“Why would you want to touch my hair?” I asked her in a tone of voice and with a look on my face that are both usually reserved for asking, “What is that stench I smell?” Of course, I was armed with the knowledge that there couldn’t possibly be a good answer to my question. Could she have an answer that would not translate to “I want to touch your hair because it is Negroid hair”?
“I have a fetish for certain things,” she said. “I have a fetish for bald heads, for long hair, and for funky hair.” She delivered this response with such a huge smile, a proud self-contained gladness at having deftly dodged a sticky racial situation, that I could imagine her giving herself a mental pat on the back.
“What is funky hair?” I simply had to know.
“Hair that’s not, like, blonde and straight and normal like mine.” The self-congratulatory look on her face was intensified with what she thought was a brilliant and illuminating response. She continued to stand there, waiting for me to turn around with my newly purchased drink and a newly open mind, ready to forgive and forget and let her play around in my afro. This was not to happen.
“That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard, and you need to think before you say things like that.” I said.
I kept my face completely straight as I also told her that she’d failed at this exchange, but next time she should keep her ridiculous thoughts to herself. I wasn’t even angry. She tried to interrupt and ask me questions about where I was coming from, but why should I explain myself? As she wandered away looking sullen, I forced away the inevitable pang of guilt and instead became angry with myself for putting my foot down before realizing again that none of this should be my burden.
Why have I been working through guilt at asking strangers not to touch me by telling them why it’s inappropriate and hoping that they will somehow reach a level of racial sensitivity or, at the very least, just accept it? I now realize that, until last night, guilt over what a bad representative I was being for black America had driven my reaction to so many hair-touching incidents in the past. I refuse to go back to that old way of thinking — no more schooling!