Thursday, September 17, 2009

feel entitled to touch black women's hair

This is a guest post by Los Angelista, who writes of herself, "I live in LA but at heart, I'm your average Black/Irish Midwesterner who loves to write, read, eavesdrop and take photos. I'm a Baha'i, an insomniac, I ponder becoming vegan, I'm fanatical about chai and I will love you forever if you get me front row tix to a Depeche Mode show."





No, You Can't Touch My Hair


Earlier this afternoon I was at Los Angeles' Griffith Park public pool with my kids. We were having a pretty good time. And that's despite the fact that some random old man hobbled by me and said, "Nice tits."

I was pretty shocked by his comment but he was gone before I could respond. To make things even stranger, he proceeded to walk over to an overweight pre-teen boy and say the same thing to him!

It was definitely a crazy moment, but it was a gorgeous afternoon so I contented myself with watching my sons splashing in the water and reading "O" magazine.

Unfortunately, the madness wasn't over. A few minutes later, a woman, a white woman, approached me, her hand extended toward my head. "Ooh your hair is sooo pretty. Can I touch it?"

I immediately leaned away out of her reach and said, "No."

Her response? A shocked and outraged, "Are you serious? I can't touch your hair?"

"No, you can't," I replied. I guess she's never seen my #donotpetmyafro hashtag on Twitter.

Indeed, she had the nerve to look confused and offended as she asked, "Why not?"

Really, lady? You want me to explain to you why I don't want you to touch my hair? Let's see...

Because you're a STRANGER.

Because I'm not an animal in the zoo.

Because this is my body and I don't have to let anybody touch any part of it, EVER, if I don't want to.

Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors' property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn't want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you'd best move your hand away from me.

I was so overwhelmed by anger that my mouth opened and no sound came out. I think my eyes must've had shown what I was feeling because she made this weird face, turned on her heel and huffily walked back over to her towel.

Unfortunately her towel was maybe 10 feet away from mine. Just great.

The pool was closing in 20 minutes so I yelled a five minute warning to my kids and got busy packing up our stuff. That's when I overheard the woman talking smack about me to her child.

"I'm a nice person and I try so hard to be nice to THEM, but I'm tired of trying to be nice to bitchy black women."

My kids hopped out of the water and began drying off, all while she threw me dagger looks and ranted to her child. "All I wanted to do was touch her hair. What's the big deal about that? She should be happy I asked to touch her hair."

My eight year-old caught on pretty quickly, "Is she talking about YOU, mommy?"

It made me so angry that my sons were being exposed to the situation. I wanted to hit something. I wanted to drag the woman to the side of the pool, hold her head under water and scream, "*&#*%^ TOUCH THIS!"

Instead, with as much dignity as I could, I hustled us out the door, tears of pure rage pricking my eyes.

I couldn't go over to her and explain why her request was not OK. Why should I have to explain, especially when I feel like nothing I would've said would've made it right? The only thing that would've made it all better is if I'd said, "I'm sorry you're upset. Go ahead and touch my hair."

She wanted to objectify me and have me go along with her request, a request that smacked of racial superiority and privilege. But when I didn't like it, I became the problem.

I know there are those who'll think this woman's behavior has nothing to do with racism and subconscious privilege, and is instead a matter of someone being rude and unable to respect personal boundaries.

Being rude and being racist are not mutually exclusive things. In this situation I'd say that this woman's attitude -- a black woman, with all her afro-y exoticness must let me touch her hair because I'm curious and I did ask-- is both rude AND racist.

In addition, her subsequent comments gave voice to the prevalent racist American stereotype that black women are bitches. But, like so many, this woman failed to recognize what role her own attitude may have in any negative interactions she may be having with black women.

With her comment that I should've been happy she said my hair was pretty, I found myself feeling like I could've been the slave that the missus had deigned to notice. "Isn't our colored woman's hair cute?"

I know there are those who think black women should let folks from other backgrounds touch their hair. How else will we learn about each other, right?

In that line of thinking, I was just being mean to someone who was merely trying to be open minded.

Here's the thing: I don't really like people touching my hair, period. I don't care who you are.

I don't ask to touch other people's hair, either. But if we have a relationship where we're really good friends and a piece of lint has blown into my hair and you're offering to get it out for me, OK, you can touch my hair.

Otherwise, let me say unequivocally, please don't try to use my hair as some sort of cultural learning experience. And don't expect me to be all, "Oh thank you, missus! You sho is thoughtful to notice ole nappy me!"

You want to know what a black woman's natural hair feels like? Get your own black female friends and ask them, not me. That is, if you can stop thinking we're bitches long enough for that to happen.

On the car ride home my sons rapid-fired question at me. They wanted to know what had gone down. As I explained to them what had occurred they were shocked and angered. "How dare she try to touch your hair! You're not her dog!"

Exactly!

Hours later, my eldest son keeps hugging me and saying, "I'm so sorry that happened to you, mommy. She had no right to treat you like that."

No, she had no right. But sadly, I'm sure this will not be the last time I have to say, no, you can't touch my hair.

143 comments:

  1. People in general, but white americans especially (as a collective), have a tendency to psychologically dehumanize the black people they interact with. Specifically, whites continue to view blacks within the centuries-old ape racial frame. Psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford University wrote a peer-reviewed paper demonstrating this implicit association; viewing blacks as ape-like allows the majority population to condone violence against blacks and more generally deny viewing blacks as fully human.

    Centuries of multigenerational subconscious Pavlovian conditioning don't just disappear with the election of a black president. So it doesn't surprise me that many whites feel entitled to pet black women as if they are domesticated pets. Jennifer Eberhardt's studies in addition to the findings of the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which demonstrates pervasive and generally negative subconscious associations with black faces, suggests that people have a lowered sense of interpersonal regard when interacting with blacks.

    It's amazing the sorts of thoughts and assumptions that breed within unchecked privilage.

    Jennnifer Eberhardt press release:
    http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2008/february13/eber-021308.html

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  2. As a white woman, I am disgusted that woman treated you that way. I don't like random people touching my hair, so why should they think you do?

    As for this "loud bitchy black woman" stereotype that white woman though you fit, maybe she should realize she fits a "ignorant and pretentious white woman" stereotype

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  3. I wonder if she walks up to other white women asking to touch their hair. I'm guessing not.

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  4. Sadly, my first reaction to this piece was "well, at least she asked".

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  5. I had to stop an entire lecture because some girl sitting behind me decided to start touching my hair. When I asked he if she had a problem, she replied, "I'm just trying to figure out what's holding it all together." It was embarrassing, and I'll never understand the audacity.

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  6. I suppose her thought process must have been, "Hey, black people think white people hate everything about them, and that hurts their feelings, so I'll try Healing Racial Divides by telling this black woman how beautiful her hair is and trying to touch it. Am I enlightened or what! Wait, she doesn't want my patronizing fake kindness? BITCH."

    It's a bit like egging someone on so they attack you so you can claim it was self defense when you beat them up. Only I'm not inclined to think it was that deliberate. It sounds like she literally thought she was being nice and just... didn't understand the dynamics of the situation at all.

    It begins to dawn on me how big a problem it is that whites in this country are so race-illiterate. Thanks for your post, and I hope that never happens to you again.

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  7. this happens a lot to Indian (South Asian) women, too, especially those with long, beautiful black hair. White women think they can touch our hair and make stupid comments about how we should cut our hair off and give it to a charity for cancer victims.

    Really un-f--king-believable that white women think they are entitled to telling us what to do with our hair and trying to touch it. but then again, most white people think they're entitled to everything, so why should I be surprised?

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  8. Wow. Just wow. I can't even fathom this happening (though I'm sure it does, all the time). And for that woman to complain to her CHILD? Talk about bad parenting!

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  9. You sound like a very nice lady, so she is fortunate that you are a nice lady and that your children were with you, so even if you were tempted to act out, their presence would have tempered your reaction. She is a spoiled witch. How would she like it if you walked up and started touching her hair or asked to touch hers like she was some freak of nature.

    Some folk are so ignorant. Karma will catch up with her hopefully. Keep your head up my sister!

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  10. happend to me before and it will never stop i especially hate the line "your hair is so interesting"

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  11. And it's reflective of our cultural attitudes about female bodies too - strangers rarely feel entitled to touch male bodies like that, or feel offended when they're denied.

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  12. When I get this, I always ask if I can touch their breasts.

    Yeah, it works every time.

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  13. as a dude, this shit used to happen to me all the time, more times by and more obvious with white girls and women than with white guys as they hide it in 'the typical guy shit', especially when playing sports or horsing around, so it's like a sneak attack.

    for me, it happened when i was young with an afro, when i had jherri curls, my high top fade, twists, dreads, afro, cornrows, and finally some try to feel my shaved head. i've mastered the art of the head dodge, trust.

    strangers for the most part stopped once i fully became that 'scary negro thug' but people you barely know or talk to, schoolmates and workmates, get enough courage because i haven't tried to rob or rape them, or shown 'the angry black man' they so fear think it's o.k. until i dodge and give them a look.

    i know it can never compare to sista's because of that fear. my heart goes out to you and others, especially as this is one of those instances where you wish you can go back and say what you wished you had said, if only for your own peace of mind. and to put that trick in check

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  14. My hair is wavy/curly, so when I was small, I got the "Oooh! Curls! Must touch them!" business from many sides. :/ And, yes, it seems to me that this sort of thing rarely happens to males.

    The only time I have deigned to touch anyone's hair is if I was grooming it, as for children, or as part of touching a BF, and in both cases, permission was pretty much granted first. Any other circumstance, to me, is rude and a boundary violation. The racial component is an added dollop of disgusting.

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  15. ugh. i work with a white woman as oblivious as the one in your story. it sucks because she sees me, another white woman, and assumes i'm on her side, and so i am constantly calling her out on her ignorance. she's slowly getting it...i hope.

    it just gets on my nerves when someone has the audacity to think they have a right to touch someone else, and this white woman interest in black women's hair is really irritating. i just want to grab these white women and tell them how stupid and racist they are, especially since it never occurs to them to try and touch other white people's hair, which shows just who they respect.

    i don't blame your reaction at all either. how dare that women think she had some right to touch your hair? who cares if she asked first, the fact that she got pissed and then resorted to racist insults illustrates how she values the body of a black woman.

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  16. Wow, that sounds infuriating in every aspect. It's even worse that she is feeding all that multilayered crap to her kid. God knows what else she's taught them. Yours, on the other hand, sound very kind and thoughtful.

    I've had some "touch-your-hair" experiences in a totally different context. I'm a white guy with small dreadlocks. This occasionally gets comment from strangers, but something I had noticed over the years was that only strangers that would actually ask to touch my hair were black women. (Not that others would touch without asking.) It's not like it's common, it's maybe happened a half dozen times in ten years, but no other strangers have asked to actually touch my hair.

    There's really no stereotypical racial frame to that situation as far as I was aware; it didn't really come to mind. They were all actually just pleasant social talk-with-a-friendly-stranger-at-the-store situations.

    When I started reading about (and becoming aware of) the politics of hair for black women, those experiences came to mind. I started wondering about the subtext, if any, of those conversations, that I had missed because I was unaware of all the racist tropes wrapped up in hair. I still wondered if it was just the novelty of a white guy with dreads (is that even novel any more) or if there was more to it. It was just a little odd to realize that there might have been yet another situation with subtext that I totally missed due to ignorance.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this blog, I really enjoy it.

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  17. i would have done the same thing..."you cant touch it because its my hair" i hope she tried to explain the situation to someone else and they told her she's an idiot.

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  18. I had a similar experience except for that I am white. I was in a movie theater and I felt someone stroking my long blonde hair. I immediately turned around to see who it was and why. It was two black girls who said - "oh we've never touched a white person's hair before! It's so soft!" At least you got asked before someone wanted to caress your hair out of curiosity. I agree - definitely not an appropriate thing to ask anyone unless they are your close friend.

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  19. Tip:
    Don't hang around a public pool, beach or anywhere near water when white liberals are around. They automatically believe, by default, that you're their best friend and will tolerate any annoying thing they do or any annoying habit they have.

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  20. I had to deal with it all, hair touching, booty comments and the worst of it all, a white women in retail store asking if she could touch my nose.

    I said, "No!" and walked away.

    She follows me and says, "I just love the shape of black people's noses, can I touch it?"

    INSANE!

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    Replies
    1. yeah thats totally disrespectful i think she was trying to be rude why would you wanna touch a black person nose??? thats racist i say no too lol i be loud

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  21. I understand your anger and your hurt. It sounds like the event was very embarrassing and hurtful. However, I can't help but wonder...how would you've reacted if a black woman asked you if they can touch your hair.

    Unfortunately, I think we spend so much time and energy as labeling something as racism. When in fact, we have racism within our own race. I think that you became immediately angry because she was white. I really think that if she was black, it would have been a different reaction.

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    1. Did you not read the article? She said she doesn't like ANYONE touching her hair. I think the only reaction for the black woman after she said no, was to walk away in embarrassing. Not "bitchy black women".

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  22. MyUndiary,

    We do you think the historical obsession with black hair started? Why do you think some black people may carry this complex to this day?

    To define something as "racism with a race" is not only lazy thinking but illogical. The correct term is internalized racism.

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  23. I only touch my friends hair because I'm bored and want to braid it or just comb my fingers through it. Or maybe because they got some cornrows from their summer vacation. I don't really see it as odd between friends to touch hair as me and my friends have always touched one anothers head of straight, wavy, curly, buzzcut, etc ,frohawk hair style out of playfulness, but between strangers, that is plainly rude and very intrusive.
    I would never ask to touch a strangers hair.
    Never.
    How dare she think that she has the right to touch a complete stranger?! I wonder.
    That's just...stupid and a very odd question to ask. But how rude of that woman to talk of you in that way to her child!
    I hope you feel better of this incident!
    You were/are a great rolemodel to your children, and they seem amazing as well, as they comforted you. Ahh, when I grow older I hope to have children such as yours!

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  24. Internalized racism is one thing (which is rooted in white supremacy). See? One needs the other to survive. Myundiary, I don't let anyone touch my hair that's a stranger; however, the reaction would be different because of the person and the reasoning. With a fellow sister, I wouldn't be offended. But, with a white woman (or another WOC), if you touch me without my permission, you'll pull back a nub as I refuse to be treated as a sideshow freak of some kind.

    But, anyway....on to the topic at hand:

    RhondaCoca:

    Yeah, the nose thing sounded freaky. What the hell? I've had the booty comments as well. But, thankfully, I have thick skin and a sharp tongue to combat them.

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  25. Unbelievable, and I'm referring to your reaction. You have every right to not want someone, especially a stranger, to touch your hair. And the lady was off base in asking to do it. But the RAGE you obviously felt over a minor incident by any sensible standard is what struck me. Visions of the plantation and the old massa touching his slave girl in inappropriate ways - that's what pops in your mind when the white lady wants to touch your hair? And you made sure to re-enforce your kids' hatred for white people too. Must be terrible to live life with a chip on your shoulder like that. No, I don't get it - and I guess I never will.

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  26. I think the white woman was wrong to invade your space. I also feel as if it was like you where put on display, or some kind of animal at a zoo as you described it. I can relate to this, I understand that feeling. The older lady should have been blown off. White and black older women both have bothersome traits. Maybe it wasn't about race? Maybe you just have nice hair. Maybe she said the "black bitch" because there where multiple bitches, and she was trying to single you out as the offender.

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  27. Lacker of Empathy:

    When someone touches someone's hair without permission, it shows a lack of respect for them. I've seen whites ask other whites permission to touch their hair, but have touched mine with the thought process that it was ok. Those situations have left me feeling as if I'm a goat in a petting zoo. I stopped being my own person, when someone took the opportunity to touch me without my permission.

    I've never had the offender say to my face that I'm a bitch for not allowing her to touch me, but put yourself in her place. How would you feel if someone started to talk shit about you?

    The original poster told her sons not as "a hate white people" rant, but as a learning lesson. It's a sad lesson to learn, but it's learning lesson on how people will treat you as you grow up based on race.

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  28. Los Angelista, this was a great post. I totally relate to it on every level.

    Lacker of Empathy- You've got to be kidding me. Maybe, if you spend your entire damn life being in the ethnic minority and being treated like a dog because of it, you can comment. Until then, STFU.

    Until recently I lived in China, and even then I still had people touching my hair without asking if it was okay. White people, also Chinese people and the occasional Filipina. At one point, this white guy grabbed my hair from behind and asked "Do you wash it?" I reamed him out, and told him I was waiting for him to apologize and he said "sorry, I didn't know you were that sensitive!!" I told him it had nothing to do with me sensitive and everything to do with the fact that that is how you treat a dog, and not an adult human that you have even the smallest amount of respect for. He walked away, then told his OTHER FRIEND TO COME AND TOUCH MY HAIR. Despite the fact that I was at a going away party, I walked away without even saying goodbye to my friend because I was livid at the amount of disrespect I was getting. He did not touch a single other person's hair who was there, and guess what? No one else there was black!

    There were some other people on a different occasion (same group of people, but different individuals) who seriously, put their DIRTY hands in my hair when we were at the bar, and when I told them to stop, kept doing it over and over. And over. And OVER. AND OVER. I no longer speak to them.

    One of my FAVORITE responses when I talk about this kind of thing is "It's not about race, it's because _________." Yeah, okay, you want to touch my hair that is a unique racial characteristic, but it has nothing to do with race. I don't even think there is any kind of comparable situation so anyone else can understand.

    And yeah, the fact that this woman thinks you should have been HAPPY that you were asking to touch her hair? What the hell???? Why????

    I could go on and on and on about this, but I will stop now.

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  29. I want to thank the writer for her thought-provoking post. My problem with this post is that the writer seems to make the incident all about race. While race is certainly relevant in the incident, I believe that a focus on race alone oversimplifies things.

    For example, I am a white person with very curly, "unique" looking hair. For several years I had what some might describe as an "afro." Many people would make comments such as "your hair is so cool" along with wanting to touch my hair. In my case, I felt that people were attracted to hair that they found "unique" or "unusual." In the writer's post, it is not surprising that a white woman (who may have had relatively little close contact with African Americans) would find a black woman's hair to be unique or "cool."

    For me, what this example points to is white privilege. Unlike the writer of this post, I didn't have to think about the issue of race when people found my hair "unique" and wanted to touch it.

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  30. First of all, I want to congratulate you on raising such intelligent and empathetic children that will engage in dialogue with, appreciate and comfort their mother. They're a credit to the future, and you should be proud.

    I've been reading a lot about hair-touching lately, and I keep being reminded of a book I read as a teenager, in which the author declared his belief that hair-touching is more intimate than sex. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but hair-touching is a VERY intimate act most common amongst partners and parent/child relationships.

    I really just need to write a personal essay about this, because I can see myself going off for a looong time. *sighs and heads to to-do list*

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  31. I totally agree!! why do white people love to touch black womens hair, or seem shocked when they see a black woman with long healthy hair. It's just ignorant!!

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  32. this happens to one of my friends ALL the time. the worst part is that sometimes people won't even ask, and she has random strangers feeling her head.

    i love how that woman clearly expected the writer of that incident to be soo flattered/grateful that she was taking an interest in her hair.

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  33. That would be so terrible! I am caucasian, with very frizzy/curly red hair. When I was little, it was essentially an afro, and people would ask to touch my hair (after grabbing a handful), and say things to my mom like, "You sure you don't have a little African in you?" (wink wink) Then they would comment on my big lips. It still happens sometimes now that I'm an adult, and I similarly am completely taken aback at the tone people take when doing this. But usually they respect my response when I say "no." I can't imagine being so objectified in such a way that people won't take a straightforward refusal!

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  34. Even if that woman was not being absurdly racist (which she really was), she's also a creep.

    Super creepy.

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  35. Um, I don't know where your hair has been. I don't know if you washed it earlier this morning. I don't know if you've been sweating buckets all day. I don't know if you were were wearing a dirty old hat right before I saw you. I don't know what your laundry schedule is for your bedding.

    You could have cleaner hair than I do, but I have no reason to touch it and the thought of it sorta freaks me out. Perhaps it's an OCD issue I have, but I'd prefer to not touch anyones hair.

    Same goes for hands. I don't want you touching my hair becuase for all I know you just wiped your behind!

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  36. @AL: I have unusual hair as well (mine's about hip-length) and I get people asking to touch it on a regular basis. The difference for me, as a white person, is that people don't tend to get offended if I say no; they don't see it as their *right* that they get to touch my hair. (And it's also very rare that they don't ask and just try to touch.)

    For me, that's a big part of the racism involved in a situation like this; as a white woman, people will almost always ask permission. And if I say no, they respect that, because they know that I am a person who has the right to her own body and not to be touched if she doesn't want to be touched.

    For the original poster, on the other hand, she's coming up against this cultural idea that black people (and black women especially) still belong to white people in a way - that black women don't deserve as much privacy and respect. Of course a lot of people know in a fuzzy way that this probably isn't right, so they usually ask. But when permission to touch isn't given, it strips away the fuzziness and leaves just the outrage fueled by that subconscious belief of ownership - "but wait, you can't say no! How dare you say no to a white person?"

    For the average white person, if we say no to someone asking to touch our hair, we may get confusion in response. But we aren't going to get outright rage. When we say no, it doesn't challenge their subconscious belief of ownership. That's the difference, IMO.

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  37. To those who suggest that it's not about race - How can it not be about race considering the comments the woman said afterward? "I'm a nice person and I try so hard to be nice to THEM, but I'm tired of trying to be nice to bitchy black women...She should be happy I asked to touch her hair."

    Her comments are peppered with elements of racial Othering. Also, it calls into question her intent with her initial praise for Los Angelista's hair. The white woman saw the praise and interest as a 'favor' she was 'bestowing' on the black woman. It is a patronizing attitude and I wouldn't be surprised if the vibe came through in that initial exchange (hence the rage felt by Los Angelista).

    Notice also how often she says 'nice' in reference to herself. Her main focus seems to be on patting herself for being 'nice', suggesting again that the praise was probably borne out of a patronizing attitude, and not genuine (again, hence the anger).

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  38. I think what was most offensive here was not the fact that this woman wanted to touch the poster's hair, but her reaction when she was told "NO, you can't touch my hair".

    She was obviously very uncouth. Maybe she was defensive because she was embarrassed about making such a stupid request and so she blamed the poster to diffuse her own foolishness and make it about someone else.

    I don't know how I would have reacted if such an uncouth person had approached me that way. Honestly, I think I probably would have laughed at her and let her know that I thought she was a little weird. "You're a stranger. Do you often go around touching people you don't know?"

    I wear my hair without a relaxer, natural. I think it's beautiful and I do get "love your hair" compliments. I don't know. I feel really confident about my hair and who I am and I think my reaction would be "forget you!" to some silly lady who thinks I'm a "black bitch" because I didn't let her put her hands-who knows where they've been?-in my hair. I don't know, sister. Don't sweat the crazies. Don't give someone like that more importance than they have. She has no power over you.

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  39. Of course it's about race - but not only about race. Pregnant women of any race often have to fend off strange hands reaching out to pat their bellies.

    So what might connect these: well, first, there's obviously a sense of entitlement that overrides the target's feelings about personal space and privacy.

    Pregnant women are sometimes treated like their pregnancy is a community event - and a smile or an "Oh, how far along are you?" don't necessarily have to be unwelcome. But the state of being pregnant doesn't obligate a woman to abdicate her right to physical integrity.

    But she's expected to be flattered, or at least not grumpy and confrontational.

    And black people with "interesting" hair: there's an expectation that white people's interest, if it is considered by the white person to be well-intentioned, ought to be borne by the black person with tolerance. And maybe even gratitude. Ugh.

    So I guess the commonality is that in each case, the subject has been "othered" - not like normal folks. But why don't we run up to touch amputees or burn patients or vitiligo patients with a similar sense of comfortable entitlement?

    Maybe because the "othering" honestly seems, to some perpetrators, inoffensive. Like the one son mentioned, that would only have credibility if they equated you with the family dog. Or if they were intent on impressing you with a demonstration of how they don't think you're scary even though you're black.

    But there are two stages here. First, it's the asking. I think it's obviously boneheaded and intrusive, and I'd never do it. But some non-evil people will, which brings us to stage two: the reaction. I get that they may not feel as mortified as I would upon realizing you've really invaded someone's space, but I don't get what the BFD is that doesn't allow them to back off with a quick apology.

    I mean, what is so complicated about it? You say, "Of course! I'm sorry" and maybe you suppress a flash of anger (because we get angry when we're ashamed) and you walk away, and maybe you think about it later, or relate it to a friend, who (if you are lucky) gives you a great big reality check by saying, "You asked to do what? OMG, honey, no."

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  40. I think you restrained yourself remarkably well. I can't imagine thinking it is okay to ask a stranger that.

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  41. aaaaaaaaaaaaargggggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  42. When I was younger my hair was long, super straight and auburn-red, with a really shiny, almost metallic look. My grandmother said it was the exact color of a new penny. (it's not quite the same since I've reached my forties. LOL)

    People always felt the need to touch it for some reason. I guess since it was so shiny and metallic looking, they wanted to see if it was still soft. I've even had strangers come up behind me in the grocery store and just start petting me like a dog, sometimes with both hands! Very, very weird and creepy!

    I completely understand how irritating and invasive having a stranger touch your hair can be. I can't see it through the eyes of someone who has been discriminated against, but I can only imagine that it would make it an even more disturbing experience than it already is.

    Good for you for telling her no when it made you uncomfortable. She had no right to assume that she should be able to touch any part of your body.

    I don't think that the racial issue is always involved in these invasions of privacy, but in your case it just seems obvious. This woman had no regards for your personal feelings at all.

    Shame on her for getting upset when you expressed your feelings and double, no, triple!, shame on her for making your honest and understandable discomfort into a negative thing and spouting her racism in front of both her children and yours.

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  43. Doreen made an interesting comment about people wanting to touch her hair in China. I recently returned from a trip to a non-white country where people rarely see blacks and I got lots of hair/skin touching sometimes with people asking beforehand and sometimes not. However, b/c blacks and that people don't have the same history as blacks and whites, I found their attention sweet and benign, even though in America a white person touching me that way would seem racist to me. Does anyone see hair touching with or without permission differently if you're in a foreign non-white country?

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  44. I agree with the comments expressing the disrespect and dehumanized sentiment of that moment. Unless you're intimately/closely connected with ANYone, the unsaid rules are these: Don't touch someone's food. Don't touch their bodies. Don't touch their heads and hair. Those are boundaries of respect that just shouldn't be crossed. I thought it was clear across the board but it doesn't seem that way.

    I had an entirely different upbringing than the vast majority of my white "peers" so I guess that's why I don't get the fascination with touching people's hair. I've done enough braiding and perming and styling of my cousins' and friends' hair to last a lifetime, thanks.

    You don't want to find it in your soup, but you wanna run your hands all over it and go about your day. I don't get it.

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  45. >Does anyone see hair touching with or without permission differently if you're in a foreign non-white country?

    Interesting. I feel the same way with the question, 'Where are you really from?' When people ask me in a white country it annoys me a lot. But I get asked similar questions in the non-white country where my father is from and where I grew up, but it feels benign, and I am amused by it and perhaps somewhat troubled that they see me as a perpetual outsider, but not annoyed.

    The same goes with other similar things. I get annoyed when white people say ignorant things about other parts of the world. But when people from non-white countries say the same ignorant things, I might roll my eyes (in my mind that is), but it doesn't 'annoy' or 'offend' me. Or rather, the degree of annoyance depends on how advanced their country of origin is, and whether or not their ignorance is mixed in with arrogance (the more advanced the country, the easier it is to be arrogant about it).

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  46. My roommate tries to touch my hair when I have it done curly. My irritation is hilarious to her.

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  47. I'm a white girl who has been fascinated by really curly hair and pretty cornrows for a long time. As a little girl, this was because I almost never saw PoC in my daily life, and they were fascinatingly Other and Different. As a college student now, I'm aware that I have spent most of my life in fairly racially homogeneous areas due to systematic racism. There aren't many PoC in upper-middle-class suburbs, nor in science and engineering oriented universities - and this is due to the historic lack of certain opportunities PoC have faced, not random coincidence. I still am tempted to compliment black women I do not know on their cornrowed or poofy/afro-y hair, and the fact that I find myself thinking "Oo, her hair is so *exotic* and *interesting*" sort of worries me.

    In terms of touching people's hair in general contexts, the majority of my close friends are quite physically affectionate people. I don't generally ask permission before poking, petting, hugging or otherwise touching them - but that's people I know are cool with such things. With individuals whom I'm not close to or whom I know dislike physical affection, I would not attempt to touch people's hair without at least asking.

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  48. Tangerine:

    Maintaining hair, no matter the type, takes time and effort to do.
    So if you want to compliment a person for their hair, do it with some altruism, and chances are they'll appreciate it. Avoid words like "interesting".

    Just don't expect to receive a medal, as the white woman in the article seemed to do. People can tell between compliments that are genuine, and compliments that are just excuses for self-aggrandizing.

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  49. There is one good thing in this story: your sons. You mention that one is only eight, and from context it sounds as if the other is just a little older. So I'm impressed at their awareness (they realized the other woman was talking about you and that it upset you - I realize the latter may be a survival skill for kids of color, though :-( and being impressed with it may just be my own privilege speaking) and at their dignity (realizing immediately this is NOT OK - and people seem to feel free to touch kids even more often) and most of all at their loving empathy (trying to comfort you).

    Unfortunately you may not be able to do much about rude and racist strangers, but clearly you've done a phenomenal job with your sons.

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  50. My daughter has long, blonde, silky hair. When she was three, I was running my hands through her hair and she said "Mommy, stop PETTING ME!"

    I thought for a minute "Wow, that's exactly what I was doing", and I stopped. People still want to play with her hair and braid it for her (which she hates) and she always says "no".

    If a three year old can feel objectified, then I can only imagine how angry a full grown woman would feel.

    As an artist, I'm a very tactile person, and I can understand the urge to experience a fascinating new texture. There's this thing called "impulse control", that little voice in your head that says "Um, that doesn't belong to you, don't touch it!" It's too bad more people don't have that.

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  51. Oops, broke the text buffer!

    PART 1 OF 2

    I wanted to add a comment to agree with what dichroic just said, because I'm honestly surprised that while there were a few ignorant douchebags who chastised you for your reaction, there were few people who paid much attention to how very classy you were in this situation -- whether or not, as you suggest, anger made you mute. Anger can make us a lot of things, and I find it bitterly amusing that this woman labelled you a bitch when she was the one who chose to make this situation an opportunity to spew vile hatred to her impressionable children (and, apparently, anyone within ten feet of her). Her Mother of the Year award should be coming in the mail any day now.

    Your anger -- well-justified -- left you too overwhelmed to try and educate this entitled creep and her kids. But as you pointed out so rightly, and people seem not to always remember, it is not your job to educate racists: and certainly not when they've shown they aren't worth devoting a single moment more of your personal life to contributing one jot to the betterment of their scummy existence. I agree with you that you really had no moral responsibility to feel badly for not "educating" this woman and her offspring, and am sorry that some commenters seem to feel otherwise. (Her attitude that black people {especially women?} were unjustifiably angry at white people and she was *deigning* to "prove" her friendliness by stroking you like a puppy is further appalling. What a scumbag.)

    But I'd like to point out, as you modestly did not, that the two options you listed (sitting furious, wounded, and mute ; or telling this woman why her racism is offensive and reflects a standard of subhuman behavior) are not the only two options you were physically capable of taking in this situation. What was not pointed out was that you could've screamed right back at this woman, you could've called your kids over to complain about how you try to be nice to racists, but some of those bitches just can't even be assed to keep their disgusting behavior out of earshot of decent people just trying to enjoy a public pool where young children with impressionable minds are playing! She was the one who reacted with hatred and deserved the name which she instead used to label YOU. You managed a level of class that I'm not sure I could have, given the situation, not to let this woman's hateful, racist, juvenile attitude draw you into raising your voice (for some people, once you start yelling, your point is lost, however righteous). I say "juvenile" here because I think this woman was trying pretty obviously and pathetically to bait you -- how convenient for her if you would yell a little so she could label you an Angry Black Woman (though as far as I can tell she already did!) and other racists would come to her defense.

    (cont.)

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  52. PART 2 OF 2

    I'm a white woman, and when I was a child I had waist-length white-blonde hair. I can remember many people touching it without permission -- but for the most part, people that at least knew my parents. My hair is a bit darker now that I'm older, but I've still grown it quite long for long stretches of my adulthood, and I like to wear it down and loose. The difference is that now that I'm an adult, I can't remember the last time anyone dared to touch my hair without asking my permission -- I can barely remember anyone seeking to touch it at all now that I'm not a child.

    I do think children get more unsolicited touching than adults do, much like my dogs get petted when I take them out for walks but I do not. Dogs are less than humans, children are "less than" adults. There is this attitude of diminished capacity/understanding that allows people to feel entitled to expect things of children because they are adults and in a position of wisdom and authority. What's so apt about the "ape-like" frame of reference here is that while I was able to graduate from an unprivileged group (childhood) and into a privileged group (adulthood), POC are treated at any age at least as egregiously (regarding hair) as I was as a child, and becoming adults does not change this. Being a POC is in some people's eyes as "diminishing" as being a child or a dog. You're damn right that's racist!

    I'd love to have been there, maybe eating some greasy cheese fries, and to have asked this woman if I could touch her hair -- and then grope my greasy fingers all over her head for a solid three minutes.

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  53. Great post, Los Angelista, and I'm very sorry this shit happens to you. It really pushes my buttons due to the boundaries issue - even though she asked instead of diving in, she tried to get you to justify your boundaries and felt put upon that you even had boundaries - that's fucked.

    It's only in the last couple of weeks that I've even heard about the 'white woman wanting to touch PoC hair' thing on the internet - I've never come across it IRL. But it used to happen to me a lot with dreadlocks. I had to think about why that's different to what's being spoken about here.

    For me, it's usually part of a slightly larger conversation - 'excuse me, I hope you don't mind, but I really wanted to ask - how do you get dreads? How do you wash them? can I touch them?' etc. I understand that kind of curiosity because I had it too before I was dreaded. But even when it's asked with no preamble, people approached me with that slightly apologetic look, because they know that it's not normal to touch strangers hair, and they feel like a bit of an idiot - and this is reflected in the way they asked.

    I think this is the key difference - they approached me as a person with a hairstyle they are curious about; they felt like idiots for asking about it but they saw me as approachable.

    What Los Angelista and other PoC people here describe is a sense of entitlement from the whites - that they should be allowed to touch her hair, that it's quite normal to touch strangers hair, and that asking is merely a formality, not a genuine request. I've never experienced that. I didn't find it offensive when people asked to touch my dreads, because they approached me as a person, not some exotic doll or fabric they could fondle.

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  54. As a white male that loves a black woman who happens to have a lovely, beautiful afro, I must confess, it's fun to touch. :)

    But I would never walk up to some stranger and demand to touch their hair.

    I have heard this story many times from my friend. It's always some old rich white lady with a Mammy fetish ("my housekeeper was just like you!") or some idiot 18 year-old that just left the farm.

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  55. Seriously, I'm going to start asking other white people what the @#$% is wrong with them.

    Why the @#$% would you want to touch some stranger's hair? I just do not understand this. No part of this woman's behavior makes sense to me. I pity her children.

    "Your invisible knapsack is so interesting... can I touch it?"

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  56. Orchid - to answer from my own experience (which will be from a different perspective than Doreen, because I'm white), it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it bothered any of the black posters here, but for two very obviously reasons:

    1. this stuff only happens to me when I'm travelling in a non-white country, which means incidents are few and very far between and never happened at all until I was already an adult

    2. this stuff only happens to me when I'm travelling, so I know that I only have to put up with it for a short time, and then I'll be home where I'm the template for normal and this does not happen

    If stuff like that happened to me in the place where I'm from on a regular basis for my whole life? I'd be losing my shit left and right.

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  57. Dang, I thought I had a few doozies, but yours is pretty much the worst hair-touching story I've ever come across.

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  58. I've had it with this notion that we can't tell the difference between benign admiration and fetishism. It's just yet another insult. I've been complimented on my hair all my life (the color is often what catches their eye; "actually, it's natural") by people of varying colors, ages, mental capacities and levels of impulse control (seriously), but I have also been xeno-petted, and please believe me, I can tell the freakin' difference. It's really not that hard to discern when you're being objectified. It's not a subtle thing.

    Ladies. Can you tell the difference between a genuinely complimentary "you look nice" and a leer? Well okay then!

    [Huh. I just realized that like petters, leerers often think they're "just paying you a compliment." If you call them on it, that's what they'll say; they'll act all wounded and accuse you of oversensitivity. Well, that, or they just go straight to angrily calling you a bitch.]

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  59. When I was young (which was a long, long time ago) I had very unusual hair. People would touch it without asking, and sometime, people would ask. I was at a party once, where someone asked if he could touch my hair, and my companion said "That's wierd! Does it happen often?" I said "Actually, it's more common for people to just touch it, without asking." My companion said "I understand now why you usually wear that long head scarf."

    Anyone of a perceived lower status (women, POC, children) has to put up with this to some extent. Thank goodness it doesn't happen as much as it used to (back in the dark ages, the 1940s and 50s).

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  60. I wonder which parts of her body SHE lets random strangers grope on request. I'll bet ten on "none".

    Your kids are right-on about the dog thing, too. I've never asked if I could touch a stranger (nor have I personally seen/known others to do that), but I have often asked if I could pet a stranger's dog. I'm a white woman who grew up in some VERY white neighborhoods and now study at a university program where, while there are many PoC, there are very few black people -- so I have a lot of internalized racism to deal with. But even knowing what it feels like to be really ignorant about race, this is a major WTF. This woman's behavior obviously doesn't come from ignorance or curiosity or social awkwardness. This comes from a total lack of recognition that "black people" is a subcategory of "people" and therefore the "don't be a creepy asshole" guideline still applies. I don't think trying to "educate" her would've helped much. I could see this kind of question reasonably coming from *kids* (minus the "followup comments"), but adults (who don't have certain mental illnesses/disabilities) don't have any excuse.

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  61. Wonderfully written. You know what impressed me the most? Your sons.
    The tenderness and respect that they showed you in that moment tells me loads about you as a mother and how wonderful they're going to be when they become men.

    Bravo to you and your family!
    Glad that I just discovered your blog.

    Felicia, This Time in Seoul

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  62. You and your son are totally right. This was a shocking, completely unacceptable manifestation of racism.

    The bizarrely alienated swimming pool encounter definitely looks like an instance of pure social racism--racism just historically built into our society--distilling down through one poor woman's mad mind and actions. Sometimes madness--when people can't help themselves, don't have social filters--is good for that: It reminds us all we are living in a society imbued with deep, characteristic problems, such as racism. Unfortunately, it also means you personally are put through the craziness and stress. I wish that weren't so.

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  63. Im a 522 yr old wasp male. In the 3rd grade I met Carl, first black kid I ever knew. That too was my reaction. I asked Carl if I could touch his hair. Curious. Carl and I remained close friends for many years until our family moved. Not racsism. Just curious. We were kids. Adults on the other hand, those folks didnt have manners. Not even in Texas do you ask to touch a womans hair. Thats just rude I dont care if your pink, green, or purple. If someone ask to touch any part of my wife ... Im thinking a #9 iron.

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  64. Hey there,

    Sorry to hear that. It's just bizarre and ignorant. She could have made a normal comment of "your hair looks really nice" and that's it. But the whole wanting to touch it like it's an unusual species of animal is ridiculous!

    If you asked her why she wants to touch it instead if saying no that would have also been interesting to hear what excuse she had!

    The comments she made afterwards are what annoys me more of course. How rude. Unfortunately, like you said this kind of ignorance will always be around.

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  65. Obliviously CluelessSeptember 25, 2009 at 9:56 PM

    I am white and I have long, very thick hair that's very shiny and I have had a lot of people ask me if they can touch it. I don't recoil in horror with a chip on my shoulder. Depending on my mood, I will either say, "OK" or else I'll say, "Oh no, you don't want to touch this horse tail today" in a joking manner. So I think you are kinda bitchy! She was clearly paying you a compliment. She wasn't being bitchy so why do you have to act like one when denying her request? Just be friendly about it and maybe one day you'll lose the bitchy black woman tag.

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  66. Obviously Clueless.......
    Really? The pool woman was paying the author a compliment? Bullshit. I think her subsequent behavior after the fact more than proves that it wasn't that at all.
    Did you even read what she said to her kid? It's right there. She's a freakin' racist.
    And she's teaching her kid to be ignorant too. That should be considered child abuse.
    Don't touch my hair, lest you want to be missing a few fingers. That's my motto.

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  67. Christine, I believe that comment from "obviously clueless" was a joke, considering the poster's chosen moniker

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  68. Actually Roxie, that comment was submitted under "Anonymous," so I assigned it that moniker. (If I didn't assign names to those, these longer threads would be littered with a confusing mess of six or seven or more different Anonymice.)

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  69. It never ceases to amaze me the way white people are completely unaware of their own racist, elitist, why -shouldn't-I-feel-entitled-to-your-body? mentality.

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  70. Some people are really ignorant, the same thing has happened to me a few times during my life. Not only have Caucasian people approached me in regards to touching my hair, but they also want to rub my head. I've been shaving my hair since I was 18; shaving it or trimming it as short as possible. However, I've had people that I barely knew rub my head and when I asked them why....they'd say something like "I didn't mean anything by it". I'm not an exhibit in a petting zoo and I don't know why anyone would think that it would be alright to approach someone like that.

    Once about five years ago I was walking along South Beach and two young Caucasian women walked by me. One of them looked at me and said "that's the color I'm trying to get there, if only I could get to be and stay that color I could stop coming to this damned beach. I looked at her and told her "I didn't plan on being this color, my father is black and if you had a black father you wouldn't have to worry about it either. Fail to plan, plan to fail.

    Oh yeah, some people are ignorant.

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  71. I am the one you assigned the Obliviously Clueless moniker to, nice way to let people express themselves. Yep, bitchy black woman strikes again! And you wonder why people think that? I guess you'd give me the black woman stank eye, complete with curled lip & cocked head if I saw you in person? See how easy it is to insult someone once they've insulted you first? I did mean it that the woman tried to pay her a compliment, I mean, do you often go up & say nice things to a total stranger when you don't mean it? As for her reaction after the fact, yes I agree, she said racist & stupid things to her kid. That doesn't make her original intent racist. If she felt that disgusted by you, she wouldn't have come near you. She wouldn't want to touch your hair. She wouldn't want anything to do with you. She would have called her kids out of the pool & said let's go NOW because she didn't want to be around you. So as I illustrated earlier (tongue in cheek, I hope you understand) once someone insults you, it's easy to drop back into racial slurs. It's my guess the woman felt insulted by your reaction to what she thought was a nice request. THAT'S why I said you can give rejection in a friendly manner and it won't backfire on you.

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  72. OC, as the comment form notes, Anonymous comments here are assigned a name. The blog owner (me) does that, not guests like the author of this post.

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  73. OC, what you do not seem to understand is that women's rage at not being allowed to touch the OP's hair is RACIST.

    Asking someone if you can touch their hair is really kind of creepy & weird. if you want to pay someone a compliment do it. This is *NOT* a compliment.

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  74. Poor OC will never get it. S/he's too much in the same headspace as the woman at the pool. In OC's mind, LA's the one with the problem. LA spouted "racial slurs"!(?) Because once again, we're to know that calling a white person a racist is as bad (if not worse!) as calling a black person the n-word. It's just so hurtful and mean to make them feel bad.


    Reggie,
    Been there on the astoundingly clueless "wish I was your color!" Talk about poorly-thought-through. Apparently, to these people, being brown simply means never having to sunbathe. That's it. They don't see/acknowledge anything else about it. They figure they'd be the same person, just with browner skin.

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  75. This post really blew my mind. I have experienced in the work plave when I wear my hair in cornrows. I also style my two year olds daughters hair in afro-puffs, and she has gotten "petted" by a few white folks that I had to put in check. I don't play that sh@% when it comes to my child. "Do not touch her." is what I say. They always look surprised whn I say this.

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  76. I can't tell you how many times this very scenario has happened to me. White women will sometimes ask permission to touch my hair. Others will touch it outright without even thinking to ask me first. Like you, I don't like other people's hand(s) in my hair. I know they're doing it out of curiosity, but it's my hair and I don't think I'm being a b*tch by telling people that I'd rather they not touch my hair.

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  77. I am in school and am having a problem with all my white professors.I am black and i had a white instructor who failed me in an important exam just because he said he hates black people.He spoiled my name and now the whole school thinks am a very bad person.The thing is all the teachers are really acting weird.They don't want to see me in class and one of them says that he will kill me.anyone out there who can tell me what to do because am getting very paranoid.

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  78. The subsequent remarks made by the woman who accosted Los Angelista do indicate prejudiced racial opinions.

    However, you might be surprised how many people see nothing wrong with touching someone elses hair. If you have a hairstyle that people consider unusual or out of the ordinary, you should expect people to try and touch it. Regardless of race or gender, many people see nothing wrong with touching unusual hair. It happens to me on occasion (I have an unusal hairstyle for a man). The polite ones will ask first, but most will not.

    This is not unique to westerners either. During my sister's travels in Africa and the Middle East. Her most commonly used phrase in the local languages was "Don't touch me." Men and women would commonly feel her thin, blonde hair without even asking

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  79. ugh, one time in class I was just sitting down, minding my business, and some random white guy grabbed my hair and shouted "I love u guys's hair its soo soft!" I didn't know whether to just pass it off and smile or smack him for grabbing a chunk of my hair.

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  80. In that line of thinking, I was just being mean to someone who was merely trying to be open minded.
    I hate 'that line of thinking' more than I can say.

    It never ceases to amaze me the way white people are completely unaware of their own racist, elitist, why -shouldn't-I-feel-entitled-to-your-body? mentality.
    And how many white people will show up to defend even this blantantly racist incident with suggestions about how you should change YOUR behaviour attitude, as if you were the problem here? Most of these threads make me ashamed to be a white lady in this society.

    This is not unique to westerners either. During my sister's travels in Africa and the Middle East. Her most commonly used phrase in the local languages was "Don't touch me." Men and women would commonly feel her thin, blonde hair without even asking
    Oh hey, do you think this was because they saw her hair as something Exotic/Other? Do you think maybe the white lady at the pool saw LA as something Exotic/Other and that's why she wanted to touch her hair (and thought she had the right to, because Others aren't really people like you and me)? Do you think maybe that line of thinking is racist? Gosh, it's kind of like this was actually a racist interaction from the get-go after all. Who would have guessed a WOC could interpret her own experience correctly?!

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  81. hair today, gone tomorrowOctober 27, 2009 at 5:34 AM

    I am a black drag queen I have people touch my wigs and try to pull it off. The only time I have ever had any ever pull it off was a black girl who did not even ask me she came up from behind and took it off. I flipped out turned around to see that she had put it onto her head, her friend who was another black girl said to her "what the hell is wrong with you, why would you just take her hair like that." She then took a picture with it on then handed it back to me, with the shape completely destroyed. I don't think it all stems down to race. I think it has to do with people not thinking.

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  82. [Anonymous, if you'd like to rephrase your comment into something more respectful, and introspective, I'd be more willing to post it. I was tempted, because your claim that this post is "appalling" is delicious icing on the Irony Cake, but the rest of your comment is just too dismissive of this post, and of the guest poster herself, to merit publication here. ~macon]

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  83. Seriously Macon? Your dismissal of my opinion is more "icing" on the point I was trying to make. If you are looking for merit you might consider letting those of us who respectfully disagree post our opinions. I wasn't rude foul or degrading and needed no censorship. Sad how small minded such a mentality can be... But I suppose you'd say the same thing of me. Maybe we're both right.

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  84. Pinky, note that I assigned you a name for reasons explained on the "Post a Comment" page. If you continue to post here (and I hope you do, but more respectfully, and introspectively), please use that name, or else choose another and indicate that you've done so.

    I did not decline publication of your previous comment as a dismissal of your opinion. I declined that comment because, as I wrote above, it's rudely dismissive of the well-explained experience, and personhood, of a non-white person (the writer of the original post). If you really want to make any progress as a white person trained to enact common and egregious (i.e., racist) white tendencies, and if you want to take part in the discussion here in a respectful, introspective way, then you're of course welcome to submit comments that indicate such an improved, helpful perspective. Repeatedly telling people of color who are willing to take the time to point out common white tendencies -- tendencies that many white people don't even know they have -- to "get over" themselves is not respectful, introspective, or helpful.

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  85. [Dear Daria, if you really "don't know why it was such a big deal" for this white woman to try to touch a black woman's hair, you need to read the post, and some of these comments, more carefully. Sincerely, macon]

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  86. I just wanted to drop a line and let you know how much I empathize.

    A couple of years ago I was living in a house full of white girls at a residential therapy program. I was one of two black girls in a community of more than thirty. I'd moved in with my head almost entirely shaved, but started growing my hair out and decided to try a fro for the first time since I was seven -- I hated it then because white kids made fun of me, but I thought now that I was twenty things might be different.

    When I was in my room, picking out my hair in front of the mirror, one girl came and stood in my doorway and just stared at me. It was intensely creepy. I said, "Excuse me -- this is not a zoo!" She looked offended and said, "Well, I've never seen anybody with hair like yours before!" I said, "Okay, but I'm still not an exhibit here. Please stop staring." She walked away, but I never got an apology, and I still kind of want one.

    As my hair got longer (/bigger), EVERY SINGLE GIRL wanted a piece of me. When I bought shampoo, they all had to ask why I only bought shampoo specifically for women of color. When I didn't pick my hair out, they were fascinated by how curly it was. When I did, they wanted to pat it because it was so poofy. They reached for me all the time without considering whether I wanted to be touched or not -- and trust me, I didn't fucking want to be touched. It was a therapy program, okay, so there was lots of encouragement to communicate directly, and I did -- I told people every time that I did not want them all up in my hair, not just this one time but ever, and they all seemed to think of this as a quirk and that I didn't really mean it.

    Technically we were supposed to talk to the whole group about all of our deep-seated emotional issues, but I didn't feel safe talking about race there, with only one other black girl and a couple of black staff members as allies. Finally something triggered me enough that I had to talk immediately, and I had a group with not thirty but forty-five white girls, in which the burden of explaining my feelings about racism was placed entirely on me.

    It was a hot mess, and I didn't know enough about aversive racism or white privilege at the time to explain to these girls how they were hurting me. Instead I got asked a whole bunch of questions like "Why are you ashamed of being black?" and told lots of stories about, you know, that one time this girl went to the ghetto and black people were mean to her, so she understands what racism feels like. Total clusterfuck. I actually ended up having a panic attack with all of those people in a circle staring at me.

    They finally believed I was serious when I said not to touch my hair, though.

    Long comment and long story! The POINT was to tell you that I understand the feelings of hurt and helplessness and fury and outrage and a healthy dose of WTF?! I can't imagine having a stranger presume to touch my hair -- these crazy girls at least knew my name. Thanks for this eloquent post.

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  87. Just had this happen to me the other day except the lady didn't ask and she did it so quick I didn't have a chance to respond. I recently had to do the big chop when I washed my hair after removing braids and it matted so all I had was new growth. I went into a wig shop owned by a white lady (don't know where the sista shops are yet) and when I remove the current wig I was wearing her hand went straight for my head!! I wanted to cuss her out so bad but my mom was standing there and I know she would want me to represent myself better than that. Now this is one instance where I was a little perturbed about this because she didn't ask and she did it and make the comment on how it felt. Now right now my hair is course because of the new growth and I hadn't treated it with anything but the fact that she didn't ask before she did it pissed me off. If she would have asked I might have said yes, but removing the option from me was disturbing and disrespectful. What if I just stuck my hand in her head and comment on how stringy it was??? Geesh. I'm all for satisfying curiosities and all but ask first ESPECIALLY when you do not know the person. Plain and simple.

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  88. My daughter and I both have straight shiny strawberry blonde hair (We are white). I asked her today (after reading this post) if people ask her to touch her hair and she responded yes, all the time. This happens to me as well, and although it's usually not a complete stranger, usually an acquaintance, I have never been offended. I think that people are drawn to our hair because of it's unusual texture/color. I think that this woman was probably drawn to yours because to her it was unusual. Nothing more.

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  89. Blonde on Blonde,

    You're overlooking entirely the racial dynamics involved when white people do this to non-white people.

    What you're doing here is called "derailing." You're distracting from, and trivializing, a discussion of racism.

    You should take a look at an insightful, satirical guide to common derailing techniques called "Derailing for Dummies," especially this part of it. It's veeeeeeeeerrrrrrrry relevant to what you just wrote.

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  90. I am a hair stylist and touching hair is what i do but i have never wlked up to anyone and just layed hands on them..Its called respect..srry you experienced that. I relaxe my hair and i always here your hair looks to good to be true. huh??? since i've decided to grow out my relaxer i can only imagine what i'll here.

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  91. @Blonde on Blonde,
    First of all, I'm not sure I entirely believe you. Do people—strangers— touch your hair without asking? Without any warning (ie: eye contact at the very least)?

    Second, the next time someone asks to touch your hair, say no, without smiling. You don't have to scream or get crazy or anything, just don't let them touch it. If they reach for it, lean away. See if they call you a "bitchy white woman." See if they grumble, within earshot, about how you should be happy they'd asked in the first place.

    Did you even read LA's post?? Why did you miss that part?
    Too busy thinking about yourself, maybe?

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  92. First off, I don't think you're loud or bitchy for saying no. Let me make that clear.
    There is no 'but' statement, other than I am white, have what I've been told is 'lovely' hair, and that's with usually three to four 'loud' colors in it, and people come up to me several times a day asking to touch it. Sometimes they don't even ask. From little kids to little old ladies, to priests and nuns, to teachers and mothers and fathers. They aren't objectifying me, they are merely curious. To me it's nice, flattering, because that means that for whatever reason they thought my hair was touchable. Since I spend so much time doing my hair regularly, bleaching out the roots, applying carefully selected bands of color, and cutting it so that the layers sit in such a way that makes stars, squares, or whatever, it is a big compliment.
    So I ask you this now, if the lady had come up to you, and not reached for your head first, and simply said, "Your hair is so beautiful, it looks so touchable" would you have let her touch it? Or if not, and she had simply smiled out an "Okay!" and then went onto have a conversation with you - would you be so offended? Now granted, this lady didn't do any of that, she simply reached out, invaded your space, and then got pissy which she had no right to do at all. No is no, and that's all she wrote, and all that.
    Now, hoping not to sound painfully white here, I am very curious about what other ethnic group's hair feels like. From Spanish (I've gotten to touch all kinds of Spanish hair here in Spain, it's not like mine at all), to Greek, to Japonese and Korean (believe it or not, there's actually a difference in texture), but other than some kinds of weave and cornrows I've not had the chance to touch natural 'black' hair. I do not see it as a 'them' vs. 'me', merely as I'm curious about everyone COMPARED to me, myself and I, not to the color of my ethnic group.

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  93. Why was OC allowed to call Los Angelista, the OP, a bitch or a bitchy black woman, repeatedly? It reminds me of RVCBard's post about how white people assume black women are made of teflon. Why is OC's racist name-calling allowed in a space where Los Angelista has been invited to post about her experiences? Does that make it a safe place for WOC to share? Why does OC's hate-filled name-calling get priority over the requirement that people *respectfully* disagree? You know, as opposed to relying on hateful stereotypes in the name of "learning"?

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  94. Thank you for pointing that out, TAB. OC was allowed to post those comments (by me) because this conversation happened before the later conversations you're apparently referring to, conversations that taught me both the need for more stringent comment moderation, and some ideas for how to do that. Comments like those above by OC would no longer get through here; I would delete them now that you've pointed them out, but too many other commenters followed up on them -- their comments would no longer make sense.

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  95. it makes me so upset that that happened to you. im a 14 year old (white, but honestly i do not think that matters at all) girl and it disgusts me, whether your white or black, that people are demeaning and rude to others. because the truth is, the woman didnt ask to touch your hair with innocent intentions or else she wouldnt have called you a bitch and wouldve immediately apologized. you handled the situation with incredible grace-i wouldve been very upset. some people are just ignorant. i am proud to not just believe, but KNOW that God made all of us equal, no matter the color or gender. however, i hope you dont think all white people behave this way and acknowledge that while culture may be portrayed that way, each individual is unique and makes their own choices. i hope you have a fantastic day! if it ever happens again with anyone-you should definately stand up for yourself but make sure you are the bigger person :) bye!

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  96. Are you ready for this? I had just graduated from college and got my first "real" job at a mostly white law firm. I was bent over my desk picking up some paper clips off the floor and a white woman who also worked there smacked me on my butt, right in front of everybody. She smiled and the white men she was standing with chuckled and one even said "oh now sweetie how could she resist". The white woman went on to state that my backside was "just so round and perky". I felt so sad and humiliated. I felt like I was on an auction block,like "look'a here we have us a high yellar gal here with a big round arse for ya'll". I also felt ashamed of myself because I said nothing. This happened in 2003. In the 21st century they felt comfortable enough to do this and I felt powerless enough to let them.

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  97. I'm not saying she wasn't racist, because the comments proceeding her request clearly show that she was... but... I'm a white male with very thick and wavy hair. I've had people ask me if they can feel it. I'm sure a LARGE majority of the people who ask to touch your hair are coming from a place of racism, but there's also a line between racism and curiosity in something you don't understand. There's also a great majority of people who don't even understand their own racism, their ignorance is no excuse, but it's hard to stop yourself from doing something you're ignorance hasn't allowed you to acknowledge.

    We've got to continue to be open minded to our friends and enemies.

    Sorry this happened to you, thank you for posting it, hopefully people will learn from it.

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  98. To Miss Get Ready,

    Um...lawsuit much? Complaint much?

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  99. White people are not a team. I think people forget that. Also people seem particularly drawn to hair, especially the texture.

    critical process, your peer reviewed source is worthless. I am a former psychologist and I did volunteer work at a prison. Now i'm a social worker.

    These types of subconscious subjugations are nonsense. There is real racism happening all day, everyday. The war on drugs and prison system is drastically changing the future of the black community. Yes, some people are racist which in turn makes others racist. All one can do is lead by example. If you start playing into this "white people do this and that" you accelerate the problem. Have a bigger vision and don't be petty.

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  100. White people are not a team. I think people forget that.

    What white people tend to forget, and not even realize in the first place, is that we're not the free-floating, objective, race-free individuals that being a member of the white race tends to make us think we are. There are common white tendencies, and most of us whites don't realize that we have them.

    critical process[es], your peer reviewed source is worthless.

    Why? How? Merely stating your own credentials and experience doesn't convince me, at all.

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  101. And individualist gets the award for including the most white tendencies performed in one comment.

    Scorecard Points:
    1 for user name.

    1 for "These types of subconscious subjugations are nonsense." which is equal to: "you're oversensitive".

    1 for "There is real racism happening all day, everyday." which is equal to "Don't you have more important issues to think about"

    1 for "your peer reviewed source is worthless. I am a former psychologist and I did volunteer work at a prison. Now i'm a social worker." which is equal to "You're arguing with opinions, not fact"

    1 for "The war on drugs and prison system is drastically changing the future of the black community." which is equal to "I don't think you're as marginalised as you claim" (read as: "How can you be marginalized when "the war on drugs and prison system is drastically changing the future of the black community?")

    1 for "If you start playing into this "white people do this and that" you accelerate the problem." which is equal to "you're as bad as they are"

    1 for "Have a bigger vision and don't be petty." which is equal to "you're interrogating from the wrong perspective"
    plus a bonus point for making that smack of "you just enjoy being offended"

    Thanks for playing!

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  102. Im half black and half white, with equally mixed hair. I go to college in georgia. I surprise my friends when we are at a bar and i get upset when a person (usually a drunk white girl) puts their hands in my hair. Im a dude and I get even madder when cause there is nothing i can really do about it. After being petted by white people who had never seen a bi racial child while i was growing up in south alabama it really just gets on my nerves

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  103. OMG! As a black woman who has had natural hair for 14 years I have had to develop Matrix style moves to dodge the roving hands of some folks. To randomly touch a stranger's hair is rude and disrespectful...not to mention gross.

    I don't mind educating my friends but they have had to learn to keep their hands out of it. I'm not a monkey in a cage! UGH!

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  104. Get Ready,
    I'm sorry you were demeaned in what should have been a professional setting. I know, though, that law firms can be rife with all sorts of discriminatory behavior. That's part of the insidious nature of racism: the self-doubt/self-blame it breeds. As a WOC in predominantly-white settings, I've developed an aptitude for quick cost-benefit analysis. I suspect maybe our motives for remaining silent were similar: the cost = too high (in the form of increased harassment, or the emotional trauma of trying to explain racist behavior to people who've clearly demonstrated that they're ok with it, or even adverse employment actions/termination). So we remain silently seething. Hey, you can't eat righteous indignation or pay your bills with it.

    The plague of self-doubt/shame for not speaking up sucks. That doesn't mean I've never spoken up. However, in environments where we have no allies, where it would be one person against a group that's shown its teeth (so to speak), would the emotional toll of speaking up be worth it? I'm beginning to appreciate that a "failure" to speak up is less a failure and more a protective measure of self-care. I am choosing to value my sanity by limiting my battles to those where it seems it will have some impact.

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  105. You have awesome children, Los Angelista!! That's entirely outrageous that you had to go through that!

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  106. We all have gut feelings & your gut told you not to let her touch your hair. Good for You. I'm Black and I have "good hair". I can honestly say that a white person has never asked me to touch my hair. She clearly was degrading you! I've always said, they're so f&$king ignorant(white people). Whites really don't get, that we get, when they are being indirectly racist! We know.............

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  107. I'm black with natural hair, been natural for 6 years now. Since going natural I get that question ALOT. Depending on the situation and my mood I say yes or no. People from ALL races ask me this including blacks. I have to say it irks me more when a black person asks than a white person and I'm more likely to say NO to a black person than white. Not because I'm against my own race but because of the comments they make when they touch it. "oooh girl I don't see how you can comb this" and other remarks of the sort.

    Honestly I don't like anyone but my stylist, my man or my mom to touch my hair. However when people ask I'll sometimes say yes because the curiosity of another persons hair goes both ways. I can honestly say there have been moments when I would see people with an interesting color, texture or style and a part of me wants to touch it. I never ask nor do I touch it without invitation because I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of that question.

    And I can say the same curiosity goes for non-whites with whites. I went to Japan with my friend who is blond and has long hair. EVERYWHERE we went people would touch our hair. I would say both of us were felt up pretty equally.

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  108. I found your blog searching for something else related to black hair. I must say after reading it, I am mortified that happened to you, but also extremely embarrassed at how stupid white people (my race) can be.

    It was totally insensitive, racists and ignorant. But also demeaning and plain hurtful- which is unacceptable at any time in history, whether a modern "progressive" era or not. People should be treated with dignity and respect B/C they're a person.

    On behalf of the ignorant, stupid, obnoxious, racist, classist white people that have offended you, insulted you, or were just plain dumb-ass stupid -I apologize. I know it doesn't take away the pain, but its important to say it anyways.

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  109. The white woman hair toucher clearly thought that Los Angelista had no right to say no to the request to touch her hair. That is both rudeness and racism. Whenever a total stranger makes a request of you in a way that makes it very clear they do not feel you have the right to say no, they are showing their privilege.

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  110. This is a fantastic post that has generated so much reader response. I am a white woman, and I wish that someone had talked to me about race and racism when I was growing up. I wish I had been exposed to more stories like yours. Sadly and stupidly, I remember asking a friend/coworker many years ago if I could touch her braids, because they looked so beautiful to me. She sort-of chuckled and let me touch her hair, but I wish she would have told me how racist I was being, because I truly didn't know! When I look back on that moment, I am so embarrassed! I would do anything to be able to go back in time and "redo" the moment or apologize to her for my ignorance. I miss her as a friend and wonder what other stupid things I might have done to alienate her. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate what you have written. You make really strong points here, not only about how this incident offended and hurt you and your children, but also by bringing up the historical reasons why this sort of behavior is not only personally offensive but also racist. Thank you for this!

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  111. I'm really sorry that happened to you how frustrating for you. I am a white woman and would never ask to touch someone's hair of any race or skin color. I hope you will not think of all white woman think they are entitled to touch your hair. You must have really gorgeous hair, I don't think anyone has ever asked to touch my hair.
    I have seen black women with corn braids when I was working at a Restaurant and did ask them how long it took to do their hair and they said they had it done, it was a long time, like several hours, I don't know how they could sit still that long. It was really pretty though and even their daughter's had it done too. I was thinking of the lesson in patience the child was getting.
    In general I do think all races stereotype each other, mostly it is done out of ignorance or the way each person has been taught.
    What really caught my attention about your comment was the girl didn't except your no very graciously. That is just rude. Hopefully it was a young person and she will have learned a lesson as she walked away.
    In the eyes of God we are all created equal so I never think of a person's skin color I judge them by the content of their heart. Have a Happy Easter and by the way I played at the park many times as a child, my aunt and uncle lived near there and would take us kids there. I have lots of memories and photos from there. I now live in Northern CA. Enjoy your Easter.

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  112. I think they are just very curious.....

    it's not necessarily racist....

    you have to remember all races except black people basically have straight hair...

    I think alot of people are just really curious to know what it's like to have hair like ours

    i am black and have dreadlocks and live in europe and one day a white woman kept staring at me in a cafe... she wouldn't go away... then as I was leaving she asked me how i got my hair like that and if i could do hers cuz she really likes it...

    you would be surprised but there are actually white people that would like to have black hair as it would make them stand out....it's different

    related....black people are brainwashed into thinking that flat noses are ugly by the media.. but I have come acrosss many white men that think extreme african features are very beautiful..

    you have to remember we are brainwashed from young into thinking that straight hair is normal...as only women with straight hair are put on television

    even black women on tv have straight hair..

    non black people are just not used to seeing black hair... especially if they grew up in an all white environment..

    Don't take it personal.. it's just something you have to live with..

    People will always stare when something is different.

    the fact that she asked and didn't just start touching it shows she was not ill intentioned...

    i think as black people we are just oversensitive about being different...primarily because we have a history of slavery and being badly treated because we are black...

    we hate having to be different and having to explain it to other people over and over..

    also the media only portrays white features as beautiful.. even when judging black women..

    this makes us sensitive to the simplest things..

    they are just ignorant and lack exposure....

    it's difficult but you should just try to enlighten them in a nice way..

    if someone does you that again just turn around and say to them "Why do you want to touch my hair"..

    and "how would you feel if i randomly walked up to you and asked you to touch you hair? "would that not make you feel uncomfortable?, Especially nowadays there are so many crazy people around?"

    Sometimes u just need be direct with people in a way that would make them think about how they would feel if they were put in such a situation.

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  113. *marks Anything But Racism on the Racism Bingo Card*

    *marks tone argument on the Racism Bingo Card*

    Am I missing anything?

    Macon, are you trying to get Bingo here?

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  114. Macon, are you trying to get Bingo here?

    No, I'm not.

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  115. @iwouldsay:

    What.
    The.
    Fuck.

    Not cool.
    Your comment comes off as both patronizing and flip. At best.
    Look, you can feel however you want about how people treat you, personally. I'll even suspend my total, utter, absolute disbelief and allow that you, personally, have only ever been approached with pure, simple, innocent curiosity. However.

    You seem to be saying that since white Europeans have only been sweetly, innocently curious toward you, then surely WP are only ever innocently curious toward all BW. And if there's any problem there, it lies with we brainwashed, "oversensitive" BW who don't like it. "Don't take it personal"?? Wait, seriously? OMFG. Did you read Los Angelista's post? It's right at the top of the page; you really can't miss it.

    Do you think that woman was "just very curious"? Did you catch that she did, in fact, intend to touch LA's hair without asking? How the hell can you say "it's not necessarily racist" and in the context of a thread about a WW passive-aggressively smack-talking "bitchy black women" —within LA's earshot— after she'd just rolled up hands first? How does that fit into your "they're just curious" paradigm? How does your "well-intentioned" staring cafe woman even begin to relate to this? Are you telling LA that she's being oversensitive to have a problem with the horrible woman at the pool? Do you think she can't tell the difference between benign admiration and racist exotification, or what? Or that I can't, when I'm approached? Or the other black women (and men) here who have had this very same problem? Sometimes repeatedly? Do you think those of us with unstraightened hair never get real compliments on it, just this zoo animal pawing, so we wouldn't know the difference? I submit that it is you who does not know the difference.

    And let me get this straight: black women are brainwashed to think their noses and hair are ugly... but, what, white people aren't? They're uniquely free to be simply curious? And what, you aren't? Because you're sounding pretty damn brainwashed to me: Don't take it personally, they're well-intentioned, it's offensive but just suck it up, it's not racism you're just oversensitive, you're brainwashed, you're stuck in slave thinking, be a good Magic Negro and "enlighten" them (nicely! cuz you know all us angry black bitches have to be reminded)... the hits just keep on coming! Aren't white people lucky to have you!

    Y'know, I'm torn. I don't know what part is my "favorite." I'm tempted to go with the tunnel-vision focus on the feelings of hair-assaulting WP (we should think only of how they feel and what they might be thinking, and they should think of how they would feel if they were similarly assaulted) to the complete exclusion of anyone else's feelings. That's a classic. Fuck the feelings of the black woman who is actually in that situation. Fuck Los Angelista's feelings, and her little son's too.

    But... no. I'm gonna have to go with:
    "black people we are just oversensitive about being different...primarily because we have a history of slavery and being badly treated because we are black."
    Reread that as many times as it takes for you to be gravely embarrassed that you ever even had such a laughably self-contradictory, depressingly self-abusive thought, much less typed it out.

    Internalized racism.
    I'm begging you: look into it.
    Also
    Because you're not just hurting yourself.

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  116. I'm sorry [nb: I'm not], but I'm fricken incensed.
    Especially since this shit has been covered.

    Stuff IWouldSay Just Did (on behalf of white privilege):

    Question non-white knowledge and authority
    I think a lot of people are just really curious.
    You would be surprised...
    You have to remember...

    Get too friendly with black people
    she asked me how i got my hair like that and if i could do hers [!?] cuz she really likes it

    Dismiss non-white explanations of racism as irrational
    We are just oversensitive.

    Treat black women like they're made of teflon and adamantium
    Don't take it personal.
    It's just something you have to live with.
    It's difficult but you should just try to enlighten them in a nice way.

    Listen poorly during discussions of racism
    Think they get to decide what's racist
    "It's not necessarily racist" ...vs... "I'm tired of trying to be nice to bitchy black women."
    "a white woman kept staring at me in a cafe... she wouldn't go away" ...vs... "[clearly she] was not ill intentioned."

    Blame [WP's] accusers instead of [WP]
    Black people are brainwashed.
    [BP are] sensitive to the simplest things.

    Wish they were "ethnic"
    There are actually* white people that would like to have black hair.
    [*What do you mean "actually"? Best believe they wish they had volume like this!]

    Curious.
    Curious.
    Uncomfortable.
    [Black hair...] it's different.
    People will always stare when something is different.
    Make non-white people feel marginalized in their own countries
    Implicitly deny that other people are fully human

    ...and so on.

    *buries face in hands*

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  117. @iwouldsay....

    HOgwwash!.

    Go to Sudan and tell the black people there they ain't black because they have naturally straight hair.

    GO to Somalia - and tell them they ain't black because their hair is curly

    Go to Ethiopia and tell them they ain't black because their hair ain't afro textured

    Go through sections of the fulani tribe across the breadth of Africa and tell them they ain't black because you know their hair is bone straight.

    You little token of nothingness.

    You remind me of a black guy from the US who went to London for a Masters degree and made friends with his white class mates.
    After awhile they used to ask this guy to dance for them because 'they didn't know how to dance'.

    and he obliged! because you know they are just 'friendly'.

    They never danced for him, and what they were doing was highly inappropriate -but for that rush of acceptance and to prove that he was a 'friendly negro' this idiot was willing to be a buck dancing fool for his peers. Something he would never have considered doing if he was amongst a group of black men in an MBA class.
    or he would have recognised it for what it was.
    An inappropriate request.

    What a clown!

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  118. @macon...

    Really, there is too much going through the gates here.
    Too much.

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  119. @karinova, RVCBard, and soul,

    my apologies for letting that clueless comment through. Had the writer not self-identified as black, I would not have published it. I generally don't feel that it's my place as a white person to police/restrict racial commentary by non-white people.

    But then, I have refused comments by self-identified non-white writers for more outright, over-the-top racism and/or prejudice.

    So, I will take this instance as an indicator that I should further tighten my moderation criteria. I will narrow the gates, and I appreciate your instruction in that regard.

    Again, I apologize for not having understood this earlier, and for not thereby sparing you the pain of having to read and deal with iwouldsay's comment.

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  120. you have to remember all races except black people basically have straight hair...

    Wow! That's an enlightened observation!! And oh, I've noticed that all races except white people basically have dark hair. Caucasians are the only ones who have blond hair. Wow, does that mean I can go up to the first blond white person I see tomorrow on the bus and ask if I can touch their hair coz I heard the texture is different and extend my hand toward their head before they even say yes. And then if they say no, I'll get angry with them because they're being ungrateful. I was just trying to be nice.

    Oh wait, I can't do that. Coz they'll probably look at me real weird and tell me off for being out of line, pervert, etc. In fact, the whole bus will be looking at me like I'm a weird and outta line.

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  121. Lol

    @Macon,

    "But then, I have refused comments by self-identified non-white writers for more outright, over-the-top racism and/or prejudice."


    Something that I discovered a few nights ago:

    Stuff White People Do: Back-track and pretend to be a non-white person when getting called out about their racist bullshit on line.

    So, really, you never know.

    Sighs...folks...

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  122. @macon,
    I wasn't angry at you. And I don't exactly "mind" that you let iwouldsay's comment through, per se. It's... complicated. Much as that comment (and, for the record, luddite's and Kathleen's [yikes]) pissed me off...

    Actually, you know what? It's too complicated for text-only. I'll just leave it at: I second the suggestion that you include a comment of your own with or after (or even before, a la "trigger warning"??) iffy comments that you do choose to post. TIA.

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  123. Is it weird if I say that having had a similar experience - even though I'm white - has convinced me beyond a doubt that this IS racist?

    When I worked retail in a very wealthy area, women were always touching my hair or asking if they could (and usually doing it before I had a chance to respond). I suppose my hair is a little different, (curly and red), but seriously? I always felt like it was a way to make me feel diminished and doll-like. It felt like they were saying "don't forget that you're here for MY convenience and entertainment", and I certainly felt like they were telling me that I didn't have the right to refuse their intrusion on my personal space.

    Now that I'm an educator, no one would DARE do this to me. So yes, despite the fact that in my case it was class and not race that was a factor, in LA's it was ABSOLUTELY racist behavior, and completely inappropriate.

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  124. individualist said...
    These types of subconscious subjugations are nonsense. There is real racism happening all day, everyday... Have a bigger vision and don't be petty.

    Individualist - Even if you think that making someone feel like they are LESS than others is no big deal, which I rather think it is, where do you think those bigger problems come from?

    Maybe this woman's behavior will never be worse than being an entitled brat, but what about what she's saying to her kids? Her attitude is essentially "as a white person, I am entitled to play dolly with this black woman and she should be grateful" and kids pick up on stuff like that! So now, these kids are going out into the world having internalized their mother's attitude and maybe they'll do something much worse.

    It's exactly "little" things like dehumanizing a subset of people that allow much more obvious problems to happen.

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  125. I usually wear my hair in braids but one day I wore a curly afro to work. One of my coworkers has an abrasive personality by nature and she was "The One." Before I knew what was happening, she ran over to my desk, got in my face and grabbed my hair in both hands and squeezed, screeching, "Oooh, I'm gonna go get my makeup and use you to put it on." I'm familiar with her antics, but I was speechless. I stewed most of the day about how to handle it, because she's the type that constantly needs to be reminded of boundaries (meaning she absolutely would do it again unless I corrected her, probably the very next day). I didn't want to fall into the angry black woman trap, which would have turned the blame/focus on me without consideration for what pissed me off in the first place. At the end of the day I asked her outside. With eye-contact that can only be described as withering I said "You need to know that your behavior this morning was offensive and incredibly rude. It's not ok for you to treat me like that. Adults shouldn't need to be reminded to keep their hands to themselves." She burst into crocodile tears (as she always does when called on abrasive behavior, which is often) and said "I'm-I'm not like that! What did I do?!? I'm not one of those people!" Her reaction told me she knew EXACTLY what she'd done. I said "I'm not sure what you mean by that, but you should ask yourself why you thought it was ok to grab and pet me like I'm an exotic animal. I would never treat you that way. Don't do it again." And she didn't.
    Another anecdote involving the same coworker: She used to greet a Jamaican colleague, "Hey you Rasta! What's up Rastafarian?" This went on for weeks. This colleague is the kind of Jamaican that HATES being associated with Rastas (if you're familiar with Jamaican culture you'll get my meaning) and was incensed by this. Finally one day she snapped at her "Would you like it if I greeted you 'Hey poor white trash, how's it going?' You wouldn't and neither do I, so stop it!" She cried then too. Again, this is the type of person that needs to be REMINDED to treat others with the same level of respect she expects, particularly the ones of color...even if she doesn't consider herself 'like that.' Her behavior suggests otherwise. The fact that she always cries when confronted illustrates a whole range of presumptive privilege...and a rather exciting medicine cabinet, no doubt.

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  126. [SarcasmCynical, you need to read the subtitle of this blog, and the commenting guidelines. ~macon]

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  127. Your sons sound awesome.

    And I can't believe that shit. I'm a white woman, and I sat here, trying to remember all the hair I have ever touched in my life, and in what context it was.

    (protip: none of it involved 'o hay person of color I have never seen before in my life, let me lay mah hands upon u!' Jesus fucking Christ.)

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  128. I'm a little late to this party, but holy crap, what is wrong with some of these commenters? There's so much wrong here I don't even know where to begin. But I'll try.

    To all of you white folks saying "But people ask to touch my hair too! It's not about racism!" - you have no idea what you're talking about. Try shutting off the part of your brain that makes everything ALL ABOUT YOU and reread both the original post and some of the comments from POC.

    @iwouldsay - "you have to remember all races except black people basically have straight hair..." Umm. No? This is just plain wrong. Open your eyes. Most Middle Eastern and Mediterranean peoples have curly/kinky hair. Some people of Gaelic descent have extremely curly hair. In any case, even if black people really were the only ones with curly/kinky hair, why would that make it okay for white people to feel entitled to touch it? There is no justification for othering, for making human beings feel subhuman.

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  129. Gah! It is very racist, what that woman did to you.

    In fact, I can't think of an instance of hair touching and petting that isn't creepy. I'm white with curly hair and I've had people make creepy comments and touch my hair without asking. In my particular case, it was a man with a fetish who kept sneaking up behind me to touch my hair. For a while, the comments from men and women about my hair were disturbing enough to make me consider wearing a headscarf.

    You have every right to be upset and should'nt have to apologize, placate the offensive people, or even be the one to educate them on the concepts of racism and white privilege. I'm sorry you had to suffer through this. I'm even more sorry that there are apparently a lot of white people out there who are so thoughtless, tactless, and blind to their own racism.

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  130. First, I'm sorry she approached you while you were out having a fun day with your boys. This alone points out that she doesn't really understand social rules. I just wanted to say that while I lived in another country, I often had people ask if they could touch my hair. The ages of the people asking (or just touching my hair) ranged from 2yr old to pretty darn old. I always viewed it as curiosity and usually gave permission (after quickly viewing their hands for dirt/food/candy especially on little bitty kids). I guess it never occurred to me that it could be a negative interaction. =( I'm sorry you had the experience and the your children witnessed your hurt and anger over the situation.

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  131. great article - am writing a book on amazing gray hair
    and am including this article -would like to get in touch with you

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  132. I just typed in google "why does white women have such an issue with black women's hair".

    Why?

    It all started when I arrived in England in 1964 and started school; I wore my hair in plaits. The white girls would always feel my hair and ask why I never wore my hair out. I would then pressurise my mum to wear my hair out. Eventually, she gave in and pressed it (hot comb) to make it more manageable; my hair was so tough back then - it broke many combs! Then the girls wanted to know why my hair was straighter and I would say, I pressed it! "What with a hot iron?" and they would laugh. That may have all been innocent then but as time moved on...
    ...Afro became fashionable in the 70s; more hair touching and patting by white people many of them complete strangers - I could be passing on the street or on the bus.
    Perms, relaxers, wet look it would be Eeeh you're hair is so greasy! When extension braids became fashionable not a day would pass at work without a comment about my hair and usually by the same person, "is that you're real hair", "how is it attached" at the same time trying to feel my braids. When weaves became fashionable; the same. Now I wear a wig NOT because I don't have hair (because that's another misconception by some white people), but because I want to preserve my hair, and have the choice of wearing different styles without damaging my hair! Guess what? Same stupid comments! Is that you're real hair; how do you do that; can I feel (or most of the time just touch without asking).

    This is my second week into my new job and I'm the only black woman in the team. I wondered how long it would be before I was asked the The Question. Well, yesterday after having a very nice Christmas dinner with the team. While we were getting our coats to leave one of my colleagues without any warning extended her hand towards my hair and I flinched. And in the presence of the team, the restaurant staff and other diners, she decided to asked me "Is that you're real hair? How do you fix that on? Isn't it uncomfortable to wear?"

    Is that respectful? How would you feel?

    This really is a diversity issue and needs to be addressed that way! That is why I googled this subject. Enough is enough, something has to be done! I am going to raise this topic with HR after a bit more researching just so I can present a meaningful argument. Black women should not have to be subjected to a barrage of questions just because they have made a choice to wear a wig, braid their hair or grow locks. I am 53 years old and it hasn't got better! When I have reacted to these questions in the past by asking could you please not touch my hair. The response: "Well it's not your hair"; even more rudely; "it feels like rat's hair anyway"!

    It's nobody's business what I or any woman chooses to do with her hair! Get over it!

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  133. I hate to say it but I find most HR departments don't give damn about issues women of color face unless it falls into the sexual harassment category.

    You will be labeled a troublemaker-but I hope you prevail. In my experience they don't give a "rats ass' about us.

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  134. To be honest, the thought of asking to touch someone's hair has never occurred to me in the least ... I'm a white Irish girl and I would be offended by that as well. What a horrid violation of personal space. I am sorry this happened to you, but hopefully it's a one time occurrence. If not, carry a stick to hit them with.

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  135. I had this happen to me as well except I wasn't as quick with "no" as you were. Nor was I verbally assaulted by the assailant. I'm actually really sorry that you had to go through this. In my own experience, I was actually shocked into stunned silence as I stood there being pet like an animal. But after that experience I've practiced and mastered some evasive maneuvers and a clear "no". I'm ready now! No, you may not touch my hair.

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  136. people of all colors have touched my hair, and I'm black. However they were all people i knew and as far as i can remember they asked first. However I would be very upset if some random person on the street just comes up to me and decides to feel around in my head. Its very offensive and demeaning and to top it off it's very disrespectful to you as an individual. You don't know where that person's hand has been. The things i've seen people (both men and women) do with their hands, I shudder when i think of it going into someone's head. I've had some pretty long extremely thick hair before which i've worn out, but no one has attempted to put their hands in it.(i guess part of the reason is too is that i really zip around, i'm not like a casual walker

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  137. That is one of those moments I'm sure you could relive again and respond differently, maybe react in a ghetto way or explain to her why she got the response she did. But you responded in a mature way and that is always the best way even if it isn't as satisfying.

    I have to put up with similar situations on the regular, I have given up trying to say 'no'. One time I was out eating, an older white woman who was leaving, felt the need to stop and molest my hair and then leave. I don't know which one pisses me off more, the people that have the nerve to ask such a dumbass question or the people that don't feel the need to ask at all but touch my hair anyway!! Then there are the people that assume talking with me is enough to randomly molest my hair and get away with it. Like I will seriously be in the middle of a sentence and see the person I'm talking to randomly feel my hair! What's worse is when two dumbies are together, then I'll have two idiots feeling my hair at once. Just the other day at work I had two people randomly molest my hair while a group of us were standing around talking.

    I have dreads and I guess that gives enough of a permission for random white people of all ages to molest me, this happens at least once a week. Personally, I'm never so attracted to someones hair that I want to touch it letalong actually do it! And the little comments from those who are "nice enough" to actually speak are 'special', I mean are we supposed to feel all fluffy on the inside when we're told our hair is unique? Not beautiful, but unique, wtf is that REALLY supposed to mean? And what about me makes you feel comfortable enough to approach me and not all the other folks with natural hair you've seen in your lifetime? It gets old trying to explain myself on a regular basis so I let them treat me like an animal and let them go on their merry way.....:-/

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  138. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  139. Thank you for sharing this story. As a mixed (but passes for white) woman, I may have unwittingly participated in this. I like all hair and have asked people (one's I already know and am friends with) if I could touch or play with their hair; black/white/brown, blonde/brunette/raven-haired, straight to curly. If I do so in the future, I will ensure that this perspective is firmly in mind so I don't make the mistake of contributing to someone feeling this way.

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  140. That is one heck of a story, tsk.

    I've been talking about this topic for a long time on stage and screen.

    Long story short, if ANYBODY reaches out to grab my hair in any of its states...
    I MIRROR THEIR BEHAVIOR. Chuckle.

    Children, those Asian and Blonde women do NOT want a Black womans hand up in their heads the look on their faces as they realize they've just been as objectified as they ATTEMPTED to do to me is hilarious.

    I wear my hair anyway I please from afros to waist length and if you ask if you can touch it, usually I'll say no thank you. But some of them are sick with entitlement and WILL touch you anyway. Just give them a big smile and touch them right back.


    If you ask me is that my hair I will say why do you ask?

    Lately they've gotten very bold, its all that BW bashing in hiphop that makes 'em even more entitled to TRY to dehumanize us.

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