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More hair politics

November 30, 2011

I was working on a link roundup post, but found myself sidetracked by more hair-related stuff. So, I thought I’d split that off and expand on it some, admittedly in a pretty scattered way. 😉 The post that got me started, from Chally at Zero at the Bone: An Open Letter to White People Who Like to Touch My Hair.

I know, I know, my hair is pretty fabulous. Groups of hairdressers gather around and look at it in almost tearful wonder. I strongly suspect that it consumes small objects, and there’s a whispered tale that it grants wishes. I know you spent many a 1980s afternoon trying to achieve the same effect in vain, but it is impossible to replicate the magic. That’s most unfortunate for you. However, this does not give you the right to touch my hair…

 For, you see, my hair might be an object of the shiny to you. It is, however, a part of my body. It is not like a piece of clothing that I put on everyday – not that you’d be likely to reach out and feel my clothes. It is actually attached to my head. Much in the way that I don’t walk up to you and grab your knees without permission, I would like if you gave my hair the same respect…This is why I stay there in shock and smile nervously rather than berate you. Because it’s just too weird to react in time to yell, and, if someone has that little respect for my body already, I get kind of scared about what else they might do if I complain.

Comment I had to leave:

This is exactly why I wear my hair up in public, since I have been letting it grow out. (I am also both autistic and coming from a culture where you just don’t touch other people like that without permission–if anything, especially their hair.) Not just pulled back or braided, but totally up.

I don’t get the impression that random people on the street in London are as likely to get all touchy-feely with it*–because long, curly hair is just so hideously exotic they can’t help themselves, or something like that–but I still do it preemptively, remembering too well the last time I wore it long. The creepy entitlement astounds. The most trouble I had before was with strange men mostly from other cultural backgrounds–though, yeah, not all :(–and the added dynamics there are even creepier.

Not suggesting that people should have to keep their hair out of the way of rude pawing. Rather the reverse.


* Besides not getting physical boundaries violated as often (general shoviness on the street and assorted xenophobic reactions are another matter), there doesn’t seem to be anything like the same coding of “you must at least be ‘mixed'”, “ethnic” hair as in at least some former colonies. (Interesting to read some of your experience with coding in Australia, BTW.) Mine has still astounded hairdressers, though. 😐 [end]

A good one at Womanist Musings: Is Touching Black Women’s Hair Racist?:

CNN linked to a post I wrote in 2008 entitled Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo. On top of sending me some of the most vitriolic racist hate mail that I have ever received, many decided to spread their filth in the comment section on my blog. Below you will find some of the comments that were so clearly racist that I decided not to publish them.  I do so now because I think that they will make great fodder for discussion.

Some of those comments really did amaze me. Talk about entitlement, and people who will pitch ridiculous hateful fits when somebody dares to question it and assert a right to bodily autonomy.

It is not a compliment to exotify the other.  Even those who claim to wish that they had Black hair are problematic because they sure as hell don’t want anything else that comes with being Black.

A video this theme reminds me of, found via Cecilia at Anisnaabekwe. (I haven’t been keeping up well, but was glad to see she’s off hiatus when going back to find the post.)

BTW, as I’ve mentioned before, in the US I am more likely to get read as “part Indian” when my hair is long, curly or not–including by other people from Native backgrounds–and I have very little doubt that this is also a factor in people feeling disturbingly free to mess with my hair and braid(s) in public. This kind of one set of stereotypes overriding another is also no doubt a factor in my younger cousin, who has the same hair but lighter which she has worn long since she was old enough to express a preference, getting “you look like a blonde Indian!” comments. (How about that! Especially when Mom is coming from a more German background. *sigh*)

This also reminds me of how my like-it-or-not celebrity near-hair twin (down to the color) was using this:

“Too many times you walked away, and was made to feel ashamed…”

(I think I’ve got more hair with a bit tighter curl, but it’s kinda hard to tell–see also . Especially since they kept a hat or bandanna jammed down on his head there after trying to brush/comb the curl out, to keep it from bushing as wildly. I recognize that because I have done similar myself.)

I actually rather like that one, and wrote a little bit about why after I ran across it, at the bottom of this post. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that it made me think better of old Billy Ray. I also had to get a bit tickled at no doubt unknowingly moving your mouth like you’re speaking Cherokee while speaking/singing in English. (Familiar pattern, yes, which I only recognized after starting trying to learn the language.)

Then there is Qwo-Li Driskill. (Photo source.)

Complete with ignorant snarking, which was at least answered with a very traditional “Quo Li is fully legit….. Goot person-good buddy of my cousin” :

interesting article…but it reminds me of the two spirit poet Qwo-Li Driskill who i saw give a reading at U Penn the other day. I questioned Qwo-Li’s status as cherokee indian in my head when another listener asked if he had ever been questioned as his appeareance is that of a long haired irish guy/girl. He stated that he is only questioned by non-indians and is well accepted in grassroots movements. Thats one of the big obvious giveaways isnt it? Just questionin’….

Self-description there: “Qwo-Li Driskill is a Cherokee Two-Spirit/Queer writer, scholar, educator, activist, and performer also of African, Irish, Lenape, Lumbee, and Osage ascent.” Erm, yeah, not exactly hiding the “mixed” ancestry–nor contradictory.

Particularly ignorant snarking, since given some colonial patterns with who was considered inferior and some cultural similarities, it’s kinda hard not to have some Irish and/or Scottish ancestry along with the Tsalagi (or Creek, or most other Eastern nations), way back when. (Which also includes a number of people considered “fullbloods”, given the way blood quantum was determined ca. 1830 and very different traditional ideas about race and community. And I do half-expect some hateful comments over pointing this out. :-|) Assuming that this somehow makes Native-identifying people look less like who they are is its own problem–in multiple ways. And, yeah, that ties back in with “ethnic hair”, and certain people’s feelings of entitlement.

I have been wanting to write more about the weirdness of letting my hair grow out apparently being seen as enough of a femme touch to make me set off fewer xenophobic gender-related alarms here–and make me feel even more invisibly nonbinary. The curliness probably helps, in even more bizarre coding. But, I have repeatedly been impressed at what a difference small things seem to make in people’s perceived ability to gender-pigeonhole a person. An urge/felt responsibility which seems particularly strong in Greater London.

Hopefully, I will get around to more on that in something I’ve been working on, but here is another good piece from Dan Waters, writing at Womanist Musings, that I’ve been waiting for a reason to link: Hair and the Scalping Fiascos.

This post was prompted by two discussions I’ve had over the year: one I had with a few friends, who are well-meaning cis-allies but they have their moments of fail, and a blind-date conversation that turned horrible racist. With my friends specifically, I didn’t feel this was necessarily a trans-fail, because, to be honest, I know very few white-FTM individuals who actively keep their hair long. It sort of seemed like a race-fail, with some gender-fail sprinkling on top of it. The other guy? Well, you’ll see he had no excuse.

The question was: Dan, why do you keep your hair long?

It went into the typical argument that I’ve even heard amongst transgender community: I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a male. Really? Hair suddenly determines my sex and gender identity? I actually thought my hair determined if I was emo (see: days when I had scene hair), and what tribe I was from, or if I washed it that day. Of course, I doubt most tribes have purple in their hair, but I digress.

Since 2009/New Years 2010, I decided to keep my hair long. It’s been a love-hate process, because I constantly have to make validity of trans-ness (should I trademark that?) arguments, my Vitamin D deficiency (it almost feels rickets-y, I swear) has much of my hair in very dry, thin, and sometimes crinkled (literally, crinkled. It is not nappy, this is different) state, and it’s such a thick bundle that I can barely do anything besides traditional hair styles unless I super-condition it with sodium lauryl sulfates.

It has taken longer for my hair to grow out, but I hopefully can get it to where it was when I was 5 or so.

(Well, there’s the documented fondness further south for adding bloodroot/puccoon red… ;)) That was a long enough quote as it is, but I had to leave in the bits about complications due to D deficiency, having been running into very similar myself. I didn’t quote any of the hideous scalping fail, but it is very much worth clicking through to read.

"Iroquois man - 1871" This guy, he comes across so femme. With the floral beadwork, too.

I was also reminded of a hair-related comment, concerning a (IIRC) Mohawk acquaintance who never gets read as queer outside Native communities thanks to her hair, on Tiara’s Exotic Taboo [Love, Anonymously]–but the Disqus comments wouldn’t load again. (This has been a problem before, and not just at Racialicious.) That’s an excellent post anyway, and I will probably come back to some of it.

I want to be able to mix up clothing, accessories, stances, looks, attitudes, words, expressions, body language, and not assume that I am coding as Butch or Femme or Kinky or Vanilla just because I’m expressing something that means different things to different people.

Sort of like how the word “air” can refer to both “the thing we breathe” in English, or “water” in Malay. Exact same letters, different pronunciation, different meaning. Similarly, my mannerisms and costumes and ideas may share the same letters or components as other “words” or subcultures, but I’m speaking a different language, so don’t assume you know what I’m saying.


This fellow too. "Curly Johnson - Iroquois (Onondaga) - 1904"

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