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IG: @efikzara

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.

“No.”

“…”

After I got silent he immediately apologized and back peddled.  

“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.