white people who pet black people is limited to those few willing to get close enough to black people to touch them. However, this annoying, condescending behavior happens often enough to merit comment.

George Bush, Jr. is one white person who exhibits this trait, particularly the peculiar habit of rubbing black people's heads:

Although Bush is a fake Texan who actually grew up and went to school in the Northeast, he may be adopting an old white Southern custom here, that of rubbing black heads for good luck, especially those of children.* And Bush is not the only politician who does so. The practice seems to have spread North, where aptly named President of the Ohio Senate, Doug White, has also been called out for it.

Being petted by white people doesn't only happen to black men or children. As Nichelle at Anovelista points out, it happens even more often to black women. White women often admire the hair of Asian women, but there's something so fascinating about black women's hair that it sometimes makes white folks reach out and get personal. Notice how hard it is for Brandy and Tanika Ray to cover up their sudden discomfort when Barbara Walters can't resist playing with their hair:

A lot of white folks have other ways of treating black people like pets, but discussion of that form of racial condescension is enough to fill up another post.

*To be fair to Our Dear Leader of the Homeland, he seems to like touching not only black people; he has a more general bald-head fetish as well, and he has trouble keeping his hands off of people in other ways too.

UPDATE: For a first-person account from an African American perspective, see "Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo," at Womanist Musings, where Renee writes,

As a black girl growing in a mostly Greek and Italian neighbourhood, my hair often became the subject of conversation. I was a curiosity. People would touch it, and ask questions about its care like my hair was some kind of pet dog. That they were being racist, or treating me like some kind of exotic creature, never once occurred to them.


  1. the hair part is so true.

    okay, as a black woman i don't mind if a non-black person asks an intelligent question about my hair - i understand - it's "differen't" one day it's like brandy's in the clip above - the next day it's like Tankia Rays. Apparently it's a fascinating topic as I've had the hair discussion many, many times with people. One day it looks liks brandy's

    BUT if some random stranger, of any colour, had the audacity to actually reach out and pet or PULL MY HAIR there would be a serious problem. If the daggers from my eyes didn't injure them they'd probably receive the tounge lashing of the century. That is SO rude and I was apalled by Barbara Walter's actions.

  2. Well that's a new one. I didn't know that white people pet black people. I used to pet a black woman, but she always enjoyed it an encouraged me.
    I'm wondering; what can I do to get black people to pet me? Tyra Banks? Lark Vorhees? Pam Grier? You ready to get your pet thing going?

  3. Ugh what the fuck, why do they ask everyday is that your real hair? when they know that is not their real hair thats so fuckin annoying theyre trying to embarass them


  4. yeah, that. it's just frigging invasive as well as condescending when it's a "pat." and Dubya doing it is particularly--the frigging President, you shouldn't be patting people on the head!

  5. I'm not sure it should be in the contract, but the reality is that we need to explicitly teach not.a.diva's response. And if a clown show is called for, one should be prepared stage it. The hazard is, if there is no forceful reaction to stop the perpetrator, a) there will be no grounds for legal action later, b) acceptance will encourage additional incursions. The response should be conditioned; if a person is surprised by the incursion, the perpetrator is more likely to get away without consequences.

    In the case of "W", we have a long tradition that our president is NOT royalty but a citizen and a public servant -- NOT entitled to publicly pat any adult on the head. Someone with a good lawyer would have looked into the career consequences of suing "W" for inappropriate physical contact and on-the-job harassment.

    On a side note...
    What happens when the next self-important bureaucrat pats the man on his head, encouraged by the president's precedent?

  6. i like to pet my boyfriends head, he's black. and i am a white guy. is that ok?

  7. oh.. and i'm gay too.. is THAT ok?

  8. midwestwp, whether that's okay is up to your boyfriend. Does he pet your head too?

    Your sexuality strikes me as entirely irrelevant to this discussion, but who knows, the significance of "race" IS intertwined with the significance of other categories . . .

  9. "pet black people" Finally! Thanks for having this topic as a place for discucssion. I must comment on this issue. I have always hated being pet like some type of animal.

    In addition, this is what burns me up, including a lot of black people I know, is when some white people ask why I don't grow an afro? I stand there with this look on my face in my mind saying "if its already hard getting or better yet maintaining a job while being black with short or shaved head is already bad. Having an Afro is going to make what type of impact on my chances of having. . . ?"

    Imagine, if television television media personalities like Oprah, Tyra Banks, or black male movie stars start sporting an Afro? Side note, I also find it disturbing on how many white kids in college at house parties are forever having an afro as a custome. Lastly, I would hate to have an afro considering how many white people would really go out of their way to pet me again, again and again.

    Thanks for this post.

  10. Im so glad I found this article. for years as a black woman,I had to face the qestions as to wheather or not my hair was real or "fake". I feel that a question should not be asked simply because it is no ones business. If a woman's hair looks good complaiment them and thats it. If their wearing hair pieces to cover their natural hair, it's for a reason. It's rude and annoying to ask a woman is their hair "fake".

  11. It ties in with the concept that blacks aren't real people. We're public property. I was shocked when my mother and I were inside some random chain drugstore and a white woman employee literally ran up to my mom and squealed while pulling on one of my mom's locs.

    The white woman was easily 20 years younger than my mother. Whatever happened to respecting ones elders? Or employees being courteous to customers?

    Anyway, she had the nerve to look taken aback when my mother turned to her and said firmly, "NO." She quickly apologized but then tried to excuse herself by saying how much she loved my mom's hair, that it looked "fun" (lol/sigh).


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