Calling all white people, part 21: Look; don’t touch

Calling All White People, Part 21

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: People of color aren’t pets; don’t pet them (or do any other kind of uninvited touching)  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Recently BGIM posted a piece here titled “Touching my hair and stealing my humanity” and then later, on social media, shared a comment by a reader that lamented how the incident (just the latest such incident; far from the only one in her life) was likely just meant as a compliment and people do that kind of thing like touching people’s hair and why does it have to be about race? (I paraphrase of course, but that was the jist.)

Well, let me as a white person set this fellow white person and others straight and save BGIM the trouble of having to explain what should be obvious: It’s racial because white people really don’t do that to other white people as a general rule, certainly nowhere near the level they feel entitled to with people of color, particularly Black people.

OK, OK, yeah, I know. Middle-aged and older white ladies frequently touch the hair and faces and shoulders etc. etc. of white children they don’t know. This is also wrong. Don’t touch the children of people you don’t know. It’s creepy and wrong and invasive. Word to the wise: You do that to my child and your hand and/or wrist may not come back to you in the same condition they arrived in my kid’s personal space.

But back to the point.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see white women in particular feel no compunction about saying “Your hair is amazing” or something similar to a Black woman and then asking to touch it. Which is already creepy, but at least they ask. The problem is that many of these women don’t wait for a response; they ask and then just touch. Or, worse yet, they don’t ask, and touch or…the worst yet…they walk away and just before they get out of arm’s reach, they pet that Black woman’s hair when she can’t see or avoid what they are doing (actually, getting a “no” and then ignoring it is equally bad, but that should be obvious).

Why do this “drive-by petting?” Because they know they probably won’t get permission, so they just do what they want to.

And they far more rarely…far more rarely…do that to fellow white women. I know, because I’ve seen many a white woman say of another white woman…”those colors in your hair are amazing” (because there’s a rainbow of hues) or “your curls are fantastic” (because they are)…but they don’t touch. I’ve yet to see a white woman touch another white woman’s hair without permission in these cases or any other. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but considering Black woman are vastly outnumbered by white women and I’ve seen multiple Black woman subjected to this treatment and as yet no white women…well, if you can’t do the math you’re being deliberately obtuse. (By the way, I’ve yet to see a Black man subjected to this, but I’ve seen Black boys get this treatment…regardless, it’s all wrong. And, of course, you can substitute Black girl for Black woman, because I’ve seen too much of that, too.)

This is an invasion of space. It is a demeaning of another human being. You are reducing a human to the level of a pet. Worse, because white people usually ask other white people before they pet their dogs if they don’t already know the dog and owner.

Touching hair is intimate. Hell, touching any part of a person’s body is generally intimate…to do so, you should be spouses, lovers, family, good friends, etc. (and even then permission or invitation might be called for). But hair…c’mon! You know it’s intimate. This is like how sex workers typically don’t kiss clients. Because in a very real sense, kissing is more intimate than sex. Touching faces and hair and the like is not some casual thing.

Now, you may be wondering, “Why is An Average White Guy picking on women alone?” Well, because men generally know this is bad territory to go into, even with white women. Do you think most guys are going to just touch a woman’s hair when they don’t know her and not expect some kind of response negatively? If they do it, they do it knowing they are exerting power and that’s assault pure and simple. And if they do it while the woman’s partner/spouse is there to see it, they should know they might get knocked out.

But hey, let’s go into guy territory why don’t we? You know what the white woman touching a Black woman’s hair without permission is like?

Like a man walking past a woman he doesn’t know and fondling her butt.

And worse yet, in such cases when she complains or strikes him, that man saying, “Hey, you should take that as a compliment.”

It isn’t a compliment. It’s a violation of another person and a means to reduce them in comparison to you. It’s not a compliment when the man gropes a butt or a breast or, as Trump has done, “grab some pussy.”

And it isn’t a compliment when you touch the hair of a non-white person when you know you wouldn’t do the same to a white one. So, simple rule: Don’t do it.

And if you ask to do it, expect a “no” and expect to be viewed as a creepy and suspect person.


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