Don’t Let the White Gaze Make you Feel Like your Hair is Alien
Over the weekend I decided to finally take my mid-back
length twists out after 3 months. It was time. The new growth was extremely
apparent and my hair was just looking dusty as hell.
Today, I decided to take my hair out of the 2-strand twists they
were currently in, tie my hair to the back and leave a little hair out front.
Not a particularly interesting style, but that’s what I was aiming for today. I
didn’t feel like being noticed or questioned about my hair.
It ended up happening anyway.
A white man I usually passed every day without a word
decided to take our brief eye contact as an opportunity to ask “Did you get a
haircut?” out of nowhere. My kneejerk reaction was to be clear, direct and
concise with him.
After I got silent he immediately apologized and back
“You’re fine,” I said while continuing in the same direction
and staring at the Facebook updates on my phone on my way back to my desk.
He wasn’t fine.
Something about the interaction annoyed me and I couldn’t
figure out why in the moments after the interaction. Was I overreacting? He
literally just asked if I got a haircut. Harmless, right?
After giving myself a few moments to analyze my feelings and
my perception of the situation I came to the conclusion that the interaction was
odd. Why did he start apologizing profusely? Why was he so awkward about ending
that conversation? Why did he momentarily forget which direction to go to after
our interaction? It seemed weird for such a simple question for which I had a
simple answer to.
As the lone black woman in the workplace (outside of the
middle-aged part-time receptionist who I see approximately 2 days out of the
week), I know I will be stared at and scrutinized much more heavily than many
of my coworkers for simply existing while a black woman.
So I should have seen this coming already, right? Yep. I did
and I handled it swiftly.
However, I still left feeling annoyed.
Oftentimes, white supremacy tries to invalidate and alienate
black women for wearing varied hairstyles such as locs, braids or weaves. We’re
mocked and vilified for the hairstyles we choose to wear while white people are
given praise for the same hairstyles.
I preemptively said no because I didn’t want to explain how
I installed my hair and removed my hair. I did not want to be made to feel
alien for opting to vary up my hairstyles in ways that black women in
particular and to remove any opportunity to delve into the nooks and crannies of my head.
I just didn’t have the energy for it.
The fact that he immediately thought to apologize and backpedal
after I went silent with my curt “no” led to me to assume that the intentions
behind those words may not have been necessarily about a genuine curiosity or
appreciation about the “haircut” I may have gotten. It is likely that it was an
underlying speculation about my hair as a black woman.
Did he expect me to drop knowledge about installing and/or
removing twists from my head? Was he looking for me to say that I had a weave
in? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Also, let’s be real, white people fucking know that I didn’t
get a haircut.
With the concept of weaves being mainstream thanks to the
internet and a certain white celebrity popularizing black hairstyles, most white
people today have the basic idea that many black women like to add hair with
their own and take it out every now and then for their enjoyment.
I don’t believe that white people are as ignorant about
black people’s hair as they like to pretend. I have found that, more often than
not, ignorance is feigned in order to pry into how our hair is done or to
remind us that what we are wearing in our head is not our own hair.
I truly don’t believe that a white person who saw my hair go
from shoulder length to mid-length over the course of the weekend believes that
I grew it out that fast. Likewise, I don’t believe that the same white person would
be ignorant enough to believe that I had to “cut” that same hair that I
apparently grew so fast.
I haven’t been convinced that these questions are coming
from a genuine place of curiosity and appreciation. It seems like white people
just want to make a spectacle out of black women for daring to do things they
don’t readily do to their heads.
So, yes, “did you get a haircut” is a super harmless
question to ask, but within the context of the white gaze it could potentially
mean something more insidious.