Tag Archives: Hair Touching

Alien Encounters

I’m at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for my connecting flight and struggling to connect to the “WiFi gratuit”. Finally, deciding that today needs to be bullshit-free, I give up and glance around, and for the briefest half a second make eye contact with a white lady with Senegalese twists. She obviously just had them done, because her edges are pullllling the skin on her face. If they were any thicker, she’d look like Alien. Her eyes light up when she sees me, and there’s a sharp intake of breath like she’s about to say something. Not today, not today, I’m thinking. Today is my bullshit-free day. Quickly, slickly, I keep my eyes dulled and continue my head turn, not showing that I’ve registered her, and ending with my eyes a good 90 degrees away.
But this lady. This lady takes her cart of stacked high with suitcases, and wheels it directly into my line of vision. She’s headed toward me. I’ve already Committed to looking in this direction, so I have no choice but to return eye contact as she gets closer…

“Your hair is even cooler than MINE!” she says, beaming proudly.

I’m just over here like Damn. Not even 4am and there’s already some bullshit. Why does she think that her hair is some standard of cool for mine to compare against? My hair is the color of Space Dust. Her hair is the color of Brown. And yet her regular twists, that so many black women wear, are super duper extra cool. On Her. The black girl sitting next to me, I kid you not, has Senegalese twists. Why doesn’t Alien say my hair is cooler than the girl’s, as opposed to her own?
Because then it wouldn’t be about her? Because black culture only becomes cool when appropriated by whiteness? Because we both (probably) know that I wasn’t going to acknowledge her “cool” hair otherwise?

Alien is still smiling at me, her eyes getting wider. Oh, I think. She’s waiting for a response from me. I make the corners of my mouth sort of pull away from each other in a low energy smile-grimace, quietly say, “Thank you,” and look down.
After a pause, she leaves. I wonder if I was too unfriendly, then I realize I don’t care. I don’t want her as a friend. My friends know better than to bring that kind of bullshit into my life so early in the day.

To the White People I Just Don’t Like (Racial Unhappiness from Early Cameroon)

(According to Clara, anyway)

For two weeks, I let you touch my hair because I wanted to be friends. And by touch, I mean pull, grab, braid (even if it meant forcing my head into uncomfortable positions while I was trying to converse with someone else), twist, and hold up to your own faces and heads. That isn’t touching. That’s an exhibit.

Think about that.

For two weeks, I told myself that it was okay. In trying to get closer to you, I allowed you to make me feel strange, and different. Other. Cameroun out here telling us that we’re all the same, and every day I’m a fucking attraction for you all to remind me that we aren’t. And even when you realize that maybe what you’re doing isn’t good, you keep doing it, because you “just can’t help” yourself. And so my comfort, and my personal space are compromised in the name of your interest, your satisfaction, your finding a reason to talk to me and around me.

If we were anywhere else, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with you after the first time that happened. Because I know myself, and my worth, and I’m worth goddamn more than existing for other people’s occasional pleasure.

But we’re in Cameroun, and there are only nine of us, and I don’t want to “bring the same problems over, when we’re all American.”

But we’re all fucking American, and you all brought your micro-aggressions over anyway. And I’m going out to lunch with you, and listening to problematic statement after problematic statement. I’m getting roped into doing things that require spending more money than I want to, and when I try to stick up for myself, I’m being a cheap problem. So let me be quiet for a little bit. Let me try to be your friend. You’re nice people, I realize. You just make me feel severely uncomfortable at least twice each time we hang out. Continual discomfort, with occasional flashes of anger.

After a guard questions our citizenship, because we don’t look like you. Whose right is it to start making jokes at our expense? Yours, clearly. And we’ll let them happen, because we want to be friends, even though each joke is an aggressive chant, a differing refrain. You’re not like us. You’re not like us.

Don’t tell me that African babies “are the cutest babies”.
Don’t comment on “the alien hairstyles” you see.
Don’t turn to me to see if what you said was racist. We both know you were racist. You just want me to say that you weren’t.

But let’s be friends. Let me sit here and listen to you, and validate what you say with my silences. Let me hate myself, and you, a little bit, inside. You’re good people. You have good intentions. Let me bide my time and wait for an opportunity where it’s safe to point out something Wrong.

Here we are! In a conversation about gay rights, you tell me that I should really understand, seeing as we colonized them and forced religion onto them.
Oh, so there’s a “we” now? Now that responsibility is on the line, I’m allowed to be part of a “we” with you? Never mind that I am absolutely NOT part of this “we”. Never mind that I’m “them”, and that my father was colonized by your fucking “we”, never mind that HE had religion forced into him until he forced it, and You, Out. Never Mind the fact that you are only using my, my father, my family, my tribe, my country’s continued pain as a way to make yourself sound worldly and knowledgeable in a simple conversation. You don’t give a shit about us. How do I know that? Watch.

“Um, I’m not a part of that ‘we’.” Simple. Smiling, conversational. What a funny point I just brought up!

Now watch You get offended. Watch You blow up at this. Watch Me cause You pain by telling you that while you were in fact pretending to take responsibility for some distant event, its effects are currently staring you in the face.
And now we need to have a conversation about how I don’t make you feel comfortable in conversations? How you know that I’m offended, and have every right to be, but I have to be nicer when I address you, and I can’t just be as aggressive as I want.

White girl, if I leapt out of this chair, took my extensions and used them to slap you in the face (mimicking the hair flips You use as a sign of superiority), it wouldn’t be aggressive Enough. Bathe me with your tears; I didn’t bring anything to collect them.

Fuck that, though, and fuck This. Clearly I can’t win by smiling around you, and the pebbles are building up on my back. I can’t hope to educate you, so let me stay away for a bit. I have a friend. I have a single friend here with whom I don’t feel afraid to be honest. If he gets out of line, I can put him in his place. There are no politics, there are no boundaries. With him, I can be me, and I won’t have to worry about any bullshit fucking sensitivity feelings.

Can we take a break to talk about how ironic it is that nine times out of ten, the people telling me not to be so sensitive are doing it so they don’t have to wallow in their own discomfort and sensitivity? It’s easier if I’m the problem. Right?

Next time you tell me that sometimes you wish you could change your race, so that you won’t stick out as a white person, I’ll leave.

You don’t realize how beautiful it is to be comfortable. I’m sure you Think you do. You don’t.

We can still be cool, we can still talk, we can call each other friends.

Don’t accuse us of self segregation. I’ll still be around you. You can still come to me with questions. Ask me to explain things, and I will. You won’t pay me, and this isn’t my job, but I can help you out. I won’t do it on my own. You’ll only understand racial politics, and comfort, and internalized racism, if you decide for yourself that you want to. And then I’ll explain things to you, and you’ll understand.

Or you’ll just pretend to understand, then go and tell everyone else that I don’t like white people.

So what now? I’m just a little old antisocial reverse racist, I guess. What should I do?

Do you want me to be with you, and be upset with things you do, feeling like less of a person, invalid, unimportant, hating myself for not being able to say anything? Or do you want me to call you out (except calling out is too aggressive, so let’s say I’ll gently point things out) when you do things that are problematic (except in saying that, you really mean that you never want me to say anything, so that you can continue to do the same things with the bonus of feeling like you’re a good, socially just person)? I was told that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Telling people they’ve offended you isn’t nice, and telling people that they’re racist is mean. So can I just go away for a bit, coming around when I feel safe, and am okay not telling the truth?

Nahh because apparently, not constantly being around people isn’t nice, either. How do I win this game, and still feel like a person? How do I play while keeping my self respect? Who’s the ref? I’m guessing you’ll want it to be one of y’all.

So tell me what to do, white people who should be my friends, and as a woman of color, I should only be happy to do it.