An Example…

27 Mar

It was solely coincidence that one week ago I wrote a list called, “The Top 5 Questions Women of Color get Asked out of Ignorance and Disrespect”. I created the list based on personal experience and the collaborated stories and experiences of women of color. Many of the experiences I wrote about were very personal, while others I have yet to endure. The first one, however, is a comment I am very familiar with; The loaded question: “Is that your real hair?”

Good Times!

Good Times!

I went to the mall Saturday evening with my aunt from visiting from Trinidad and with my mom, who also has locks. Oftentimes, as she likes it best, she wears her hair in a ponytail, as she did this past Saturday. While we were walking, my mother was asked by a group of guys walking in the opposite direction, “Is that all yours?” From behind, perhaps they thought she was yonger, possibly my age. But when she turned around they immediately noticed she was older, and tried to laugh it off saying, “Just kidding!”  My mom though, bold as she is, smiled her confident smile and said,”No, you weren’t, but it’s okay.” She conintued, “This is all my real hair.” The boys then, feeling embarrassed and awkward stood there as she proceeded to point me out next her with my hair loose and hanging down reaching past my back and asked, “Do you believe that is all hers?” They said yes because “mine was down and they could tell”, however something tells me that they had their doubts about the authenticity of my hair as well as my mothers. Something tells me their answer changed upon her correction of their incorrect assumption. At least we know they were taught some sort of good manners.

So there I stood dumbfounded almost because once again, I was conflicted with how it could be so hard for another to fathom that a black woman could have natural, lengthy hair. What makes this issue even more difficult is that it is not necessarily a black and white thing. The group of young men who asked my mother this question were all black! One of them, had dreads himself.

Whether one realizes it or not, often times when a women of color gets asked this question the underlying and often unconscious thought behind their inquiry is that it is uncommon or even impossible for women of color to have long, flowing, natural hair of their own. Thus, the problem. Among that central question, I have sort of archived a list of other very stereotypical questions that I personally get asked on a daily basis having dreadlocks:

Are you Jamaican?

Can I touch it?

Does it hurt if I touch it?

How do you sleep on that?

The ever playful,unintelligent, ignorant, sarcastic, yet equally insulting, “Can you give me dreads”?

Were you born with them?

Does everyone in your family have them?

Do you wash it? How?

Are they clean? Does it smell?

You must have nappy hair huh?

Did your parents force you to get them?

…Some of these may surprise you, some of these may sound very familiar because you yourself have thought them or asked them out loud. All of these questions I get asked on a day to day basis, as if my hair was some sort of anomaly all its own. Its funny, when I think of these things, or when I get asked any one of these questions because I shake my head and at that very moment, inside, I feel so out of place. You see, in my community, back home in Trinidad, dreadlocks are normal. They are a part of our culture as a people, and we take pride in having locks down to our backsides r as short as the nape of our necks. Men and women alike with thick hair, wavy hair, thin and straight hair all th same have locks. No one walks up to me and asks, “Is it real?” or, “Can I touch it?” I feel like I belong.

Caracas Beach in Trinidad and Tobago, 2008

Caracas Beach in Trinidad and Tobago, 2008

Little sis and Cuz,Caracas Beach, Trinidad, 2008

Little sis and Cuz,Caracas Beach, Trinidad, 2008

Care free and hair free...The place where I am most happy is the  place where I can be myself.

Care free and hair free…The place where I am most happy is the place where I can be myself.

Bother and cousins enjoying the beach, 2008

Brother and cousins enjoying the beach, 2008

Having grown up, and now being almost used to the questions and assumptions that are imposed upon me, being  a woman of color, and having long dreadlocks, these things , the questions and comments are not so much of a surprise to me anymore. Just because  am not surprised any longer, does not mean that they do not bother me so much anymore. What bothers me is when I think of the young brown girls who are growing up experiencing these same things, recreating the cycle.

I know, that much of these questions and assumptions that follow black women in particular and long hair stem from the way that media portrays them. Most famous black women do have hair extensions. Many black women in general do use chemical straigtheners or texturizers in their hair. The key word though, is “most”, not all! If you are reading this post and are asking yourself, well, what am I supposed to do, or what can I do you should, we all should take on the motto used so often in our judicial system that says, “innocent until proven guilty”. Assume that when you see a women of color walking past you on campus and she has long hair, that it is her natural hair. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Don’t allow the media, our stereotypical society decide for you how you will view the world. Create your own judgements. Refrain from treating a part of her that is so precious and valuable as if it is some strange and foreign thing on top of her head to be examined, and touched, pulled at.  Stop the cycle.

I have been battling with these thoughts for a while now. I wondered to myself where do we draw the line between exoticism and pure curiosity? When should I be offended and when am I just being overly sensitive? I have come to this simple conclusion: When I am treated like some sort of exotic thing, a rare animal, something never seen before, when I am treated that way, like a lab experiment, that is exoticism. Pure and simple. All of those questions I listed above are examples of exoticism, no way around it, and it is NOT all right. However, when I am treated as a human being rather than an object, and that includes everything belonging to me, every body part of mine, everything that is me, that creates me and who I am, hair and hips included, and some one has a questions or is interested to know more and approaches me as such, that is pure and honest curiosity, and I have no problem satisfying that.

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One Response to “An Example…”

  1. Mark April 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    I see you starting to generate more likes, and so I’m guessing your page views must be increasing. Well done (especially since you are beginning to build audience on your own terms and without sacrificing any of the integrity or commitment that animate your work in this space)!

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