Once, a white woman touched my hair. Wait. This isn’t a post about race. Okay it is but it isn’t. It is about something else. Okay, it’s a little about race. But not really. Sigh, it’s too early to digress. Let me explain. Where was I again?
Oh yeah; A white woman. touching my hair. So I’m standing there, talking quietly with a friend, another black woman and she’s complimenting me on my hair. It was the first time she’s seen my hair in its naturally curly state, something I only used to do in the hot months of summer. She was telling me how her hair didn’t react to well to heat when I felt a hand in my hair.
I turned to find another woman, a small white woman that we worked in the name building as I did, caressing my curls. As I turned to her, her hands already in my space, she asks wide-eyed and duplicitous, “Can I touch your hair?”, while the other sista looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
In fact, I had lost my mind. I had never encountered a situation like this one before so I didn’t know what to think. Sure, I have had people ask racist or gaslighting questions. I knew how to handle the direct onslaught, even if it was under the cover of intellectualism. However, it was the first time I experienced someone that I thought had some kind of common sense and decency do something so socially Darwinist. I don’t remember saying yes; I didn’t even want to say yes. I was stunned into silent acquiescence.
Mid-touch, I said, “Look here crazy white lady, you don’t walk around and go touching random black people’s hair. You might draw back a nub”.
Of course, that perfect comeback was all in my head, under the hair she was still touching. But in that moment, my inner mom wouldn’t let me say that because I wasn’t in my right mind. If I am outspokenly rude, I think my mother rolls over in her grave. I should know: I did a great many things in my life that would make my mother roll her eyes at me. But I digress. Ah-ha! See? I do know when I…nevermind.
My point is that sometime I lose my right mind when I’m caught up. I’m caught between:
the response I was raised to give,
the response society used to say was appropriate to give,
the response society says is okay for me to give now,
the response my culture says I should give
and the response my beliefs, spiritual or otherwise say I could give.
In a millisecond, my brain tumbles through the myriad of possible answers. Sometimes it freezes, just as a computer does when dealing with a huge amount of information. Trying to unlock and decipher what next step is in my best interest still takes me a minute to get to.
On the surface, this microaggression could have been handled easily with a “WTF?!?” and a hand slap. There’s plenty she could have googled on her own without me becoming the magical Negro to increase her progressive understanding of what it means to have to sit with the thousand tiny cuts of being Black in America.
For me this moment was about my boundaries, how I expect to be treated, how I am treated, how others respect my personhood and how to love myself through the learning.
In that moment, right then, what she was doing lived in the same deep, dark space inside where all of my ugly childhood “you ain’t shit” moments were buried. The ones that told me I was less than-nobody special, the broken-hearted moments sitting next to the ones covered in racist BS.
I remember growing up a quiet child. I hardly ever spoke up about what I wanted. As a child received the message that saying no meant called picky, difficult, too emotional or a drama queen. I didn’t understand personal boundaries or that I was allowed to have them. People ran right over me. My parents, my siblings, kids at school, lovers and friends all thought I was such an amenable person.
I thought I was invisible. I thought it was easier to be overlooked than it was to make people listen; go along to get along.
Saying no aloud-meant separation. It meant never to be invited to play reindeer games of any kind ever again. Sprinkle that with some low self-esteem and a bit of nagging self-doubt, add a touch of seasoning my mother gave me called “a lady never turns down an invitation someone else is gracious enough to extend, and you have the perfect recipe for never saying No.
My abuser was undiscovered for years because I didn’t know it was okay for me to say no, out loud.
I froze because often the lessons that teach me what my boundaries are usually are the most ugly and painful experiences nobody should have to grow through… and yet I did. We all do. I find that most of the time, the lesson, the Light and the healing are inextricably linked.
It took a while for me to grasp the concept that I have a right to my own No. Megan LeBoutillier taught me that No Is a Complete Sentence. What a concept! Melody Beattie told me to be Codependent NO More and Terry MacMillian let me exhale…you get the picture. It is taking an even longer time for me to be comfortable with the un-comfortability of others to me saying No. Depending on the day, I’m still learning that one.
Now, I when I unconsciously acquiesce, a jumble of expose nerves wakes my ass up. Then, the first thing I do is to forgive me for not noticing and remind myself that I am considering my options, not abandoning my heart. I forgive me for putting myself in a situation that I may feel uncomfortable. Me showing me love first, holding myself responsible for my own boundaries helps me be more understanding of others and the spaces we all lock ourselves into.
Back to the ill-fated woman. I say ill-fated because unfortunately for her, this meeting took place after I took my No back. While she may have forgotten her humanity, I had not forgotten mine. I gently caught her hand, and asked her to stop petting me. I didn’t yell or curse. I reminded her that her inquiry does not outdo my personhood. She seemed slightly embarrassed, mumbling a return. Her eyes searched mine for the compliance she thought was there or maybe even an excusal, as if she wanted me to rescue her from her actions. Nope, wasn’t gonna do that either. I smiled and told her we could talk about what happened but she walked away. We never shared a space or energy again. I was okay with that.
The other woman looked at me and said “gurrl, I don’t know how you did that. I would have smacked her upside her head.” I said I did, but I worked what my mama gave me… my heart, not my hand. I think my mother would have liked that.