I was in the grocery store one day, passing my milk, eggs, and bread over the scanner in a self-checkout lane. Uptown Funk was playing in my head so I may have even had a little bounce in my stance. There was an employee, an older woman, manning the self-checkout lanes and out of my peripheral I saw her walking toward me. She politely smiled and said “Your hair is beautiful. May I touch it?” I paused. Returned her polite smile and said “Sure.” She quickly and gently twirled one of my curls between her fingers and removed her hand. She wasn’t invasive. She wasn’t overly touchy-feely. I didn’t feel like an exhibit. And whatever she felt she needed to gain from our brief interaction, she seemed to have gotten. We exchanged a few more pleasantries as I finished scanning my groceries and then I was off.
The polite grocery employee was a black woman.
I’ve told this story a few times and I never immediately mention that the woman asking to touch my hair was black. The assumption is ALWAYS that she was a different race. I think we tell ourselves that human curiosity extends only to people and things that are different than us. I mean, we look alike so we must all be the same, right? (total sarcasm here, btw). What does surprise me is the 180⁰ that happens when listeners hear that this was in fact a black woman asking to touch my hair. Suddenly, “it’s okay.” “Oh, that's cool.”
Why the sudden change of heart?
Was her request to touch my hair less inappropriate simply because she was black? Was her curiosity suddenly more acceptable? Does the commonality of our skin color grant her a pass to ask and do as she pleases? I don’t know why this woman wanted to touch my hair, or any other woman who asks for that matter. Maybe she appreciates that younger generations are embracing their natural beauty and not feeling societal pressures to look a certain way. Maybe she's intrigued by textures different than her own. Or, maybe she made some assumptions about my hair and wanted to either prove or disprove them to herself. I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t care why. The ‘why’ didn’t matter to me – it rarely does in these instances.
The truth of the matter is, I’ve gotten requests from women of all different ethnicities to touch my hair and I have always said yes. As long as you're respectful, I really don't mind. I know plenty of women who disagree with me and get offended if someone asks to touch their hair. But I would rather people be curious and vocal than ignorant and assuming. And, if we’re only comfortable, tolerant, and accepting of curiosities from people who look like us, what does that do to the advancement of educating each other about our differences, or lack thereof?
//"I would rather people be curious and vocal than ignorant and assuming."//
I recognize that everyone’s experiences in this space are different; not all have been ‘non-events’. And I understand how one unpleasant experience can become your filter for any related or similar experiences. Believe me, I get it.
I’m fortunate that any time I’ve been asked the question, it’s been delivered with humility, respect, and a genuine desire to know. And if I do have a bad encounter, maybe I’ll feel differently about saying yes. I don't know. For now, I’m assuming good intent and believing that these small, seemingly insignificant encounters are moving the world toward a better, brighter place. A place where we all seek to understand each other just a little bit better.
What do you think? Let's talk about it in the comments section below.