A couple of weeks ago, I went to a party at a friend’s house. Right before everyone got up to get food, a blonde girl came up to me and said “Oh my gosh, your hair is SO beautiful!” “Thanks!”, I said back. She then followed up with: “Do you wash it?”
*side eye emoji*
*looks around for hidden camera*
For everyone who’s missed the implication of her question, this woman has essentially just asked me if my hair is clean. Do I bathe? Do I participate in normal hygiene practices?
After glaring at her with the shade of a thousand redwoods, I slowly, and in my most condescending tone, managed a “…..yyyyyyeeeeeeaaaaahhhhhhh………” Upon realizing she had possibly offended me (while also being slightly confused as to how I’d been offended), she offered “—I mean, well I just meant like how?? Just cause it’s so—“
Now before I explain how I put her out of her misery, let me just make a couple comments here. First of all, “do you wash” and “how do you wash” are two VERY different questions. The first implies, as I said, that there is a good chance—good enough for me to ask—that you do not wash, which I shouldn’t have to point out is extremely insulting.
The second question, though better because it at least assumes the premise that you DO wash your hair, is still problematic because –and let me make this very clear: IT. IS. NONE. OF. YOUR. BUSINESS. Bitch I don’t even know your name yet and you’re gonna come at me with questions about my cleansing habits? Fuck outta here.
Unfortunately, it’s not like this is a new thing for me. Being the only black girl in most of my social spheres for most of my life has led to innumerable inquiries, both polite and less so, about my hair and/or hygiene. But here’s the thing I want us to all understand: Black girls, or any other marginalized group for that matter, are not here to be your informational guides to how they live their lives. I have no obligation to explain to you the (often arduous) process of getting my hair done, or if it’s real, or how I maintain it, or how much of it is mine, etc. That’s none of your business, and you can have a seat. Transgendered people do not have to tell you if they’ve had “the surgery” yet. That’s none of your business, and you can have a seat. Hijabis do not have to tell you what’s under their hijab. That’s none of your business and you can have a seat. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be curious and ask about other people’s cultures or practices that differ from ours in order to expand our own perspectives. Curiosity is different. Curiosity is welcome. But certain curiosities can also be cured by Google. If you are REALLY that interested in how I get my hair done or how I clean it, Apple produces a lovely little pocket-sized computer that makes phone calls and everything! I’m sure most of you have one, feel free to use it. And if you do find yourself wanting to ask someone about themselves, all I ask is that you first make sure you’re doing so with respect. Like for example, a better way to go about this conversation would have been the following:
“Oh my gosh your hair is so beautiful!”
“Yeah wow, it’s so intricate, taking care of it must be a lot of work”—
At that point, I could either choose to say “Yeah, it is” and end the conversation, OR if I wanted, I could go into all the things that I do to take care of my hair. Either way, she has expressed appreciation for my hair and admiration for how I maintain it, without low key accusing me of being unclean. See how easy that was?
ANYWAY, so we’re still standing next to each other trynna get food after having this horribly awkward encounter, and I assume, in an attempt to ease the palpable if not suffocating tension, she starts to make small talk about the spread. As you may have guessed, I had ZERO interest in continuing any communication with this broad, but I noticed this super interesting thing happened: all of a sudden, even though this girl had totally been an idiot and offended me, I felt like I had to be nice to her to avoid being seen as (perhaps yet another) “unfriendly black girl.”
AND HEREIN LIES THE FUCKED UP THING ABOUT RACISM (well, one of them):
Something racist happens. Someone of color has been rightfully upset. But by some CRAZY twist of pure fuckery, the offended ends up being the one taking care of the offenders feelings, lest the offended be deemed as “having an attitude problem” or “not a team player” or “hyper-aggressive” or my personal favorite: the “Angry Black Woman”. So here I was, the only black girl at this party, I had just basically been called dirty by this bitch standing next to me, and I’m having to make dumbass quips about potato chips in order to avoid the Angry Black Woman stereotype. Ain’t that some shit. I cannot TELL you how many times I’ve heard a white person say, in one way or another, something like “I dunno, I just feel intimidated by black people, they’re kind of scary. I tried to say hi to a few of them once and they were unfriendly.” And I’m like, WELL DID YOU SAY SOME STUPID SHIT?! Did you walk up like “AY YO WASSUP PLAYAAAAA?!” and try to make a “cool” hand-shake happen that neither of you had previously agreed upon? Did you ask if watermelon was their favorite fruit? Did you ask if they make Kool-Aid at Thanksgiving? (Actual thing that happened on a Fox News segment) Did you ask them if they had a father? Did you use the N-word? DID YOU ASK THEM IF THEY WASH THEIR HAIR?! Lol LIKE. Come onnnnnnnnnn y’all it’s not hard. I know we’ve all been fucked over by this racist system our country’s been steeped in since its inception and it makes things weird but it doesn’t have to be. All you need is common sense and mutual respect. Maybe ask someone’s name first before diving into their hygienic routine. Maybe ask them what they like to do, what music they listen to, where they got their sweater. There are a LOT of ways to build bridges here people. Asking if someone washes their hair is not one of them.