I had plate in one hand, garden burger in another so as his hand reached, my body moved in tandem, with a kind of racial-aikido, away from his hand, keeping a distance enough so my hair remained out of his grasp.
"Ahh...ahh...rude." I muttered between garden burger chews. I was surprised at my present and very calm, yet clear reaction. It's taken decades to be this "in the moment" and I'm getting better at it. Probably because this response is strikingly similar to commands that I give when trying to train my dog away from bad or potentially dangerous behavior. "Nooo...nooo...no begging" is a common refrain around my house these days.
@ Beautiful Vision of Joy
As I recently noted, a lot of white people have been reaching out to black people now that America has a black president. Sometimes though, they're reaching out too literally. White people often think they have some sort of right to touch black people, a right they don't seem to feel they have with others (unless they consider those others, such as children, somehow "below" themselves).
In the interests of helping to curtail some of this ostensibly friendly, but actually obnoxious behavior, I figured it was time to repost (below) something that I wrote back when I first started this blog, a post about the common white tendency to "pet" black people.
Is there a sudden, new rash of such presumptuous white behavior? I ask because I noticed that two African American bloggers, damali ayo and Brooke, just wrote about it, on the same day (that is, yesterday).
As Brooke writes,
I know this scenario all too well. It's happened to me several times. I braid my hair, some White person wants to touch it. A lot of times they just do it. I feel like I'm at the damn petting zoo or something. It's not until I slowly jerk my head away from them and give them a "you're about to draw back a nub" look that they get the hint.
Get a grip, white people! On yourselves, that is, and not on someone else.
As I said, in the interest of heightened civility and basic, common respect in this new era of white desire for racial love and such, here's that (slightly edited) repost, "pet black people"; the original appeared here.
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 frequently 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. Too personal--notice, for instance, how hard it is for Brandy and Tanika Ray to keep their composure when Barbara Walters can't resist playing with their hair:
I think what's especially revealing here is that, like a lot of white people in these encounters, Barbara Walters doesn't even hesitate to play with black women's hair. But it's very likely something she would hesitate to do with another white woman's hair; chances are that she'd even ask for permission.
Where does this common behavior come from? Why do white people think they can do this to black people, when they would very likely not do it to other people, especially other white people?
*To be fair to Our Dearly Departed Leader, 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. Also, he actually did spend a good deal of his early years in Texas (I still think he's a fake Texan, though).
UPDATE (9/2008): 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.