Serious Question: Has A White Person Ever Told You, You Can’t Grow Black Hair?

September 12, 2013  |  

I was just on Tumblr when I stumbled across the image above. Underneath the caption reads:

When white girls say we cant grow hair, I be like…

My initial reaction was “Boom!” Then I chuckled. What white girl would say, to a black woman, that our hair can’t grow?! That would be bold as all hell. And just as soon as I was about to dismiss the comment as being funny but unrealistic, I thought about my middle school homeroom teacher, Mr. Litts.

Now, before I share the comment Mr. Litts made about black hair, I have to tell you I don’t mean to totally piss on his life and legacy. Mr. Litts was a pretty cool dude and a great art teacher. He solicited students to paint murals all throughout the hallways, he let our homeroom class do a dance at our school’s pep rally; and so we would look cool while we danced, he personally airbrushed t-shirts with our nicknames on it. (Ya’ll know airbrushed t-shirts were everything back in the day.) He dee-jayed all of our school dances, complete with a fog machine. He was very passionate, genuinely cared about us, his students, and I’m sure he imparted some wisdom I’ve since forgotten over the years. Good man. Great teacher.

But in this particular story, Mr. Litts let his ignorance hang out. The details are fuzzy right now but he was telling our homeroom about one of his pieces, a painting or something in which he had depicted an African American subject. As he was telling us about the painting he got to the hair. As he’s describing the texture of the hair he said, (I’m clearly paraphrasing as this was over a decade ago.) “You know, black hair is thin and short.”

Uhh what?!

He said it so quickly, the room, comprised of mostly black 8th graders, didn’t have a chance to challenge him. Mr. Litts was the type of teacher you could challenge but this was a lesson that was going to take far more time than our 30 minute homeroom would have allowed. Instead, we all just tore our faces up and looked around the room at each other, silently asking “Can you believe this dude?” I shook my head, thinking it really didn’t bother me. But since I’m talking about it over a decade later, it clearly did.

The rest of that day I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Litts’ words. I knew I had thick hair and a lot of black folks had/have thick hair. But I also had a perm the time. And though my hair was still thick, the perm made it look thinner and in some instances broken and unhealthy. I thought perhaps, in the midwest, before folks started wearing their hair natural…again, that was the type of black hair Mr. Litts was familiar with. But then I thought, naw! Just as there were times when my hair was thinning, there were also times when it was thick and luscious, majority of the time actually. Even if Mr. Litts hadn’t paid attention, he’d surely seen blacks in the ’70’s when the afro was in. And if not that, he had to have at least glanced at Oprah on the tv everyday, for all those years. Back then, I really didn’t know, could not figure out how he could say that.

Today, I can see Mr. Litts was just underexposed to black folk, even though he spoke to, taught and is still teaching predominately black students everyday. I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. I know there are plenty of black folk there but that’s because I’m black and I hang around black people. Sometimes it catches me off guard but every once in a while, there will be these glaring reminders that a lot of white folk are largely clueless about our lives. That can be good, bad, annoying etc, but it just is what it is.

But anyway, I bring all of this up to ask you has a white person ever told you, you can’t grow black hair? If this has ever happened to you, did you take the opportunity to educate them or did you just shake your head and walk away?

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