Monday, May 3, 2010

cite their being white as an excuse for racial ignorance

This is a guest post for swpd by Rain, who writes of herself, “I am a heterosexual college student. I'm West Indian, and I have Black and White blood running through my veins. I'm often mistaken for being Hispanic, Black and Asian, or mixed Black and White, which is what I am. I don't identify myself as anything other than me. . . until people remind me.

Matters of race, racism and interracial relationships have always been interesting to me, and even though I'm a newb reader of swpd (about 3 months), I've learned a lot in picking up on racism and battling it. I also learned that sometimes I shouldn't give people the benefit of the doubt. That said, let me talk about what happened a few days ago.

For my screenwriting class, all of us were to create a script written for stage (our teacher’s way of making us well-rounded). Considering that I like to go for shock value and I like to make people think, I created a story that had the air of the classic film Imitation of Life (I apologize but I must be vague for the sake of my story [copyright pending]). It involves a bi-racial girl, married to and living with a white man. And here is where the ignorance starts.

We were workshopping our scripts and that day it was my turn; during the weekend the entire class got a copy of my script to read, comment on and discuss during class. My story dealt with the culture of "passing" during the early-mid 20th century. I can understand that there are certain things people might not know about other races, but some of the things that my white classmates said were just downright ignorant and offensive!

When we were discussing how my protagonist permed her hair straight, one of the most abrasive and aggressive human beings I have ever had the displeasure of meeting in my entire life (who also happens to be white) said, "Permed? No. . . perming makes your hair curly."

I just wanted to pull a Zack Morris and call for the enter scene to "pause" while saying to the audience, "Did this White girl just tell me, a Black person, about what a perm can do to a Black person’s hair?"

Press play.

Even my teacher, who is also white (one of the more "enlightened" ones I might add), was like, "Actually, ________, I think you're wrong," in that way he does when someone says something really stupid. It was even more painful, because when your work is being evaluated by your peers, you are not allowed to speak, but I jumped right on it!

"No, no. . . perming can make your hair straight. Black people aren't born with straight hair," I said, in the most calm and non-angry-Black-woman way that I could muster. Is it just me who feels that this should have been common knowledge? Hasn't she ever looked at a Black person’s hair and wondered, "Hm. How did they get it straight?" I can't possibly imagine that she thought Black people were BORN with straight hair!

I apologize if I have difficulty expressing what I feel exactly, but I can't find the right word. Is it ignorance? Plain stupidity? Neglect?

I feel like, to not know something like that. . . you have to be a bit neglectful. Ignoring. Look at it this way: if a black person were to say, "White people have blue eyes? What? You mean there are people actually born with blue eyes? You mean they aren't wearing contacts?!" If a Black person said that, they would be laughed out of any room, for their stupidity.

Another point of interest is that I go to school in Nassau County, in New York, which also happens to be, in statistical terms, one of the most segregated communities in the entire country.

After I calmly offered my correction, the girl who can never shut up and accept defeat then says, "Oh. . . well, that's why my mother is a hairdresser in [nsert predominantly rich White area in Nassau].” So that should be an excuse? As the daughter of a hairdresser, you have EVEN LESS of an excuse to not know something like that. AND she is 23. Considering how large the Black haircare market is, and how ingrained in Black culture having good-looking hair is, why wouldn't anyone know something like this? It's in the movies, it's in pop music! You'd have to do a lot of ignoring not to notice.

And if that wasn't bad enough, a close friend of hers in the class, a white (Italian American) male in his early 30s, then chimes in, "But. . . no matter what a Black girl does. . . there is nothing she can do to make her hair look like a White girl’s. No way."

I wish I could have captured my teacher’s face on camera: "______, I think you should just stop . . . now . . ." He was trying to save the guy some embarrassment, and I had to keep it together from giving him a tongue-lashing right there.

This guy then added about my story, "How could her husband not know she was Black?"

To which my Professor responded, "Are you not familiar with 'passing'?" to which this man, who always claims to not know anything, says "no."

Have they been walking around all these years with their eyes closed and corks in their ears? Genetics is a very fickle thing. Have they not heard of the families that have one white parent and one black parent, the family has twins, and one is blonde haired with blue eyes while the other is brown-skinned with black hair? Both of my parents can pass for white, but I came out darker than both of them!

I held myself together, in part because I wasn’t supposed to speak as they discussed my story. As the class finished they could then ask me questions, and then my teacher gave me the floor to say anything I wanted. I understood that this was not the time or place to drop some knowledge on that guy and girl about how offensive and ignorant the things they said were, so I just addressed the guy.

A quick note about myself, I have what you might call the "typical" hair of someone who is bi-racial. (Here is a link to an example). So I said to this guy in my calmest, non-angry-Black-woman voice, with all eyes on me, "_______, . . . I just wanted to let you know something. I don't perm my hair. But when I go to the hairdresser, my hair looks and feels like White hair, like that of any person you would see in this room."

And there was a bit of an awkward silence, in which this man threw his hands in the air and leaned back in his seat in the most defensive way. In the most, "I'm white! How should I know?!" way.

When my Professor couldn't take it anymore, he said, "See, _______, you learn something new every day!" to lighten the mood. We moved on, but . . . then I felt bad for letting him know.

I just want to know, swpd readers, am I crazy? Does their behavior seem neglectful to you? Should I not be so sensitive?

And have you encountered white people who use their being white like that, as a kind of excuse for being ignorant about racial issues?


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  2. nope, you aren't crazy. man, that was painful reading that.

    i've been there, sort of. i used to take creative writing courses and playwriting classes at college (early 00s), and usually, I was the only non-white person in class.

    I wrote short plays with South Asian, Muslim, and POC characters and sometimes other (white) classmates would make stupid remarks. Thankfully, I was blessed to have a liberal, open minded Jewish professor who was very intelligent, he understood racial issues better than most professors at my college. So he always stuck up for me when white students in class would make dumb comments about how they didnt "get" it because they claimed they were "white."

    One time I took a World Cinema class. We watched the classic 1955 Indian film called PATHER PANCHALI (look it up if u ain't familiar with it). It's basically a story about human survival, family, suffering, and poverty.

    We watched it and the next day, some snotty white classmate spoke up and said she didn't like the film-- because she said SHE WAS WHITE AND SHE DIDN'T GET IT. "I'm not from India," she said, "so why should I care about a movie about a poor Indian family?" (headdesk slam)

    One other white guy (a fellow movie buff) and I exchanged bewildered looks. He shook his head and told her that it has NOTHING to do with being white to appreciate a foreign film about a poor family in an Indian village to understand their story, it's about being a HUMAN BEING AND HAVING EMPATHY FOR OTHERS!!!

    It makes me mad when people use their "whiteness" to make an excuse for being ignorant.

    look, we're all ignorant about other cultures, including me. if I am confused or curious about a certain issue or topic, I will ask questions but I try to be respectful. Being white has nothing to do with being ignorant. People are ignorant about certain issues because they're not informed, that's all.

  3. First off, I think that white girl demonstrated a typical white response to matters of race, that she's more of an expert on black people, to be more precise their hair, than black people. Movie critic Gene Siskel demonstrated that with his critique on the movie "Good Hair". He tried to seem as if he knows more about black women's hair than black women. There in itself is an example of white arrogance when it comes to race. It's very common, but nonetheless, very frustrating and demeaning.

    As far as the white guy is concerned he too is guilty of ignorance especially when it came to genetics. He's ignorant of the fact that physical features are not isolated to any particular race. So, he pretty much pwned himself on that one.

    "Bring white" for some whites is an excuse not only for making ignorant comments, but also to avoid race matters altogether and go on the defensive. In other words instead of listening to someone when it comes to race, some will get frustrated or agitated and lash back as if they were attacked.

    So, I think you have EVERY reason to react the way you do for the simple reason that people still don't get it, and some don't want to get it. Overtime, it becomes incredibly frustrating if you've experienced it once or a hundred times.

  4. (headdesk) How can anyone not connect with Pather Panchali and the other two films in the trilogy? (S. Ray, Bengali director)

    Yes, the films are slow-paced, but life is or should be slow-paced.

  5. While I totally don't think that "I'm white" should be an excuse for acting bigoted and ignorant, I would bet that these white people really didn't know much about black hair/hairdressing. As white people who probably grew up in predominantly white communities, they may not have known any/many black people well enough to learn much about black hair.

    I'm white, and I did not know a lot of black people growing up (going to private school in a suburb of a fairly white city will do that to you). I knew very little about black hair because I didn't pay much attention to it. It just didn't seem like something that I needed to know about, so I never went out of my way to find out about it. Sort of like how many men don't know much about menstrual products, because they don't use them.

    Then I went to college, and my freshman year roommate was a black girl who did hair. So I got a fairly extensive education in relaxers, braids, extensions, curlers, and the difference between a blow dryer and a hair dryer. But if it hadn't been for the coincidence of living with her, I probably still wouldn't know very much about black hairdressing.

    That said, I had a "she really didn't know that?" moment in an English class last year. There was a black girl in our class who had long braids in her hair for most of the term. One day, she came to class after having her braids taken out, and our professor (who was generally a very culturally sensitive and awesome latina) complemented her on her new "hair cut". It struck me as very ignorant (and racially normative) to call it a "hair cut".

  6. I wouldn't say that I use my being white as an excuse to be ignorant, but I admittedly do use it as an explanation when I legitimately don't understand something because I've never had the chance to be exposed to it. I am not a person of color and I don't directly experience the affects of things like privilege on a daily basis. I don't, however, use that lack of experience as an excuse to continue being ignorant. If a person of color has something to say, I will listen without taking the dismissive attitude your classmates did. I think that's what separates ignorance from willful ignorance.

    I liken it to my own experience with straight, Christian, and able-bodied people. They don't have my experiences as a gay atheist living with a debilitating disease. But they can step outside themselves to educate themselves when the opportunity presents itself to see my point of view. If they refuse to do so or put up their shields to defend their privilege, then I'd say they're purposely taking the path of ignorance.

  7. If the guy or girl were me and I had something like that, I would have been so embarassed that I would have apologized for my ignorance.

    I am white, and I didn't know that 'permed' could apply to straightening hair. I thought that was only called 'relaxing' and perming was only for curling. Perhaps that's why she was confused as well.

    I don't think I am really the appropriate person to say whether or not you are being sensitive, but I get the impression that they are ignorant about common social courtesy as well. Especially once they realized they were being jerks, and kept at it, and your other comments about how abrasive and aggressive the girl was.

    Sorry you had a bad experience.

  8. A white person can open her/his trap and say whatever s/he wants because s/he's not used to being called on it. Ignorance of racial issues, for a white person who hasn't actively read about it or participated in social justice communities, is the default setting.

    Then, when someone does call her/him on it, s/he says 'well, I'm just ignorant', believing that ignorance is better than willful hatred or prejudice, and that subconscious racism isn't racism.

    (I keep thinking about that bit from Anna Sewell -- "Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don't you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? -- and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,' they think it is all right.")

    The privilege and subconscious superiority (racial superiority?) lead to her/him not even thinking to apologize.

    I'm saying this as a white person who has been caught thinking like that and knows how it works from the inside.

  9. Well, you see, you are supposed to know everything about us, but that's different! We're "regular, average" people!

  10. @DIMA re: "Being white has nothing to do with being ignorant. People are ignorant about certain issues because they're not informed, that's all."

    I think being white does have something to do with it, but not in terms of innate intelligence or anything like that. In white culture, there is practically no penalty--no disapprobation, no questioning, usually no correction--for saying stupid things about other cultures or people or for knowing nothing about them. We are socialized to think of our culture as the only one important enough to know about or the only one necessary to investigate and understand. The result of that is a profound ignorance that does actually come from being white.

    That said, I don't think that using whiteness as an excuse shows any awareness of that socialization process. Rather, it's a way of saying, "Since you're going to put me down for not knowing, I'll bring up the fact that I'm white so I can chalk it up to white persecution and feel duly victimized."

  11. I'm sorry this happened to you and I'm sorry your professor didn't take a stronger line. And, no, I don't think you're overreacting. I hate how neither student really tried to engage with your content, and figure out what it meant to you.

    I will tell you, though, that I didn't know this meaning of the word "permed" until last year (I'm 36). I knew about relaxing but I'd never heard it called a perm. So, to me, it's not such a stretch that a white student wouldn't know that.* It's also not clear to me from your story if the student didn't know what perm meant in this context or if the fact that black women often straighten their hair was news to her. If the latter, I completely share your reaction: living under a rock without trying very hard to do anything about that.

    But even if the problem was ignorance about only the word, I find her response more problematic than her ignorance. If she couldn't get it through context, then she could have asked a respectful question. But to tell you that you were wrong, as if you don't know the meaning of the words you're using in your script...arrogant, rude, etc.

    And I'm totally with you on feeling shock that someone wouldn't know what passing is. (Couldn't he have figured it out from the story??)

    *just because I see it differently doesn't mean that I don't think your reaction is completely justified. I do.

  12. @people who are surely well-meaning but also say that white people might not know what a perm is and that is why they weren't really maybe being racist, you see:

    The point is that the OP's white colleagues assume that she is wrong and take it upon themselves to whitesplain to her the right answer. Just like when my boyfriend explains to me stuff because he is a man and I am a lady.

    Why assume she is wrong in the first place? Why assume they are right?

    Because of racism. Because of race. Because of privilege.

    These seemingly innocuous examples can be the hardest to come to terms with, but they are racism just the same.

  13. "First off, I think that white girl demonstrated a typical white response to matters of race, that she's more of an expert on black people, to be more precise their hair, than black people. Movie critic Gene Siskel demonstrated that with his critique on the movie "Good Hair". He tried to seem as if he knows more about black women's hair than black women. There in itself is an example of white arrogance when it comes to race. It's very common, but nonetheless, very frustrating and demeaning."

    This irks the hell out of me...and not to mention their expertise comes from the 2.145 people of color they've encountered in their entire lives. Insert a gif of Zaharah's side eye.

  14. Someone already explained better than I could, dominant culture people think they/we don't have to learn about other cultures...well, because we often don't *have* to, in order to survive. (Which is clearly unbalanced and unfair.)
    But that defensiveness that you're talking about--that's the "sin" that means the person has come up against an ignorant spot and refuses to admit it, or learn something, or look into themselves.

  15. I hate to be the one to say this, and this is in no way an excuse of the ignorance displayed in the class because I'm sure it was hurtful and infuriating, but they were right. Black women don't get perms. We get relaxers. Perms DO make hair curly. Relaxers make hair straightened. A whole different subject for another day, but you unwittingly hit on a huge issue between relaxed and natural women lol... I would get into how sometimes black women not even knowing the difference between the two products/procedures is a huge issue in itself, but I get the feeling that isn't the type of conversation Macon would like to flourish here.

  16. You are not being "too sensitive." Your perceptiveness and will to cope with these white people is a sign of great strength. You are a dozen times stronger than any of those sheltered dorks.

    Maybe it's just the way I'm reading it, but I can interpret the guy saying that last "I'm white!" bit as defeatist and martyred. "I'm just a wittle white boy, how can you hold me accountable?" Ugh. Whenever I try to talk about racism with white male acquaintances, I hear a lot of that, too. There's this implication that "well, as a white male, I'm helpless and made obsolete by the 'PC' movement/affirmative action/whatever!" It's bull.

  17. I'm of the mind that you should never presume even the most progressive wp knows anything about black biology. I still have to point out that black folks DO blush, can be of any ethnicity, etc.

    In Nassau county and similar locales, that goes double.

  18. Thanks, Xenu. Absolutely right.

    It was so obvious to me in my own head that I didn't write it down and I should have:

    The female student was disrespectful, rude, arrogant AND racist.

    The male student was an idiot AND racist.

    Apologies if I appeared to dismiss the racism here. Not my intention.

  19. @Julia/The Other Julia: You're welcome. :) And good luck on your screenplay!

  20. Man... what a creep! Saying "I'm white" in this situation is just another derailing technique. Basically, you called him on his simple-mindedness, tried to educate him, and he made this statement in order to save face, instead of acknowledging to himself that he was actually being ignorant and tactless. Granted, realizing that you are ignorant can be painful, but you don't take that out on the person who just pointed that out to you--the person you just insulted. You MAN UP and admit it to yourself and do better next time! Kudos for the way you handled this; it must have been difficult not to rip him a new one.

  21. Others beat me to it, but I'll chime in with the same refrain. Ignorance per se isn't the problem -- we are all ignorant about all sorts of things. The problem is first telling a POC she is wrong about a POC experience and then, when told you are wrong, claiming that you couldn't be expected to know because of being white. The only real cure for ignorance is to put yourself in situations with people who know different things than you know and then shut up and listen to them (or read what they have to say).

    "I'm white, how could I be expected to know I'm ignorant about anything."

  22. Minor quibble here, but former movie critic Gene Siskel is dead. Roger Ebert, who is married to a black woman, made those comments about Chris Rock's "Good Hair." From what I recall, he caught hell in some parts of the blogosphere for some of the "explaining" he did on the film's main subject. Carry on...

  23. Saying "I'm white" as an excuse for ignorance is a statement of white privilege, and it's also a defense of white privilege. When somebody says that, it's a statement because they're invoking the cultural perception that white people don't need to know about anything outside of whiteness. But when they say it in that way - that "well DUH, I'm WHITE, of COURSE I don't know about THAT stuff!" tone - then it's also defending that white privilege, by making it seem as if white obliviousness is something completely normal and acceptable. It makes it seem like it's your problem, like *you've* missed something so obvious, the whole issue is actually now *your* fault for expecting more of them, when everybody *knows* that white people don't have to bother with those kind of things.

    No, I don't think you were being oversensitive at all. I think there's comments that one can make in ignorance, but then one either learns from it and apologizes for their ignorance, or they act like an asshat and get defensive and/or dig themselves in deeper. The ignorant comments are upsetting, but their reactions to being called on it are even worse.

  24. For a white person with limited experience to be ignorant about black hair is, I think, understandable, though annoying. But to be unable to admit their ignorance is not acceptable. Those students should have sat back and listened to you, not assumed that they knew more than you, or disengaged from the story just because it didn't apply to their own experience.

    Also, the whole "well I'm white!" argument is pretty inane. It's fairly obvious that when someone is white and ignorant, it's not like you need them to tell you that. I'm not sure why we (WP) use our ignorance as an excuse to remain ignorant. Maybe because we're subconsciously uncomfortable with issues of race, and with admitting our own racism. In any other situation, if a person knows that they're ignorant about something, they shut up and listen in order to not make a fool out of themselves.

  25. @Xenu,
    Thank you for the clarification. I agree, and I do understand the point. I did not mean to imply that they were absolved from being assholes.

    And you are right, this is hard to come to terms with because I have done or thought similar things. It's not a fun fact to swallow about myself. But I am learning. So I generally keep quiet, and I keep reading.

  26. I love how they barely had anything to say about the actual script. Oddly enough, for the longest time I actually didn't know that a perm could make hair curly. I wonder if your classmate would've excused me for that...

    Oh and Will Capers, I heard about that review, too! You mean Roger Ebert (who's wife is black?), though, right? I think Gene Siskel sleeps with the fishes, lol.

  27. I don't think you were just being sensitive - at all. I think what the girl did was so disrespectful to you, so loaded with privilege to have the audacity to tell YOU about black people's hair that it hurt to read. And the guy... there are no words.

    I can see WP being ignorant of black culture, black hair, black anything because of the way whites devalue black culture (really - anything to do with blackness from literature to history - anything and everything is either poorly represented, inaccurately represented, or not represented at all in the white world), but you're right - it's neglectful. And furthermore - if a POC takes the time to explain something to a WP about his or her culture, WP should be FAR more receptive to this than they/we are. White parents claim to be so excited about "diversification" but they really have no clue what that means. It's obvious she's never had a close black friend in her entire life.

  28. Rain said...
    “And have you encountered white people who use their being white like that, as a kind of excuse for being ignorant about racial issues?”

    The problem that most whites voice is...I don’t have black friends; I don’t live in the ghetto, so why on earth should I know about black hair? When it’s not even normal (meaning white) oh my, the condescension is stifling. It’s arrogant, and it’s steeped in privilege; the privilege of never having to know what you or millions of black women go through on a daily basis.

    I remember watching my mother carefully apply Royal Crown Vaseline to my little sister’s scalp and hair before she would reach for the hot comb on the stove. The air became thick with singed follicles as my mother did her very best to render my sister’s hair long- smooth and straight. My sister learned to sit perfectly still- she neither moved nor flinched. I went to beauty school in my downtown area (1979,) which taught mostly white students from the suburbs. Course the perm of choice was Ammonium Thioglycolic Acid, or Thio for short. It stunk to high heaven- but its main purpose was to “curl the hair” and in some cases straighten unruly white hair.

    With that being said, the comment, "perming makes your hair curly" shouldn’t surprise Poc, for it illustrates how whites tend to reference things from their own world primarily (white = normal) without even considering the alternative. Our class only had a few blacks in it, so when black patrons sought services our white instructor automatically chose a black student. The books issued to us only contained a few pages on black hair (curly or kinky as I remember from the manual,) the bulk of the information/illustrations dealt primarily with white hair.

    Course the white girls were excused from doing black hair because chemical (no-lye) relaxers supposedly burnt their precious hands. However, I do remember us having latex gloves in stock whenever this argument came up. Nevertheless, we blacks had to wash and style white hair as well as black hair. These perky self-absorbed white girls knew instinctively, when they earned their diplomas they wouldn’t have to be within 10 miles of a black person’s hair. This was my (our reality.)

    Such prejudice had the effect of making the black students better cosmetologists because of our knowledge in both black hair care as well as white. We became as versed if not more so with our white patrons, and I dare say- garnered the better tips. Whites flaunt this ingrained ignorance in hair care commercials 24/7 on the television, but the only time I ever saw a black woman’s hair commercial was when Soul Train aired back in the 70’s, it just wasn’t part of white reality. Now and then, you see Beyonce in an L’Oreal commercial strutting her stuff with a few white girls. But its not the norm in mainstream media.

    @Xenu said...
    "Well, you see, you are supposed to know everything about us, but that's different! We're "regular, average" people!"

    Oh that’s it..
    That’s it exactly....

  29. I love how people think they can speak with authority about things they clearly know nothing about, to people who would clearly know better. I can forgive ignorance, but I can't excuse that bull.

    I understand. I'm living in Australia. I feel like I'm called on to be an ambassador every single day.

    I have to explain to WP what a perm does for us, that we can get sunburns, and blush.

    I've had people express surprise that I'm using sunscreen and can get sunburned.

  30. It's not so much an excuse as the reason for their ignorance.

    Their privilege allows them to go through life being as oblivious to other cultures and circumstances as possible. Whereas people of color are obligated to learn the dominant (white) culture - the de facto "normative" culture - in order to survive.

    Without obligation and further put off by fear (which leads to racism), there is hardly a situation where a white person needs or even wants to learn anything about other groups of people.

    And where their ignorance is pointed out, they are able to fall back on their normativeness. They regard non-white cultures - actually inexorable parts of the American milieu - as "other", "separate", "particular".

    This means that only experts - people of color themselves - would have such proprietary information.

    And that allows them to [think they can] defend themselves against any accusations of "ignorance".

  31. i'd say being white is a cause of racial ignorance but not an excuse. it's insulting and crazy that black people have contributed so much to this country yet somehow WP know virtually nothing about black culture. it's as if we are saying POC are invisible no matter what.

    Also do WP even get perms since the 80's?

  32. I hope my previous comment didn't come off as whitesplaining or minimizing the racism at work in the situation you described. I was just trying to say that it was reasonable for her to not know about black hair. What was NOT reasonable was for her to deny your knowledge about it in the way she did. That is definitely a racist attitude frequently displayed by white people.

  33. @ Natural Girl

    "Black women don't get perms. We get relaxers. Perms DO make hair curly. Relaxers make hair straightened."

    Isn't this a difference between a permanent wave and a permanent relaxer? I am an African-American woman who grew up with both black and white Americans. All the black women I knew (and myself, before I went natural) called it a perm and not a relaxer. In fact, I never heard the term relaxer until I moved to TX at the age of 22.

  34. @natural girl, I too have never heard the word "perm" used for straightening, it wouldn't surprise me and I wouldn't be so quick to judge it as incorrect.

    A lot of the chemical straightening white people (among others) pay $500-1000 for when it comes with an exotic name attached is exactly the same chemical as a normal perm, but applied with the hair being held straight rather than in curlers.

    Since this comes up in my area of work, I'd be really interested to know if/how the word perm is used in regards to straightening black hair, so I don't end up saying something racially ignorant and stupid in the future.

  35. I think the part that's most offensive was the way that the students acted defensively when "called out" so to speak, but the ignorance in itself isn't necessarily inexplicable or inexcusable.

    Thomas Sowell once said that when he was younger, he didn't believe it was possible for yellow (blonde) to be the color of a person's hair. The students involved in this story are older and therefore perhaps less forgiveable.

    However, I would bet my liver that the majority of whites and non-Asian POC's have never heard of a blepharoplasty. As a Korean American, I have had this done.

    I've never seen or heard of a non-Asian person who didn't have a crease in their upper eyelid (some call that a double eyelid) but many Asians have a less pronounced crease or simply none at all in the upper eyelid (a single eyelid, if you will.) A blepharoplasty is where a cosmetic surgeon creates that crease, because many people find that look more attractive.

    Even fewer whites and non-Asian POC's alike have heard of or know what an epicanthic fold is either.

    There's always something new to learn.

  36. I hate the I'm white excuse when a white boy in my class asked me if I spoke African and I berated him for his stupidity his excuse was "I'm white how was I supposed to know"

    "How was you supposed to know that Africa is a bleedin continent with many countries that speak different languages." he boy was just shaming his race there LOL

    As for the whole perm thing back in the day relaxers were called permanent straightners and were often shortened to perm. Perm is short for permanent so yeah.

  37. I can't add anything but agreement to the aforementioned comments...

    I went to a high school that was mostly Asian (both South and East), and we had a lot of Vietnamese students. There were a few hundred kids w/ the last name Nguyen.

    When kids from white schools would note that there were many many Nguyens here, they'd ask, oh wow are they all related?

    *face desk* is right.

    It's one thing to maybe not know that Vietnamese people have a limited amount of surnames. But to assume that all these Vietnamese kids, regardless of how different they looked (no, all Asians do not look alike...)were related was a bit too much.

    Ignorance is one thing, but legitimizing that ignorance and being resistant to accurate information is entirely another...

  38. Just one comment: copyright pending? You know that you don't have to do anything explicit to get your screenplay copyrighted, right? From the guide at

    "Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created"

    Just want to make sure you're not getting scammed into unnecessary legal work!

  39. Rain, you are not being insensitive and this post definitely struck a nerve.

    I had a white friend when I was living in Shanghai who would always make the most ignorant comments about race and get defensive about it when I called her out. Scratch that, I have had white friends throughout my entire life wherever I lived who would make ignorant comments about race and get pissed off and defensive whenever I called them out.

    I had a male friend in Shanghai who basically said I have no right to get offended about being asked questions and not understanding about my hair if I don't plan to educate people. I said "Um, what? I have never, ever, ever asked white people ignorant questions about their hair and I still understand it. If they want to know so badly, they can go look up the information online themselves." And he said "It's a time issue. People don't want to waste time doing that." Right, so they can't spend five minutes looking up information about black hair, but I should spend hours and hours of my life constantly answering the same ignorant-ass questions about my hair to save white people time. Makes perfect sense!

    I had a female white friend in Shanghai who was also filled with stupid questions and constantly on the defensive. For example, I had a really short Afro. Suddenly, I had 14 inch braids. And she asked if that was my real hair. “What do you think?” I said. And she snapped “Well, I don’t know about your hair!”

    What? Why do you need to “know about [my] hair” to realize that someone’s hair can’t go from being an inch long to being 14 inches long in a week? WTF? When I point out to her that the constant questions were tiring, offensive, and inconsiderate, she again snapped “Well, your hair is different!”


    I said “Um, no. YOUR hair is different.” What the hell? Like white people are the default race and are the ones with normal hair?
    I have also had another occasion in America where this white guy asked me the series of annoying questions that I’m sure all black women who’ve ever lived in predominately white area are familiar with, and then finished it up with “well, I’m a white guy, so…”

    And I am black woman, and yet have never felt compelled to ask white men (or women) questions like “Why is your hair so stringy? How do you get it straight like that? Why do you wash it every day? Why is it so greasy?”

    But no, being white is a perfectly valid excuse for unparalleled ignorance and inconsiderateness.

    Being black, you should already know all those things about white people because white people are normal people and we are the abnormal ones who have things different about us.

  40. @ the original post - i'm almost flabbergasted. but then, when during a philosophy class freshman year a student said she had never seen sexism . . . i learned to never be flabbergasted. were you overreacting?? good gravy no. i'm surprised that your teacher didn't point out "othello" to them. that was done by a 'nice, normal, white guy'.

    @ the discussion regarding the word 'perm'. i was 21 or so before i knew that perm could refer to straightening as well as curling. i remember just sort of having a blank look on my face and my friend bailed me out " that's what 'we' call straightening"

    my mother used to straighten her hair, as did/does my cousin (both white) and i've def had POC say or ask something along the lines of 'i didn't know white people's hair could get that curly naturally'

  41. I really think people are letting the people in your story off too easy to say that they were "cit[ing] their being white as an excuse for racial ignorance." While insidious, no one said, "Oh, I see now, I didn't already know because I'm part of the dominant culture and haven't bothered to become exposed to anyone else's reality." (as the commenters in the blog have done) The lady in the story, as people have said, is not saying that she's ignorant. She is pointing out that she knows more than the author because she is part of the only culture that matters and that she's the one who gets to define things. The guy's line sounds to me like he's reminding you that he doesn't care. More like, "Hey, crazy lady, don't bother explaining the details of this issue to me because I don't give a rat's ass and shouldn't be expected to because you don't matter."

  42. On the terminology of the word "perm", I read that it's just a technique to "permanently" change your hair, whether to be curly, wavy, or straight. I hear both the words "relaxer" and "perm", but since I'm black and live in a predominately black area, "perm" is synonymous with "permanent relaxer". I guess if you're white - or just have straight hair - "perm" means "permanent waves".

  43. I've been reading this blog for some time now and I would like to say I find it really interesting because it helped uncover my prejudices.

    About today's post, I admit I share the ignorance of that people. I'm white but I live in South America, in a country where the black population is very scarce (Argentina). I had no idea that a perm could make your hair straight. That can be easily atributted to the fact that in my city it's very difficult to encounter a PoC.

    That being said, I think this guy was rude and that he clearly didn't seem interested in learning something new if it was even true that he didn't know anything about black people's hair.

    I apologise for my poor English :)

  44. It's not just that "well I'm White" was an excuse for not knowing something, but that it sounded like an expectation that he shouldn't be expected to try to learn anything in future, either. He had his "White" excuse slip ready for that.

  45. Point of clarification, sister.

    Black hair is actually, "relaxed" not "permed." It's a different process than the "perm" that white folks get, even if we call it by the same name.

    Anyway, I've found that white people enjoy wallowing in certain types of ignorance, while at the same time pretending that their ignorance makes makes sense because any knowledge not commonly known by white folks isn't really that important.

    That's the attitude you ran into, and it's all over the place.

  46. Why so much hair splitting over the word "perm" versus the word "relaxer"? As someone upthread mentioned, "perm" is short for permanent so relaxers are most certainly under the category of perm...

  47. it wouldn't surprise me if the perm/relaxer terminology was a difference in idiolect/dialect. a couple of commenters have pointed out that they would distinguish between "perm" and "relax" in describing the curling/straightening processes, and i would guess that there's at least some regional variance in the use of the terms, in addition to the cultural variance.

    which doesn't at all excuse that girl's attitude. if she was trying to nitpick on a simple vocabulary point (which she is ultimately wrong about, because language is the people's, not just her people's), then her condescension and (ignorant) pedantry toward you is insufferable, and very obviously a sign that she's wrapped up in her own (entirely white) perspective. and, in my opinion, if the only thing she could think to say about your play during a writing workshop was to say that you were using the term "perm" incorrectly (in her mind)... holy fu--er, wow--what an ass.

    as for the other guy, yeah, i've seen that attitude all the time. it's like he wants to be defensive about being wrong, which (last time i checked) is more or less an indefensible position to hold. it's the height of disaffected privilege to be able to throw up your hands and say "what do you expect/want from me?" when you are challenged, and change nothing about yourself or your behavior.

    to answer your questions more explicitly, though--you're absolutely not crazy, it's very white of the girl to act like her own opinion or view of the world is the correct one, and very white of the guy to duck responsibility under the shield of white masculinity. and you're certainly not being overly sensitive.

  48. It never ceases to amaze me how white people can be so well-versed on things that don't effect them regularly. Like the makeup of a good movement in classical music, or understand film even though they've never made a movie, or really get politics even though they've never even so much as thought about working for a political campaign, or know a whole lot about coffee beans when they don't grow them... you know... sh*t like that...

    But ask them to know about another culture? Not only do they not but they act as if their minds are too feeble to wrap around the concept of differences.

    So, you can understand the complexities of quantum physics, but you can't understand that my hair is a different texture from yours? FURTHER you can't take the time out of your life to learn about these differences without a)looking like an ass and b) being prompted to do so (usually right after looking like an ass)?

    I think for many POC, if we really think about it, that's at the crux of the issue. There are so many things these same white people who use the "I'm white, I didn't know" excuse DO understand about events and places and things that don't effect them directly and regularly, but you ask them to know something about minority culture/people? You might as well ask them to blink their eyes and nod their head and produce a car for you.

  49. I'm not surprised White People are clueless about Black Hair. We've been hiding it under weaves and relaxers for so long that now that they see it they're like 'WHOA!!!'

  50. A bit OT:

    Is this the part where I bring up the Roland Martin debate with Mary Matlin about the appropriateness of wearing your hair the way it grows out of your head.

  51. @RVCBard thanks for the link. Outrageous.

  52. White dude here. As for the "perm to make hair straight" that was a new one on me, but honestly, as soon as I read, "When we were discussing how my protagonist permed her hair straight", I didn't have to read on to put 2 and 2 together. In other words, I nearly instantly figured out that if a perm can keep straight hair curly, then it could also keep curly hair straight. The girl was just being stupid in not making the same connection before opening her mouth and blurting out stupidness. The dude sounds like a total prick to begin with. And as for throwing his hands in there air... there's NO excuse for being willfully ignorant.

    Anyway, some of us do have to learn the hard way. When I was younger, I once made a comment to a black female coworker that about her hair "Cut". Dumb dumb dumb. Thankfully we were rather close and had a very similar and strange sense of humor that most other's didn't get, and instead of reading me the riot act she just gave me "You are semi-retarded aren't you" look. Yes... yes I most certainly was. That's one of those moments my mind likes to play back to me when I wake up late at night.

  53. @a.smith

    It never ceases to amaze me how white people can be so well-versed on things that don't effect them regularly....
    But ask them to know about another culture? Not only do they not but they act as if their minds are too feeble to wrap around the concept of differences. i don't really have anything i could add to this point, other than a firm affirmation of its truth. well said.

  54. @ Xenu

    Totally stealing "whitesplaining"! I love it! Reminds me of the time my boss "whitesplained" to me that ALL blacks have black hair (this was after we had worked about 170+ hours in 2 weeks and I subsequently accidentally allowed my hair to by dyed jet black because I was half asleep during my salon appointment and I was PO'd) therefore, my hair color couldn't possibly be brown like I "claimed". I will admit, once the dye wore off he did apologize upon seeing me outside in the sun and realizing that I have naturally DARK BROWN hair.

  55. @Pajamas

    Oh yea, Roger Ebert is the one. Thanks for correcting me. I get the two mixed up.

  56. If that professor is going to pass out everyone's work and allow for open critique, he needs to become a stronger facilitator of that process. Allowing that kind of stupidity to go unchallenged is just wrong.

    Sorry you had to deal with that. I so agree with JohnRyan: when you read the lines about perming in the script, in context, it's self-explanatory. One must trust that the author knows what he/she is talking about on issues like that.

    Bad work by the prof. I hope he learned a little something from your sad experience. That sucks.

  57. A lot of whites are clueless about black hair. I don't fault them for that if they've never been around a variety of blacks who have a variety of hair types.

    What I do get annoyed (or occasionally, angry) by is when one gets aggressive about it.

    I had a dentist once who apparently never had a black patient. The man couldn't resist touching my hair, but he did it without asking. Just grabbed my fro, felt it, and acted like nothing had happened.

    This is almost funny to me know, because humans do all sorts of non-PC things on impulse. I was annoyed then.

    Where I really got angry was when I hired a solo contractor to do some kitchen renovation. Out of the blue he tells me black people have ugly hair. If I hadn't already paid him a hefty deposit, I'd have kicked him out, but since he was his own boss, I was in a bit of dilemma. He said it with hostility, too, and I think he was mad that I broke his stereotypes by not living in a shack.

  58. Rain, I had a similar experience when I was in 8th grade (96-97). This white boy asked me if our hair would stand up straight on its own!

    Then when I told him how we didn't need to wash our hair every day, he was very disgusted by that.

    He had total incapability to realize that our needs are different. B/c my hair should be judged by HIS hair's needs! DUH!

    Then again in my freshman year of Uni, my white roommate asked me if locks where made with mud.


  59. Ugh...this brings me back to these days when I was working on my MFA in Creative Writing in NYC. A section of my novel, which dealt with a young woman who migrated to NYC from Puerto Rico, was being workshopped. Here comes this white chick who spent two weeks in PR and a week in Spain and thought she was schooling me on a word that I used. Little did she know that I have family from Spain, and friends that are Puerto Rican---I told her that some words used in Spain Spanish might have different meanings from those used in Puerto Rican, i.e. like pants in the U.K. means underwear or panties. I told her that's like saying American English and British English is the same, when it's not. That shut her up. Maybe, I'm off base, but why does it seem okay for white authors to write from a a Poc POV, but when a Poc does it, we're questioned like we don't know what we're talking about? Sorry for my rant, but I'm getting upset just thinking about how I'm always second-guessed.

    As far as the hair issue, I can't tell you how many times I get ticked off when I have a champagne liberal/WIWL telling me what I should be doing with my hair.

  60. >> "but why does it seem okay for white authors to write from a a Poc POV, but when a Poc does it, we're questioned like we don't know what we're talking about?"

    Maybe a combination of (1) WP's amazing gut-jerk reaction of questioning any knowledge asserted by POC and (2) WP have controlled the dominant narrative of "POC" for so long that when someone (POC) presents an actual portrayal, it does not seem "realistic." (Cue irony.) (This is a *huge* issue in books involving Native Americans or Native cultures...I'm thinking that something similar is in play in what you are describing).

    Chimamanda Adichie's "danger of a single story" speech also comes to mind. Once you've read one book about one POC, you know everything about all POC experiences, right? /sarcasm

  61. Roxie: Then when I told him how we didn't need to wash our hair every day, he was very disgusted by that.

    Most of what I've learned over the years about Black hair has been picked up from novels and other writing because I pretty much don't ask anybody anything about personal stuff like their hair. I THINK I've figured out what extensions are from context by now.

    However, I thought people would find it interesting about how I learned about the hair washing stuff specifically. I was in the district attorney's office talking about juvenile delinquents who "fail" in placements, and one example was a Black kid who ended up in confinement because she got in a fight with her White foster mother who was trying to get her to wash her hair every day! The topic of discussion was the need for cultural awareness training for foster parents. Which taught me that even seemingly-trivial and highly personal stuff like hair maintenance can have ugly consequences in a racial hierarchy.

  62. Exactly!!

    Seriously, I've had white people who have maybe taken a semester or two of Spanish (which is normally Mexican Spanish) and tell me, a Latina who learned English a second language, I'm wrong for saying a certain word because it's not what they learned. WTF? I use the same example about American English and British English too, but sometimes they still want to argue.

    I always think they wouldn't do this if they were speaking with a French or Italian person who corrected them...because they're white.

    This post really opened my eyes..reminds me of salons I went to where they can't do anything for me because "I don't work with your type of hair". You can find me in Dominican salons for sure. At least there I can get my hair relaxed (I never used the word perm) and have a mini vacation from white people. No offense to the whites who understand where I'm coming from.

  63. But ask them to know about another culture? Not only do they not but they act as if their minds are too feeble to wrap around the concept of differences.

    Wrong! Being an Expert on YOUR culture is stuff white people like!

    In any case, as others have pointed out, since white people have both straight and curly hair, the term "perm" is used for the process that takes it from straight to curly and "relaxed"/"straighted" is the term that takes it from curly to straight.

    My guess is that a lot of whites just assume that, like them, blacks' hair comes in a variety of levels of curliness or straightness, not realizing that black women with straight hair have gone through a serious chemical process to create that look.

  64. I think everyone needs heaps of patience to deal with understanding cultures that aren't their own. I am white, and I find that the problem comes up very often; just the phrase "I'm white, so I don't get it" while being obtuse and just stupid... Is oddly correct. While it's hurtful and ignorant, it's in a terrible way correct: white people don't have a "culture" in the traditional sense to be proud of. For blacks, for asians, for the Spanish, etc. etc. -- your heritage, your culture, is a part of who you are. If you're white and come from a mutt-like family tree that's predominantly white, any kind of culture just isn't that important unless you were brought up to thoroughly appriciate others'. Which IS ignorant.

    While I don't think you're being overly sensitive, I think you've got to be patient; some people act like ignorant children that don't know that 2x5 is 10, not 7. Gritting your teeth and setting them straight will make you feel better than carrying the anger of it around with you. Because the hard and horrible fact is that lots of white people don't appreciate others' cultures AT ALL. But again, "People are ignorant about certain issues because they're not informed" -- and lots of white people are grossly ill-informed.

    (I've also got to add that until recently, I didn't know either that black people permed their hair to get it straight; I honestly thought it was done with a flat iron or something to that effect. That sort of information which seems so "Well, DUH!" to some people is hardly ever marketed in the mainstream media.)

  65. Here's a conversation I had today with a person I'm in an organization with. All PoC have probably had a similar conversation many times throughout their lives:

    White Person: Hi, I'm A. What's your name? Is it B [third person to mistake me for B, btw]?
    Me: No. It's C.
    White Person: Oh! Sorry, you're both Asian, no offense! *giggle*
    Me: *giggle* Yeah... *start feeling pissed*

    And then I move on. Or do I? Because it's the little things like that that add up. Every. Single. Day. And make me suddenly have an outburst at something seemingly unrelated, towards someone who had nothing to do with the situation that pissed me off in the first place. So then it's my fault for having an uncalled for outburst, and now something is wrong with me. And the cycle continues...

    Did that even make sense?

  66. I remember when I was 8 years old, I got in an argument with my best friend (who was white) about what a "perm" was. One day my hair was really straight and she asked me how I did it and I said, "My mommy permed my hair for me." This girl argued with me for a whole week about what a "perm" was. But now, I don't say "perm" I say relaxer, only because that's what I am doing...relaxing curls/waves. Except I hate doing it and when my hair gets wavy I brush it into an enormous bun.

    But other than that, I do not think you're crazy simply because I secretly believe that many white people live in a world of illusions. Completely disconnected from the rest of the world, I don't expect many to understand anything outside of what is local to them. Even when you break down a concept in the simplest terms its like trying to teach them a language they cannot comprehend.

    Many White American people do not feel the need to know anything more than what they need to live day to day. You know, like those White American Tourists who travel to a foreign country and expect that everyone will speak English to them.

  67. Funny story, my freshman year of undergrad my RA (a really nice girl a year ahead of me who happened to be white)would come up to whenever we were passing one another and sniff me up and down. Yes you read correctly, sniff me, I could count on her to do it despite being in front of groups of people. Even after I asked her to stop she never did. She constantly remarked that I always smelled like a fresh shower,
    * here is the kicker *

    she was shocked that I always smelled good at any point of the day.

    It sounds ridiculous because it is and I couldn't make this sh*t up if I tried. At first I thought I was being sensitive, but after asking around I found out I was the only girl on here floor that she did this too, and I just so happened to be the only girl of color.

    The first time she did it I froze. It still makes me flabbergasted but seriously, it made me realize that many anglos can't help but view poc as a different species. It seriously comes across as a lack of common sense. It must be nice to go through life ignorant b/c you're not required to utilize your brain to put two and two together. When I asked her why she was shocked her response was "well, what did you expect me to think." I think that's when I started to become indifferent to most anglos, and stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt.

  68. @Sarah

    I don't think the girl in Rain's class was exhibiting very much patience when it came to talking about a culture that wasn't her own. It's really not Rain's or any POC's responsibility to make it easy for a WP, especially when that WP has is disrespectful from the jump. Expecting the ignorance is one thing, but making accommodations for it (being patient for people who have taken absolutely NO time to understand and educate themselves on a culture that has existed along side ours since whites enslaved blacks in America) is another thing... and it's not beneficial to anyone when POC coddle WP. I genuinely believe that WP need to be placed in the uncomfortable position of seeing how this sort of ignorance is not acceptable.

    In fact, it's borderline hypocritical. How close are non-racist WP to their black friends when they've never accompanied a girlfriend to the salon? Never sat for hours chatting with her while her hair was plaited/braided? Never been asked to hold this chunk of hair tight to the side so she can get to her roots when she permed (or relaxed - whatever you'd like to refer to it as)? It's really something to consider if you're white and actively trying to whittle down your racism. If you have black women as friends, why aren't you close enough with them to be a part of their womanness? I'm not looking for real answers. Just think about it. If you found yourself not knowing about some of the things brought up in this post, think about the possibility that you're keeping your black female friends at a distance you're not keeping your white ones at. I know that might not be the case for many people, but I find the pervasiveness of so many comments from people just recently finding out about black hair to be problematic.

    As a note: I am not suggesting whites force an unnatural desire for closeness on their black friends or seek black friendships just to overcome the culture ignorance. Just think about why your friendships didn't progress into that and how you can change that later on.

  69. Sarah,

    White people DO have a culture; we're just not used to thinking about it like that. The archives of this blog have more on this.

    I think you mean well, but this strikes me as really off: "I think you've got to be patient; some people act like ignorant children that don't know that 2x5 is 10, not 7."

    See, the fact is that POC are already EXTRAORDINARILY patient; they have to be, to survive in a place that directs aggressions large and small at them all the time, and then paints them as the bad guys when they react. And, really, why should ANYONE be patient with people who are pretty clearly demonstrating that they're not interested in learning or changing? Do such people really deserve the courtesy of patience?

    Also, I think it's a good rule of thumb for white people to refrain from telling POC how to feel or how to think about racism. We haven't had the experience and we don't know enough about it. We just don't.

  70. Thanks Julia/the other Julia..I'm glad I waited to respond.

    Sarah, your comment is actually only proving the entire point of the post. "I'm white, I don't know" you just tacked on a "I know that's messed up, but it's true" at the end.

    Look, every post here is something white people do and ALL of it is messed up and NONE of it is excuseable despite that fact. Not even this one.

    White people get away with that "how could I have known" b.s. all the time and it's frustrating because white people expect POC to understand things about them without having to be told and POC know that so we learn and (gasp) we do it without being asses about it, because, quite frankly, it's necessary to survive.

    If black people don't know who Bob Seger is, "I'm black, how would I know?" wouldn't work because white people don't see themselves as special -- they see themselves as normal. Not knowing about "white" heroes is to not know about "heroes."

    But the flip is supposed to be ok. I'm sure a lot of white people had no idea who Dorothy Height was and why her death was such a big deal. But they're white, they're not supposed to know...

  71. While I don't think you're being overly sensitive, I think you've got to be patient; some people act like ignorant children that don't know that 2x5 is 10, not 7. Gritting your teeth and setting them straight will make you feel better than carrying the anger of it around with you.


    Oh. You're serious. :/

  72. @Sarah:

    White people definitely have culture. In fact, I'd say white people probably have several cultures, one often being racial, and then others being ethnic. The racial culture is the normalized national/regional/local culture most times, so in many ways, this culture is a form of the white supremacy this site is supposed to be educating us all on. I'd say this site in fact, is a mini-repository of white cultural information so while it may not be a "culture" in the traditional sense, i.e. -- something exotic and foreign -- white people have a definite culture, and assuming they do not is an INTEGRAL PART of that culture.

  73. "This guy then added about my story, "How could her husband not know she was Black?" "

    You are not crazy, white people actually believe that white and black are separate concrete categories with completely opposite looks, behavior, accents, IQ.

    There is a great deal of denial among white people about how much race mixing took place before the last 50 years. They don't seem to know/notice that skin color is the first thing to go with biracial black white offsping.

    A coworker of mine stated that it would take generations for Black ancestry to not be obvious. This of course is total BS to anyone who has a clue what biracial black people look like. My mother and her siblings are all biracial black white and they all can pass as non black. My mother has an afro textured hair that she straightens but even she has had white people not realize she is black (then get angry when they found out she was). All that took was one generation. In two generations they would be completely unrecognizable as black by 99% of white people.

  74. Don't worry Rain you weren't being too sensitive. The exchange between you and the two white folks here reminded me of another white tendency, that of making the personal political and the political personal.

    WP have no problem publicizing about personal matters amongst each other (personal hygiene, sexual intimacy, women's personal hygiene), but will stay close lipped about matters that need to be publicized and discussed socially, like political or social issues (such as racism). It's interesting that of all the issues and topics your play wanted to put forth for discussion (and that should be discussed publicly), the white girl chose to talk about something related to hair care!

    How often do white folks talk about how they REALLY feel about certain social or political issues in front of POC's? Meanwhile how often do they like talking about their most intimate details and moments with everyone, whether others want to hear about them or not?

    This reminds me of a great Dave Chappelle joke that makes fun of this very tendency (and I'm paraphrasing here):
    "If you try to talk to a white guy about politics, he'll tell you 'Dave that stuff is personal' then the next minute he'll start describing about how he f***** his wife on the couch last night".

  75. While I don't think you're being overly sensitive, I think you've got to be patient; some people act like ignorant children that don't know that 2x5 is 10, not 7. Gritting your teeth and setting them straight will make you feel better than carrying the anger of it around with you.

    You must be joking. So we're not being patient enough with these wp and THAT Is the source of our anger?

    You know what makes me angry? People who are so sympathetic, but then turn around and talk to me about how I could've done something better! As if I had done something wrong in the first place by having black hair and not educating ALL whites about it at any time.

    And you know, some times, I don't correct them b/c letting them to continue to be incredibly ignorant in the face of someone else is a really tempting. And that might make me feel better--exposing the it for what it is to others.

    Sometimes I am too tired to be nice, accommodating, & an educator.

  76. Another vote here for "I thought a permanent wave curled hair and a relaxer straightened it, so I wouldn't call straightening a 'perm' normally."

    But then, I'm clueless about hair in general. I'm a curly-haired white girl, so I have used some products designed for black hair, and I certainly don't wash my hair every day--it'd fall out! But I would be the first to admit I know next to nothing about hair-salon proceedings for anyone of any race. I get my hair trimmed once or twice a year, and otherwise stay the heck away from those places. Maybe I should try finding a black stylist, because white ones do not, in my experience, have the first idea what to do with curly hair other than straighten it.

    So...trying not to be a douche like the people in the OP's class, but I really want to know, because I've never heard this before...why is it wrong to ask about or compliment a "hair cut"? I mean, obviously if you are going from braids to some other style, "cut" isn't apropos, but wouldn't POC get their hair cut just like WP at times, and wouldn't it then be fine to compliment the new cut? I would just go look this up if I could instead of asking to be educated, but I wouldn't begin to know where to look, because I've never heard this issue mentioned before.

  77. @Mirror: I have to agree with your question. I've been trying to puzzle it out for days, but Googling for stuff like "black hair cut insulting" and "black hair cut offensive" haven't been bringing up any relevant results.

  78. There is a TON of writing on this out there. Angry Black Woman has a long post on it for example ( )

    --and I just found that and a lot of other links by Googling "White people Black hair" and similar phrases (I don't think you need to get so specific in the search term as "insulting").

  79. I've read that one before (I did a fair bit of reading on the subject when there was the post about the movie "Good Hair") but I reread it again just now, and also the ones linked from the bottom. And I already understood why it was offensive in the first example cited in the comments, of telling a black woman who'd gotten her braids taken out that she'd gotten a nice haircut. But I'm still not really getting why it would be offensive in general to tell a black woman her haircut looks nice, assuming we're talking about a woman who actually did get a haircut (i.e.: not switching from one style to another). Is it because white people should refrain from commenting on black hair because it's such a loaded subject?

  80. @Robin

    She didn't get a haircut. She switched hair styles. The teacher thought she'd cut her braids out, not realizing that those braids had not been her real hair.

  81. @Roxie: Yes, I understand, which is why I said "I already understood why it was offensive in the first example cited in the comments, of telling a black woman who'd gotten her braids taken out that she'd gotten a nice haircut. But I'm still not really getting why it would be offensive in general to tell a black woman her haircut looks nice, assuming we're talking about a woman who actually did get a haircut (i.e.: not switching from one style to another)." I fully get that switching hairstyles is not getting a haircut. That's not the question at hand. The question is about the second example JohnRyan cited, where he mentioned complimenting a coworker on her haircut and getting a "you're stupid" look, but there was no context provided as to her switching hairstyles. Trying to be absolutely clear here: assuming a black woman has relaxed hair and did in fact get a haircut (not switching styles), is it still offensive to compliment her on her haircut, and why is it so?

  82. only JohnRyan can answer that question cause he was the one that was there.

    I have had people ask if I'd cut my hair when I hadn't cut it in 8 months so I just said no and left it at that. I guess it was looking particularly curly that day and people with straight hair do not understand curls. Either way it is not my job to explain it to them.

    It could just be about not singling people out who have a different hair texture than you. I've also had someone drop hints that I was in need of a hair cut and this same person told me my hair looks more professional when I wear a head band.
    Can you imagine someone with straight hair being told to wear a head band to look more professional? Not happening.

  83. I think that the problem is not that the girl did not know what a "perm" is for a Black woman, when I was in college, I had no clue that "perm" meant anything other than curling the hair. HOWEVER, when I REALIZED that I didn't know what my college roommate was referring to when she spoke of getting a perm, I took it as an opportunity to counter my own ignorance, NOT as an opportunity to tell her SHE was wrong about HER definition of "perm". There is a difference between NOT KNOWING something due to ignorance, and NOT BEING WILLING TO LEARN. We are all born ignorant. We learn as we go along, and if you grow up around all white people, you learn what white people know. BUT, it is up to us as individuals to break out of out isolated little worldviews and learn more about the world around us.

  84. @thelady: Thank you for your response. :) That makes perfect sense to me (and I doubt I would be able to tell the difference between curly hair being tighter or looser on a particular day, so that's a mistake I easily could have made).

  85. I would like to comment as a 23 year old white female from central Alabama. I am a rarity in Alabama. I am an smart engineering student and Christian, southern, white woman who has an extensive group of friends, a good portion of them are black. My current boyfriend is black. I know about perms straightening extremely curly hair, and so on. I am going to tell you a story and then explain its point.

    This Sunday I watched Just Wright, the new movie with Queen Latifa and a mostly black cast. I watched this in Atlanta with my 48 year old White, school teacher, of a mother. She didn't enjoy the movie as much as me because she didn't understand or relate to half of it. She didn't now a Whip was a car, she didn't know Common was an artist. She didn't catch half of the funny parts of the movie because she is completly unaware. I would like to explain her lack of awareness.

    White people are often raised with limited contact with people of color. Sometimes on purpose, most often not. We are raised around other white people and are typically not tought to be aware of the culture and/or daily life that comes along with having different genetics. It isn't out of hate (usually) it is just out of a lack of understanding and also a some what discomfort with colored people. A lot of white people grow up thinking that blacks, latinos, asian, etc. are SO different that we have no business trying to look stupid making friends with other races. Older generations simply see a vast difference that they often think cannot be bridged. When I chose to date a black man (who has a 3.8 GPA in Engineering, is Christian, and is engaged on campus) my mother was extremly worried about how I would be percieved. She said that despite her being okay with it others would think I was trashy or to different. that my mixed children would have a hard life. You see most white people know nothing or little of black and other races due to ACCUMULATED racism. So now even generations who don't feel racist suffer the lack of knowledge and experience due to earlier generation's discomfort with people of color. Yes, be pissed at the bitch who was stupid enough to have no clue about your hair, but don't blame racism first. Blame her parents and grandparents for not knowing or caring and as best you can educate those around you. Most white people value the knowledge.

  86. Ansgrace,

    I appreciate the sentiment, but please be aware that telling non-white people that they should educate white people amounts to expressing an expectation of work from non-white people, work that white people have no good reason to ask non-white people to do. In other words, please think twice, as a white person, before telling non-white people to help clean up a mess that's created and perpetuated by white people.

    [Also, if you're wondering about the previous comment that you left (or rather, that I THINK you left) under "Anonymous," and why I didn't publish it, feel free to write me at

    unmakingmacon AT gmail DOT com ]

  87. @ansgrace The process of social accumulation and segregation you describe *is* racism.

    I think what you are denying is at work here is called out-and-out bigotry.

  88. [Scott, Read the comments upthread by Hair and Pajamas, and the followup to them afterward by Will Capers. ~macon]

  89. "...since I'm black and live in a predominately black area, 'perm' is synonymous with 'permanent relaxer'. I guess if you're white - or just have straight hair - 'perm' means 'permanent waves'."

    This makes total sense. Thank you! I have bone-straight stringy hair, so all of my perms have been for curls, and I thought straightener or relaxer was for straight hair.

    Funny story (maybe). I'm white and found out in my 30s that some babies are born with blue eyes and they CHANGE COLOR. I thought people were screwing with me. (I have dark brown eyes and have from birth, so... I had no idea that eyes can change color after babyhood. Weird.)

  90. @Rain: Another vote for "you weren't being oversensitive". There's no excusing their behavior. It's obvious that a person should know when they *don't* know something, and should be aware of how ignorant and stupid a question is before they decide whether to ask it or not, and yet whites get away with that sort of thing all the time. It's a sneaky kind of evil--it gets past most other whites, so if anyone who did notice it speaks up (especially people of color), they get mobbed by the white people rushing in to defend/excuse the original ignorant white[s] (which seems to be happening in this very thread). That whole situation was so nasty and NOT something anyone should have to deal with in class (or really anywhere, but especially not in class where you've put in all that hard work and they just disrespect you like that). I hope that at least some of the other comments you got were good and helpful and respectful. Also, from what little you described of it, your script sounds interesting. Feel like sharing more details as soon as you get it copyrighted?

    @ Sarah: why did you feel the need to post that comment? Isn't it just more whitesplaining? Nobody should be expected to have "patience" for racially-ignorant racist white people. When we're ignorant, the burden's on us and should *never* be shifted. Same goes for you, AnsGrace--also, "colored people"? Really? Ugh.

  91. That's pretty bad. It's a shame you have so many ignorant and stupid people in your class with you. I live in Orange County California and it's pretty much the same way here. And I'm half Lebanese but I look white. The problem is that people today are complacent. They just don't think for themselves. Everyone regurgitates what they hear or see and don't tend to think outside of the box - yet alone really think at all. But what you're doing by pushing the envelope is're opening the eyes of the ignorant people that plague this world. We have to put an end to stupidity and you did just that.


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