Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ok, There Are a Few Stupid Questions

The other day at Feministe (and on her site), Renee wrote about white people who touch our hair (or ask to do so) and why that is... ahem, problematic. To paraphrase (what I believe is) the heart of the post,
Today white people still feel that they have the right to our bodies. [I]t is an assault, and an affront to our bodily integrity.
One of the first comments I saw was
I grew up in the Caribbean and being the only white child in my school I often had requests form black children to touch my hair… I never thought they were being racist, I still don’t think they were being racist, only curious.
Lovely turnaround, I thought. Then on Renee's site, I saw
... I do want to lend some support for touching hair and sharing information as a way of expanding people's minds who are honestly curious and just don't know better.
I think maybe you are attributing to presumption which might be pure primate curiosity.
Can I just say, quickly, that neither your intent nor your curiosity are what matters here? Or, can I highlight what Jessica said
I think that here, the act of "touching," especially without permission, is a claiming and colonizing act meant to put the person being touched in a subordinate position to the one who is acting/touching.
A person who considers another to be an equal would say, "I like your hair."
Then I thought, silly elle, it doesn't matter what you or Jessica or Renee say.

It doesn't matter if I point out that some people who believe this is simply curiosity can, on the other hand, (rightly) see why it is sexist that people feel they have the right to touch women's breasts, or bottoms, or pregnant bellies.

Because this conversation has been had.

The first thing I remembered when I saw reactions to Renee's post was people arguing with nubian over whether or not the white woman who asked her if she (nubian) got hotter because her skin was darker had made a racist observation.

Even after nubian said
i stand there in amazement after listening to this woman “other” me into some kind of sub-human anamoly
See the point is not Renee's or nubian's perceptions or feelings. The point is I intended no harm!! I'm curious!! I really wanna know dammit!! And then, the huffy, "Well if I can't ask questions how do I learn???!?!?!" (Hmmm... gotta ask Holly if that fits into "The Lean On You When I’m Not Strong" maneuver).

In any case, I'm soooooo over your intent. /snark
ETA link to Holly's post. Duh!


Anonymous said...


k8 said...

I've never understood the people who think they can touch other people's hair. I get the curiousity, but not the actual action. When I was younger, there were a few great-aunts who insisted on playing with my hair. While there were no race-difference issues to deal with in these instances, I still hated that they felt that they could just start in messing with my hair whenever they wanted to. My hair! Ask first! So, on that level I definitely understand.

The primary exception to that reaction (for me) is when little kids start doing it. It still shocks me a little, but I don't mind as much. When I volunteered with a library program that traveled to different day cares, it would happen sometimes while I was reading with the kids, typically in situations where I was one of the few white people around. They were curious and they were kids, but I wouldn't have even considered touching their hair. Compliment new styling, yes. Reach out and touch, no.

k8 said...

btw - I realized that my rambling might be a distraction to the issue at hand. I tend to think/make sense of things by analogy, but I'm sorry if it seemed like I was taking away from the experiences of others.

The only point I had was that no one should touch anyone without explicit permission. And, adults (shoot, anyone over 6) should never ask to touch anyone or treat some aspect of their person as a curiousity. I know I shouldn't be surprised by rude and dehumanizing behavior, but I still want to bang my head against my keyboard whenever I hear new reports of idiocy.

elle said...

And, adults (shoot, anyone over 6) should never ask to touch anyone or treat some aspect of their person as a curiousity.

Apparently,this is akin to rocket science... sooo hard to understand.

Renee said...

One of the goals that I set for myself during my guest posting time at feministe was to discuss privilege from as many different aspects as I could. It is something that so many people pay lip service to but never actually own. I actually believe that many white run feminist spaces are hostile environments for women of color and so when I had the opportunity to point out that they are exploited as well as oppressed I jumped on the bandwagon. It seems that no matter what angle you look at issues of privilege some people will always say what about me, or that does not apply to me when it damn well does. On a post I wrote called the audacity of whiteness, one commenter was troubled by my "tone", but they are not all racist right?

k8 said...

Renee: I didn't see any problem with tone in your post. I thought it was calm, all things considered. It's amazing how easily offended some people are while they are complaining that other people are being too easily offended.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...