Monday, May 17, 2010
Many years ago, I worked as a Health Educator at a University (name not necessary). I was the only black person in the building, which was the Wellness Center of the campus. It was my first job after earning my Doctorate from Columbia University, Teachers College and I was pretty excited. All went well, except an incident which was indicative of the lack of understanding about my hair, and hence a key aspect of my culture. I had my hair in braids at the time in a short style. One weekend, I went to a braiding salon, where these wonderful African Sisters from Senegal braided my hair with long beautiful extensions. The braids were fabulous! I returned to the office that Monday and some of my white co-workers were amazed. One of them asked me if my hair grew over the weekend. I looked at her in total disbelief and replied, "Yes. My hair grew over the weekend." I was being sarcastic but then I realized that she believed me! I went to my office, and throughout the day, several of the other employees passed by my office and looked in. They were looking at my hair trying to figure out how it was so long given that it had been short on Friday. I just let them wonder and after that I was quite dismayed by the fact that they really, truly didn't understand that I had longer braids as a result of extensions.
Another scenario was when I went to my daughter's PTA meeting. I had locks at that point and they were pretty long. A white woman walked up to me and told me that she just loved my hair and asked if she could touch it. She had already reached out and was holding one of my locks. I was very uncomfortable but basically just offered a slight smile until she said "How do you wash it? Do you ring it like a mop to get the water out?" That was it! Although I knew her question was probably innocent, I turned to her with a firm look on my face and said, "I wash it just like you wash your hair and I don't appreciate you comparing my hair to something that is used to clean the floor." She apologized softly and walked away and I walked away in the other direction. I was younger then, and didn't quite have a grasp of the lack of cultural understanding that often emerges from people who don't understand differences and that have expressed themselves in an insulting manner, without malice, but moreso out of lack of understanding. Nowadays, I am much more courteous about such matters but have placed energy around myself with such confidence that no one dares to touch, question or comment about my hair unless I welcome it. My power and energy emerge in my stride, with my locks dangling as I move and the look in my eyes if one starts getting too close, and a comment is unwelcome, which says "Don't even think about it (see picture below)! If one dares to do so, given that I am the author of a book on Cultural Competency, I use the opportunity of such an encounter to educate within the context of love and to let them know that N.I.C.E!
Posted by Patti Rose at 7:21 PM