When Does White People’s Obsession With Black Hair Begin?

October 25, 2016  |  



On Saturday evening I traveled back to New York City from Chicago and had an interesting, although common, experience in the bathroom at Midway International Airport. I was in the mirror fluffing out my ‘fro and applying edge control when I noticed I had an audience. A white girl of about 7 year’s old had come out of the bathroom stall, washed her hands, and stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed in amazement at my hair. As I separated and stretched my girls she dried her hands until there wasn’t a drop of water on them, starting at me the whole way through.

I felt the little girl’s eyes piercing on me, but I didn’t turn to acknowledge her. I was having a particularly good hair day and my ‘fro was larger than usual so I wasn’t surprised it captured an eyeball or two. Plus, she was a little girl and little kids stare. I wasn’t offended, but I was curious about what might be going through her mind as she watched me so intently.

Eventually, the girl’s mother came out of a stall and after catching her daughter’s behavior she told her, “Hunny you’re staring. I know her hair’s super cool, but don’t stare.” And then she patted me on the back and laughed as I responded with a half-hearted smile. I appreciated the mother’s acknowledgement — though not necessarily the touch — but more than anything I couldn’t stop mulling the same question over and over in my head: At what age do white people become obsessed with Black women’s hair?

It’s funny because even as I picked out my own ‘fro I became somewhat amazed at how my curls basically suspend in mid-air. Of course, I knew that long before Saturday evening, but like I said I was having a good hair day and on those days you tend to notice beautiful little intricacies more than you do on others. I wondered if the little girl had noticed the same and at her age simply lacked the proper social etiquette that would’ve prevented such an exchange between us. But I also thought back to my own childhood and even adulthood and how I couldn’t pinpoint a time when I had been so enamored with the characteristic’s of another’s race, specifically their hair, that I mimicked the type of staring this child engaged in. The kind of interest I predict will turn into questions like “Can I touch your hair?” when she’s older.

Honestly, it seems white people have always had an obsession with “others.” And considering this little girl’s mother appeared to have an understanding of the delicate nature of her daughter peering at my ‘fro, I’d wager her interest in my mane wasn’t taught but rather inherent curiosity born out of my “otherness” and her young recognition of whiteness and the characteristics that come with it as default. I obviously can’t and wouldn’t fault her for that. But hopefully her mother’s nipping of her staring in the bud now, will prevent other awkward interactions with Black women and their hair years later.

When do you think some white people’s obsession with Black hair begins and what are the roots of the interest?

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