My kids play youth soccer. The other game my daughter comes off the field exhausted. We get in the van and begin our recap of the experience as usual.
“So how was it?”
“Well I tried some of the stuff at practice. I think I did ok. I didn't score a lot though.”
“That's ok. As long as you attempt to implement what you learn that's good. How do you feel?”
And then silence...No explanation. No expanded wordage as usual. Just silence...
So I probed deeper... “Why are you annoyed? What's up?”
“Well some of the girls on the other team were touching my hair. I told them to stop but they kept touching it.”
Wow... She is having a quintessential black girl moment. I don't know what it's like to have unwanted affections and curiosity toward my hair. I mean, I think I look unapproachable enough that no one reaches out except people who know me very well. It's been a discussion lately about black women and hair and why we don't like it fondled... Mostly because it takes so much work to get it the way it is. This isn’t something I’ve personally had to deal with so I was excited to dig deeper.
So I asked, “Were they mean or rude? Were they making fun? What was the intent?”
“No. But I mean no matter what their intentions mom it's my hair on my body and I don't want them to touch it”.
Good point. I was kinda stumped. I mean I had nothing else to say. I taught her pretty well about personal space and respect.
“Ok, well... I think they were curious. Did you see anyone on their team that had hair like yours?”
“No. The entire team was blonde. And blonde hair can't do what my hair can. It doesn't hold the braid or the beads on”.
“True. Well at least not with a lot of product. Some really curly blondes can tho”.
“But not theirs mom.”
“Ok. Well if they don't have anyone on their team that looks like you, they were probably curious. It doesn’t give them the right to just touch you. You are right about that, but if it happens again you should say how you feel.”
“I did mom. They still kept touching my hair and talking about it. It's annoying and I didn't like it.”
“Well next time tell your coach.”
“Ok. But I don't think it'll matter.”
So granted this is probably just childhood curiosity but my daughter experienced what many women, especially black women face regularly... A sense as though their body is not their own. That people who see them as other do not respect their boundaries. This is problematic. I am not sure how to address that other than continual dialogue and empowering conversation with my daughter. There is a level of comfort that some white people unfortunately have even when guided by curiosity that makes the other person feel disempowered.
- Teach children of all backgrounds to approach "new" people with respect. Always ask first, act second.
- Teach children seen as "other" to speak up for themselves, appreciate their differences and empower them to share who they are rather than get angry or annoyed
- Eliminate homogeny. Put white children in multicultural settings early on so they can appreciate the differences of all types of people without making them feel different.
- Teach children to seek adult allies when in positions where their peers are not respecting their boundaries.
I didn’t make a big deal out of my daughter’s experience because I didn’t want her to feel like she should be on edge all the time. Anger and attitude never solves anything like action does. Her hair is different and it’s well maintenanced and therefore it does attract attention from all types of people. This doesn’t mean that people have a right to touch it. She has every right to how she feels and how she chooses to express herself when she feels disempowered. Hopefully next game this doesn’t happen. But if it does she is prepared to express her distaste and then seek an adult ally on the field if the opponents continue to touch her hair.
It takes a village; and as a society we have a ways to go in regard to mutually understanding each other and appreciating our human similarities and differences. There must be a communal effort to empower everyone, respect others, yet still appreciate who we are as individuals. The key to that is consciously bridging gaps and taking action to get to know different people. Investing in cross cultural relationships and opportunities of exchange, is an investment in our future. Even through curiosity, no one should ever be made to feel isolated or uncomfortable. Our differences make each of us awesome and unique; which should always be respected!