What do white people really think about black hair??

I work with a lot of Caucasions, between my patients and my co-workers.  Since starting my natural journey, my hair has been a source of wonder for lack of a better word.  That doesn't surprise me, as it it still a wonder to myself.  Being still in my experimentation stage (I have to admit, i don't have this natural thing quite figured out just yet), I have rocked many a different hairstyle to work, although I try to keep it as professional as possible.  I started out with my afro puff, then moved on to twist outs, then I had long waist length box braids for awhile, bantu knot-outs ... you name it I've tried it.  I've had more than my share of bad hair days... days when I experimented with style expecting a certain result and when I wake up on Monday morning and undo it, it's something completely different.  Of course, I have to go to work and there's no time to fix it so I just gotta roll with it.  Needless to say, I've had many self-conscious days.
By and large the comments from my white patients and co workers have been good.  They LOVED the box braids.  It turned out many of them thought it was my real hair.  And I wonder how can anyone logically think they are real when just a week before I had a short afro puff?  How can hair grow 3 feet over the course of a weekend.  This one completely perplexed me!
I had rave reviews of my twist outs as well and my afro puffs would get the occasional, "how cute" comment. 
Well yesterday at work I had one of my wackier patients ask me if I ever wear extensions.  I replied that I have occasionally.  She says she has been thinking about getting some extensions, the long curly kind.  I told her it would suit her, hoping the conversation would end there.  Then she starts to talk about how she likes to switch up her hairstyles often.  She tells me she's noticed that I wear my hair different almost every time she sees me (which is probably true), then she goes on to say  "... but you have to, because you're black".  I wasn't sure what that meant and didn't really care to ask so I left it at that and tried to sneak away but she kept on talking.
"Have you seen the movie 'Good Hair?' "
I groaned inaudibly because I know how it is when white people get a peek at something that is an insight into black people and things that are unique to them.  They sometimes take their own perspective on it and think of it as another way black people are inferior or at least different.  I replied no.  She tells me how funny the movie was because of Chris Rock's commentary and how she feels "so sorry for you black people because of all the stuff you have to do to your hair". 
I reply that many black women choose to do things to their hair, they don't have to.  Just then someone called me and I made a quick exit and was very relieved to get out of that conversation because I hate having to educate ignorant people although maybe it is my duty as an intelligent black woman.  But I was perplexed about that for awhile.  Do white people really feel sorry for us??  I'm not sure how others feel but pity to me is the sister of scorn.  Maybe that's a little strong, but when someone pities someone it almost always comes with a feeling of superiority.  I could be wrong though.
I felt the need to tell somebody because although disturbing, it was also amusing.  So I tell my one black female coworker about what I just experienced and she just shrugs.  Which made me think maybe she is one of those black women who don't identify herself with other black women as a collective... the "she's not talking about me" phenomenon but I"m very sure she was.  
Now, what my patient said wasn't outright racist or even overtly offensive and maybe I read too much into it.  Actually I didn't really think of it much again until now as I write this blog but it has left an imprint on my subconscious.  The longer I have natural hair the more I identify with what it means to be a black woman and feel the need to defend us as a collective.  So I learned something new about how white women view us but more importantly I learned something new about myself and the ways I've grown since being on this "natural journey".


tallgirl said...

I think everything is the way you word it, and clearly she could have worded that a lot better. But, in reality, we DO have to do a heck of a lot more work to keep our hair in a manageable state. Braid-outs, twist-outs, knock-outs???? I can't think of ANY hairstyles off the top of my head that white people have to use so much time for. This is probably all she meant. But, again.... she could have found a better way to say it.

Shaana Palmer said...

Where should I start... lol

Well, first of all, I have to say that I'm happy to have come across your blog. And what's even more ironic is that I Googled exactly the title to this blog.

(I'm going to try and make this brief). I love my hair. I like wearing it curly, wearing it straight.. I even decided to cut it off this past December to rock a short curly mohawk. And when I first started my job in the corporate world, I was scared to wear my hair curly because of what "they" might think. And when I finally got the guts to do it, I received so many compliments from the Caucasians, even from the head lady who hired me!

But with the short, spunky mohawk that I have, I fear that it will keep me from my next opportunity. So I bought a wig to cover it in the meantime, until I figure out what to do with it. The debate of whether each style I would like to try is "too ethnic" has been boggling my mind for the longest. I was even thinking about getting a perm again.

Then, after having a few conversations with others, I finally came to the conclusion that this is me, this is who I am, and whatever is my destiny, just so long as I am professional in how I wear it, then I'll have what is meant for me.

And get this... isn't it funny whites will be the first one to tell you that they like the curls (which are sometimes the ones we fear most in the hiring process); yet the blacks are the first to tell us that it's not professional enough? This was brought to my attention today by a great friend of mine....

But thanks for this article :-)