Tuesday, July 17, 2007

kinks

yesterday, i took my kids to swimming lessons. another(white) mom and i struck up a conversation while we were watching our kids in the pool. she seemed really nice until we started talking about hair. she says to me that oh my god, her hair is JUST like black peoples hair-it gets all kinky when it's wet, is so unmanagable and 'it sucks' she says.

"uhmmHmmm". i say. i was dumbfounded. i could have explained to her that it doesn't necessarily "suck". that, her hair wasn't 'just like black peoples' hair, she just didn't know how to tame it obviously. and so on.

but i didn't. i just sat there. and ignored it. it didn't upset me. it made me feel kind of superior, that i could see how ignorant and stupid she was, but she couldn't. and that at her age, she doesn't have a clue.

this is what i'm talking about, people. portland white people like to think they're so diverse and progressive, but they're really not. they just want to be.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Would it not have been better to point out her "faux pas" to her? I mean, you still could have maintained your feeling of "kind of superior" AND perhaps educated HER so that she may, perhaps in the future, use her head for something other than a place to store her ignorance.

See, like you, I am a blck woman. My circle of friends, for the most part, is white -- as well as the men I tend to date. I am often astonished at the level of ignorance a lot of white people embody. It's not necessarily racism...just plain ignorance. In my mind there is quite a difference. I think a lot of white people consider themselves progressive and really want to be open minded, but they're just not sure how to go about it. And sometimes it's our job to help them. Yes, the task can become tiresome at times...but if we don't help them what is the alternative? To allow people to walk around with a false sense of "IGETIT-ness" when they truly DON'T get it?? I'd rather point out the mistakes and help correct them. Because if I don't then I have no right to sit around and bemoan the state of things. My friends know, "if you're not sure...better to ask and get the right answer than to make up some shit and be way wrong". They also know that if I point something out to them that someone may view as egregious, they need not feel judged...but loved enough to be helped.

Fakeo said...

Most women don't like their hair, at least most talk about not liking their hair. And maybe she was trying to try to build some rapport based on disliking hair. Still pretty low though. I mean it is like saying "you are from Portland? Me too, and I hate everyone from Portland". Pretty insulting no matter how you look at it.

Anonymous said...

to play devil's advocate:

she was trying to relate to you.

she finds her "kinky" hair hard to manage.

she assumes that your kinky hair is also hard to manage.

she think that having hard to manage hair sucks.

so she assumes you would feel the same.

so she tried to find some common ground in a conversation.

---

but you didn't take it that way : )

--

as an example, let's say i'm out at the pool taking my daughter to swim lessons, and a guy who's a quarter black and relatively light skinned strikes up a conversation about how he loves the sun but because he has fairly light skin, he gets sunburned like a me, a white guy, and it sucks... he wouldn't have that problem if he were darker.

he effectively would be saying "it sucks to be white" in one little way... and because i like the sun and my dermatologist has told me to spend less time in the sun and start using sunblock so i don't get skin cancer... i'd tend to agree with him.

i wouldn't think he was ignorant and stupid. : |

Anonymous said...

You could have said to her:
"Come and visit my blog....I'll write a thing about you and your kinky hair fear" :))
Byez

Anonymous said...

I don't think the woman intended that as a mean comment. And she probably was trying to find some common ground and relate to you. We've become so PC and sensitive in this culture that no one can say anything without being label a bigot.

Leigh-Anne said...

I think she was trying to build a rapport with you. A misjudged case of "Me too!" syndrome! You meet someone new and you start chatting about stuff you have in common... "You also like the Beatles? Me too!" "You also like Lays? Me too!" "You also have hard to manage hair? Me too!"

I also think it was a bit insulting, actually...

On another note, I'm always amazed at what a big deal hair is! I haven't been blogging all that long, but I know I've blogged about it a few times too!

I remember a while ago you were thinking about thinking about going natural... Are you still thinking about thinking about it? :)

Liz said...

I think what you experienced is an example of how the attitudes about black hair are so ingrained that folks don't know when they're being insulting. They just think it's small talk to talk about black hair in a negative way.

Anonymous said...

well, some black hair is difficult to deal with, like mine for example. but if i were white and had hair as thick as mine, it would be difficult to deal with also. Look at most black hair care products, and even some hair care ads in Essence or Ebony and usually there is a black woman looking stressed out about her hair on the box or in the picture. Maybe if more black people showed that they love their hair and stopped getting so many relaxers then others would think that having black hair is easy. Even though, easy is not always better. I don't think that woman was a bad person though, it's an easy assumption to make.

Aly Cat 121 said...

Yeah I could be "funny" too and ask "What is BLACK hair?" I know "black skinned" people as dark as coal with un-kinky or what is considered "curly hair".

I think most folks need to get off of their 3 or 4 mile square mile radius of "home" and see the world (and I don't mean turn on the cable tv or going to Jamaica). *shakin head*

Natasha said...

I also think it is our job to educate people out of their ignorance, although I have more patience for it on some days.

The *concept* of how different/time-consuming it is to care for kinky-curly Black hair versus straight or moderately-curly White hair is lost on the majority of White people. I had a White relative tell me that her straight fine hair was *as hard to care for and style* as my daughter's super-curly 'fro. I don't think so.

www.multiracialsky.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

there's stuff that's obviously insulting, and stuff that's obviously flattering... but most of human conversation is in a more "neutral" area...

a person with high self-esteem doesn't "read into" words to see them as insulting, and a person with really high self-esteem won't even be insulted by insulting words. i say this as a person who used to be "thin-skinned" and easily offended. when i learned to deal with situations by saying to myself "it's not about me", life got better.

re: the comment to the effect of "we have learned to talk about black hair in a way that's negative without even realizing it"... my main comment on that kind of thinking is that you will find what you look for. thinking that way... looking for the insult that some people miss... will mean you will feel insulted and slighted more often than a person who consciously or unconsciously sees as much as they can in a positive light, and doesn't take offense.

and you can't tell me i don't understand the dynamics... i know several black women who DO see the glass as half full... and it makes a big difference... they are much happier and more successful than people i know (in the majority or in the minority) who find fault or offense often in what other people do.

negative reactions are a downward spiral... i heard once that how two people who don't know each other get along in a conversation has a very large part to do with how the person who initiated the conversation responds to how the other person responds back to their "first move". i've tested this out when i start conversations, AND IT IS VERY TRUE. being hard to offend boosts your social life, and improves the outcome of your interactions.

i AM NOT saying to not address the issue if someone says something clearly insulting. i AM NOT saying you can't distance yourself from friends and acquaintenances who slip something derogatory about you and others into conversation... what i AM saying is that most people, and most conversations, and most situations can be experienced without taking offense if you see the glass as half full... and this makes life better... both for the person who learns to live life with thicker skin, and for the people around them... neither side is sucked into a downward spiral of negative reactions.

this is not about "fairness", it's about outcome. IT GETS THE BEST RESULTS.

when i was young and stupid, i found myself trapped in a marriage to a person who was abusive through selfishness. she spent all of both paychecks and ran up credit card bills on top of that. and lied... and... and... just overall "made my life miserable" in lots of ways. for a long, long time, i was stuck on the unfairness of it all... it seemed as if karma did not work... all this undeserved abuse i received, and things never got set straight. obviously a big part of making my life better was simply to leave the relationship.

but another thing that was even more important, but took me years to realize is that resentment is a karma killer. when i learned to stop resenting her treating me badly a little bit, it improved my life a little bit. when i learned to take it further and cut WAY back on MY reaction... to just not let her make me upset no matter how unfair she was (we have kids, so i can't cut her out of my life entirely)... then that improved my quality of life drastically. and EVERY time i let my slip back into resentment, her selfishness hurts me MUCH more than if i decide to shake it off and move on.

my reaction to her abuse has a lot more of an effect on my quality of life than her abuse does. i've learned to just draw my line in the sand and walk away, instead of getting in a fight, or instead of seething inside because she took more than her fair share once again. and once again.

now, specifically on black hair... the black woman i was in a 6 month relationship with had braids. a very good friend of mine goes back and forth between several "natural" hairstyles... twists, braids, and when the twists start to unravel, she goes through several steps of transition to a 'fro. i could give more examples... but the bottom line is that (at least for me...) that natural can be beautiful. i don't understand why so many black women straighten their hair when it would look just as good or better if they worked with what god gave them.

when i talk about black hair being a lot of work to maintain, that's personal knowledge from hours and hours of conversation with a very good friend. every time she gets a new 'do, it always looks good, and i always make sure to tell her that, and she always tells me how many hours it took to get to that point. i make sure to let her know that all that effort has good results... but it's ignoring the obvious to not realize there's a difference between her and me... it takes me about 15 seconds to 2 minutes to mess with my hair in the morning. my friend does not get at all upset that i realize she and i are not the same. yes, my friend works a lot harder to maintain her hair than i do. but on the other hand, her hair is almost always more of an aesthetic and attractive "statement" than mine is. it's hard work, but it looks damn good.

i just thought of another example of another black woman who always has great looking hair, and i've never seen it straightened. and as i sit here and think about it, i can think of quite a few african american female celebrities who consistently go with a natural look... let's call a spade a spade and just admit that it takes those women more effort to maintain those looks... but to me, every second of that effort is worth it in the beautiful final results.

"we automatically learn to talk negatively about black hair..."??? as a generalization... not true for everybody... but damaging for those who buy into it.

so i say go natural... and wear it proudly. and who cares who likes it, and who doesn't.

LoLo said...

I'm sorry anon, but you obviously like to ramble, and you obviously don't know what you're talking about.

you keep quoting the phrase from a previous poster, who said, 'we automatically learn to talk negatively about black hair..."??? as a generalization... not true for everybody... but damaging for those who buy into it.

That is a fact. Americans are taught to think negatively about black hair---However there are many black people who don't buy into it, and love their hair. Is that what you meant to say?

Also, I don't necessarily think TBG is thin skinned, but rather just reporting what happenend, and what was said. The post doesn't say anything about her flying off the handle and getting all upset.

If you can't see the negativity in what the other woman said about black hair, maybe you should re-read the post.

Anonymous said...

hi, lolo ~
Re: "That is a fact. Americans are taught to think negatively about black hair---However there are many black people who don't buy into it, and love their hair. Is that what you meant to say?"
Liz's statement and your statement both imply that "we" think negatively about black hair so pervasively that we don't think about it. There are quite a few black people, and quite a few WHITE people out there who don't buy into it. I am NOT saying there are not people who think negatively about black hair, there are. But to assume that they are the default and controlling opinion gives them default and controlling power. As an example, take a good 8x10 picture of Lauryn Hill down a major city street and ask the first 100 people you meet "Do you think this woman's hair looks good on her?", and QUITE A FEW would say yes, it's beautiful. And if 20, or 40, or 60 percent said they didn't like her hair... why do we have to listen to those people? Why do we have to say "we" (an unqualified "Americans" or "folks") think negatively about black hair instead of "some people think negatively about black hair". BUT YES, I totally agree with you that people who don't buy into negativity and love their hair, are better off for it. This applies to black people, white people, whatever. Even white girls have the same pressures and issues... I'm in a running battle with my daughter to accept her (beautiful) hair the way it is, instead of dyeing, straightening, excessive highlighting, etc. But I don't assume that "we all" think that way... I clearly see current fashion trends may control the choices of some women... BUT NOT ALL... some women break the rules, and usually it's the ones with self-esteem strong enough to believe in their true, natural selves.

RE: "If you can't see the negativity in what the other woman said about black hair, maybe you should re-read the post."
The woman who made the comment which was taken offensively was clueless, but not a racist. If YOU meet a clueless person tomorrow, which of the following two options would you be proudest to look back on a year from now?
1) thinking to yourself "it made me feel kind of superior, that i could see how ignorant and stupid she was, but she couldn't" (an exact quote from TBG)
2) without getting personally offended yourself, calmly point out to the clueless person that there is a negative assumption hidden in the way she framed the conversation, and then give her a few tips on how to manage kinky hair

RE: "I don't necessarily think TBG is thin skinned, but rather just reporting what happenend, and what was said. The post doesn't say anything about her flying off the handle and getting all upset."

The bottom line for TBG was that she felt the other woman was "ignorant and stupid", she felt superior, and she then came and said it here, all without trying to make any positive impact on the situation herself. She was offended, but there is NO requirement for people to get offended at other people's cluelessness. She would have felt better about the situation, and built better karma for herself by addressing it then and there in a mutually constructive way instead of holding it inside where it becomes poisonous until she can vent it here. Venting it here is healthier for her than holding it inside forever... but having a constructive conversation on the spot is even better still.

Re: "don't know what you are talking about"...
Whatever.

d

Anonymous said...

Hi anon (from another anon)-

It is crystal clear to me that although you may know several African American woman, and have known ONE intimately, you are clearly White.

And your "glass half full" theory sounds a lot like unexplored White Privilege to me.

D said...

white privelege - the flip side of racism. yes, racism exists, and yes, minorities suffer negative effects more than whites. that disparity (the lack of negative effects of racism) is "white privelege".

and in a better world, EVERYONE should have the privelege of not dealing with it. EVERYONE.

when you say "unexplored white privilege", you are correct that most white people don't have to think about or explore the negative effects of racism. the lack of the negative effects of racism dooesn't really "feel" any particular way. however, being discrimated against and disrespected DOES hurt, it's right there. for white people, white privelege leaves an empty space where racism creates hurt for others. most white people never have to think about it.

white privelege exists. in a better world, we ALL would have this luxury -- it would be human privelege.

BUT... thinking in a "glass half full" way instead of "glass half empty" will improve your life, whether you are white, black, or somewhere in between. whether you suffer from racism, or not.

yes, it's easier to think glass half full when things are pretty good... but still, even in crappy situations, thinking positively works better than thinking negatively. for anybody, regardless of race, and regardless of situation. anyone who has taken psychology 101 can confirm this.

even after mlk jr. was beaten, abused, jailed, and threatened by white racists, it was still his goal/dream "to sit down at the table of brotherhood". obviously that took some positive thinking, and obviously he was looking forward to sitting down with white people who would treat him with dignity and respect, as a fellow human being.

what would martin luther king do if a clueless white person engaged him in a conversation about the difficulty of managing kinky hair? would he think they were "ignorant and stupid", and look down on them? i doubt it.

so let's call a spade a spade... racism exists, it's not fair, and it sucks. but let's not compound it and make it even worse by thinking in a glass half empty kind of way on top of that.

regardless of circumstances, starting from where you are right now, a positive outlook will get you better results than a negative one. this is something i also have had to learn - i've had negativity in my own life that required an attitude adjustment to move past it and pull myself out of a hole.

this is not at all excusing racism. not trying to minimize it. what it IS saying is that a person's outlook on life can be a separate factor from all those other things if a person so desires - and it can have a large positive impact.

and if you say "that's easy for you to say, you're white", then pretend i'm black, and saying your life will be better with a positive attitude.

'that black girl' is intelligent, a good writer, and jumps right out there with some great issues. i'd bet money i would enjoy talking to her in person. she has some natural skills which could take her far in life, if that's her choice. and she tends to see the negative side of things (none of us are perfect) - but it's so obvious, and limits her enough that i feel obligated to mention something that has worked better for me, some of my friends, and lots of stories i've heard.

i have another friend (who's not black) that i give the "see the bright side of life" schtick to because she needs it... she's a great person that's a little too hard on herself - so me giving this advice has nothing to do with race.

(just as a clarification, not to agree or disagree, i've been in two interracial relationships (one black, one not), and i have had two close black friends whom i've had at least hundreds, probably thousands of hours of great conversation with. one of those friends i don't get to talk to much now because of my divorce, but i think she's a great example of positive attitude - she is a vice president in a large company, and a black female. she decided what she wanted, and she made it happen. i have other friends, male and female, from poland, korea, albania, peru, pakistan, puerto rico... i have a friend who is blind who is amazing... a true inspiration to hang around with... i have seen many, many examples of circumstances where someone might let life's struggles get them down... and where some get bogged down, and others keep moving... i do my best to support my friends through thick and thin)

unexplored white privelege? no, not it at all, really.

remembered my password finally, so i'm back from anonymous : )

d

Anonymous said...

A question: Is it less offensive to hear a black person say "this hair is too unmanageable" than a white person? Granted there are white people who might feel like that about their own hair, but I'm just wondering.....would it? And if you say /feel that its "less" offensive why? Because I personally CAN'T stand the "fillion" things a black person who doesn't have straight hair needs to do to acheive "straight hair". And I am very well aware of what they all are.

jay bee said...

i think we should all get over ourselves here. it's about hair, it's about a misguided (though likely well-intended, "me-too", comment). sometimes hair is hard to manage--whether you're white, black or whathaveyou. before you all blast me, i'm black, have had the kind of hard-to-manage hair that that white woman was referring to.

i was natural till nine years of age, permed at ten, and then back to natural at 21. and you know what? it's hard to manage! and yes, sometimes IT SUCKS--but i still wouldn't have a white lady say that to me, and i was taken aback when i read her words.

but, education is power. you could have said something to the effect of "perhaps if you had the right tools and products, it wouldn't be so unmanageable for you," and taken a moment to steer her away from her ignorance.

she wasn't being mean, just stupid.

i mean, who says these kinds of things?

oh, wait a minute. white people! LOL

D said...

the following observation is from the standpoint of getting the best results...

jay bee, i think you almost hit the nail on the head.

i say hit the nail on the head because i think the core of what you say is 100% correct... that the woman TBG talked to meant well, but nevertheless was clueless, and that information would have been the most constructive thing in the situation.

i say "almost" because your tone could ALSO be considered offensive. (ignorance, stupid, white people)

white people have feelings, too. i agree that racism exists, and that it hurts minorities way more than whites. but two wrongs don't make a right. even when it's true or partly true, a semi-blanket implication that white people are stupid and ignorant will not get the best results, in the end. like it or not, completely fair or not, it's true.

right, that's easy for me to say... i'm white.

the observation is purely from thinking about what would get to the best and fairest result IN THE END.

doesn't it seem unfair in the middle, though? the best way i can relate to that is by stepping out of race entirely and discussing my own experience of being hurt and wronged in a relationship, and how my (justified?) resentment only hurt me even more. in my experience, resentment (even totally righteous resentment) kills karma. 1 unit of resentment "kills" 1 unit of positivity that should have been "in the [karma] mail".

i can understand why you would imply "white people" are stupid and ignorant - because you've encountered stupid and ignorant white people... and even for the rest of us white people... well intended and smart in other areas... because there is a BIG lack of interaction between people of different races, that lack of interaction leads to a lack of understanding. we (as a society) mostly think everything is okay now that institutionalized segregation and burning crosses are mostly a matter of (blot on) history. but as barack obama pointed out, everything is not okay, yet... there is still a gap, and the gap causes problems. so as part of the role white people can play in this, it helps to have discussions like this so we understand there is still work that needs to be done.

i'm majorly digressing, so back on track... jay bee, i think your observation about well-meaning but clueless is 100% correct... but hey, what's up with the stupid and ignorant jabs?

Theresa said...

Umm, you did the right thing. The white people who comment on your blog don't know about the hair thing. That hair is one of the biggest differences between white people and black people, and that white people have been making us feel like crap since we came to this country by telling us our hair wasn't as good as there's. It's deeper than a simple misunderstanding, but white folks, of course, don't know that.

Anonymous said...

Male here! I wonder how many men actually "worry" about how other peoples hair looks. Women, I believe are so much more connected to hairstyles than men are.

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keep it real said...

Good thing she said it to you! LOL she's just clueless to the fact that her family line is not purely WHITE.

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