Can I touch your hair?

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Have you ever seen a girl, or a guy, with curly hair and had the impulse to reach out and take a fist full of it?

Yeah I know, we all do. It’s a child-like response to something interesting.  But as an adult shouldn’t we be culturally aware of the human bubble? You know, the invisible bubble around your body that people know better than to pop. 

#personalspace

On the topic of hair, m y recent post, Why I Don’t Wear Braids, inspired me to continue the conversation regarding elements of beauty in conjunction with racial identity.

#storytime

My close friend from Rwanda just recently went natural. In other words she cut off her permed straight hair and now has a TWA (Tinnie Winney Afro). Her new due is adorable and works with any snapback or beanie she owns.

One day, before church, a group of us were waiting for our ride when one of our white friends came over and placed her palm on my friend’s head—to feel the soft freshly combed hair.

“Don’t touch it!” my friend squealed pulling away quickly. “It took me thirty minutes to get it like this.”

While the white girl laughed playfully, I could see the self-conscious anxiety in my friend’s face. She gave me a look that said “You don’t just touch someone’s hair.”

#DamnRight

Could I blame the white girl? It is actually quite common among some girls to touch each other’s straight hair. As kids, during movies or sleepovers, my friends always asked, “Can I play with your hair?” It should be noted that I did not grow up with a lot of black people and apparently  neither did this white girl.

As we continued waiting for the church van to arrive, another white girl appeared.

“Did you cut your hair?” she asked my friend. “It’s so cute!” With that, another oily hand put a dent in her fro.

Why don’t black girls like when you touch their hair? Aren’t you complimenting them in noticing their beauty? Aren’t they just being overly sensitive? I mean, come on, there’s no harm in complimenting someone’s natural beauty.

Some would beg to differ.

The responses to having one’s hair touched involve more than the encroachment on one’s bubble.  The experience is the impact of a microaggression accompanied by feelings of dehumanization, and unrepresented beauty in society’s media.

The importance of not touching a black girls hair relates to the historical components of black women in America. Born into a society where their kind have been victims of objectification, and dehumanization for decades, black women are faced with daily reminders that they are unrepresented and degraded in everyday life.

The unknown and often unrecognized aspects of black women conjures curiosity  in white people about hair texture and skin color. These inquiries such as, “You moisturize a lot. Do you just have really dry skin?” or “You hair is so pretty can you show me how to make mine do that?” categorize black women as objects of interest.

In her article on the 8 justifications of touching a black woman’s hair, Maisha Z. Johnson says the texture of black hair is interesting to white people because it is unrepresented in pop culture.”I understand the curiosity. But do you know why you’re so curious? It’s because the texture of my 4C hair is often invisible in mainstream society.”

 Telling a black girl that her hair is so cool or interesting and running your hands through it reminds her that her beauty goes unrecognized.

Hopefully anyone guilty of touching a black girl’s hair doesn’t receive my approach negatively.  I’m not trying to shame, rather to educated and inform so that the infringement on someone’s personal space is avoided. If you’re curious, then do some research. Just think about it; would you mind a strangers hands running through your hair, or would you too feel dehumanized?

Leave a comment below if you’ve experienced someone touching your hair.

#ShareYourExperience

 

 

 

Studying Abroad While Black

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Does race impact a study abroad experience?

It depends where you go . . . but in short, Yes.

My marketing class this term requires a semester-long project designing a marketing plan. Our mission is to market different study abroad programs to business students at Taylor.

Many of you know I spent last spring in England for what seemed like the longest semester of my life.

Despite the homesickness I endured for those long five months, I’m reminded daily of my amazing time there, especially when Facebook displays those a-year-ago-today photos.

It’s a little scary when social media starts telling me what to post.

#mindcontrol

Anyway, this week’s marketing assignment involved loads of meticulous research. And oddly enough, I found a surprising number of articles concerning the study abroad experience of African Americans.

Frankly, studying abroad while black is different than while white, at least in Europe.

My experience with British locals and other internationals was ever and always humorous, as they often assumed my skin color was an indication that I immigrated from somewhere other than the US.

My friend Charnell, who is also black, studied abroad with me. Charnell is a fabulous writer who has a million hidden talents and the poetry skills of a literary master. Find her work here. The time she and I spent together was when I noticed my blackness the most.

Example #1

Our conversations with strangers usually went like this:

Charnell: Julia and I are from Indiana,

Stranger: Oh, India! Which part?

Me: No, we’re Americans from the US.

Stranger: Oh, but aren’t you African?

Charnell: Well, we’re African American.

Stranger: Which part of Africa did you come from?

#confused

Yes, confusion happened but it was always hilarious.

Example #2

Sometimes Charnell and I were mistaken for siblings. During our tour of campus the first week of school two girls from Bahrain asked if we were sisters. I had to smile, because my hair compared to Charnell’s is indication enough that we are indeed not related.

Whether I was mistaken for an English Language Learner, or as a native to some African country I’d never heard of, my skin color shaped my experience abroad in ways I didn’t expect. But at the same time, it allowed me to notice things about British culture unapparent to everyone else, such as the astounding number of biracial couples or the oddity of black people speaking British English.

#doubletake

But some social norms mirrored the US, like the way African students were drawn to Charnell and me, blacks and other students of color. I must admit, my blackness wasn’t as evident as it is in a small-town Christian university, but now and then something would happen to renew my consciousness. Like the question that takes everyone by surprise. “Wait! Your mother is white?” That always throw them for a loop. 

As I continue researching and composing this marketing plan I hope to inform potential study abroad students of the impact one’s race can have on the experience he or she finds in another country.

Have you been black while abroad? Share your story below.

 

The Only Black Student In Class

Classes for the real semester have begun. I say real semester because J-term doesn’t really count. It’s like a baby semester.

My courses thus far seem promising.  #stayingpositive

Ironically three of my professors this year are women and one of them is a black woman. Well, that’s a first.  This will be the first time I have a female African American professor. . .IN MY LIFE!

Because most college professors are white males, its refreshing to have some diversity in my education and to study under someone who shares both my gender and race.

Lately I’ve become keenly aware of my race, more than I used to be. Today, strange thoughts popped into my head during each period. I walked into class and automatically looked around at all the white students.

They’re all white.

I’m usually the only black person in the classroom. It’s pretty chill as long as no one brings up race or ethnicity. But if this happens I don’t feel uncomfortable, unless I’m asked to make a comment. Sometimes students, my fellow classmates, look right at me when they’re answering a question from the professor concerning ethnic minorities. 

I always feel weird when they say “black” . . . then pause . . . and say “African American.” You’re not going to offend me. Anyways, both terms are politically correct, if that is what you’re going for.

My university is like my second home and therefore the manifestation of white classrooms with white walls, white students, white papers, and white teachers doesn’t faze me.

Didn’t faze me.

These days, perhaps ever since I started a blog on racial identity, I suddenly want to ask everyone about their heritage. In Marketing class I sat beside a student who looked hispanic.

“What’s your ethnicity?” I wanted to ask. “Do you realize we are the minority in the room?” I would have said, “How do you feel about your skin color, and do you realize that every student in this class sees us differently than others?”

I didn’t. Of course. But I wanted to.

I might have, if I hadn’t thought twice and realized that the topic of racial identity is not something everyone is willing to discuss.

Being black in a white classroom is like being black in a white culture, but instead of white people all around you, the books are written by white authors, the PowerPoints display images of white people, and the handouts use photos of white models.

Do I mind? Only when this reality isn’t evident to everyone else, only when people act like it doesn’t matter, only when I feel like my race is unacknowledged.

As I sort through my thoughts I understand that I am not qualified to write this blog post because as I have mentioned before, I’m not really black. My good friend, Kay, often tells me, “Julia, you’re like an Oreo. Black on the outside, white on the in.” So I’m curious how other people respond to this reality.

How does it feel to be a minority in the classroom?