Lock it up
September 21, 2010 10:28 AM Subscribe
How, as a blondiepants white girl, can I successfully participate in discussions about Black hair?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to society & culture (40 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
First, I understand that there are many potential pitfalls and ways to seem like an ignorant, entitled asshole here. Asking or commenting, guilelessly though it may be, about an African or African Americans' hair texture or style, products or procedures, is tiresome, in my book, and to be considered uncool. I understand why.
However, given that there may be two groups of people: people likely to engage in chitchat about hair and people unlikely to, I fall in the former group, and sometimes find myself among black colleagues and awkwardly silent, or feeling like I should have remained so. Can you help me discern where the boundary line should be?
Here is an example exchange, where I am played by Doris Day.
scene: the office water cooler
Felicia Rashad: I miss my straight hair sometimes, does that mean I'm not committed to locking it?
Erykah Badu: No, just give it a chance, be patient, you can go back eventually. Trying new things is scary!
Felicia Rashad: It just looks so messy like this, short in an afro puff. I don't know if I can wait for it to lock.
Doris Day: Well, I don't think it looks messy at all! In fact I think it looks very flattering on you in a short style, Felicia!
Is that painful whitegirl foot-in-mouth, or just whitegirl paranoia of such at work? I kind of felt like Felicia and Erykah decided to just ignore my remark rather than try to figure out it if was super crappy or nice. That's ok, I just want to understand better what's up with these encounters.
What am I permitted to talk about with regard to a hair type I know little to nothing of from experience, and the difference of which is deeply culturally fraught? Is asking questions in appropriate context, like "how do you plan to start your locks," or "you look nice with bangs" ruined by association with racist comments other white people have made in the past? Are these comments racist in a way I'm failing to grasp?