Friday, October 16, 2009

doubled conversations: or, this is not about hair

i love my Girls. i really do. we are like family.
but sometimes ...we have conversations that misfire.

we're talking about Chris Rock's movie about hair, the anger some older black women had about it making them look bad in front of white people and somehow we're talking about if white people think about black people's hair. my XRoomie said white people don't think about black people's hair at all.

i snorted. 'they may not think about it consciously but they sure do want to touch it a lot.'

XRoomie said 'what are you talking about?'

i said, 'i cannot go a week without someone wanting to touch it, compliment it or comment on it. it's fucking fascinating to them.'

XRoomie said, 'when does that happen?'

our friend T- said, 'when i worked at the Center [on the south side] all the girls wanted to touch my hair.'

i said, 'that's totally different. the context is different.'

XRoomie said, 'i've never seen that happen. i've never heard of that.' and she mentions some women of color she's worked with who never mentioned things like that happening.

'they wore wigs and weaves all the time,' she said. 'they thought it was hilarious watching their senior partners get confused when their hair changed.'

'i'm sure this has happened to them. almost every woman of color i know can tell stories about white people wanting to touch their hair - with or without permission. that's fucking problematic,' i said.

'well,' she said. 'that's your baggage.'

'that's not my baggage, that's our history. and i'm sure that if they weren't talking about how annoying this shit is in front of you, they are talking about it with their black friends.'

we went back and forth about baggage and history for a bit but this is where something interesting happened: XRoomie insisted that the conversations she'd have with these women would be the SAME as the ones they have with their friends of color.

that's when i stopped. i shrugged and said, 'ok.'

leaving unsaid, of course, was the admission that there are conversations i only have with my friends of color that i would never have with my white friends. (or my white boyfriend, for that matter.)

also left on the ground was whether this habit of splitting conversations was particularly fair. fuck it. i'll think about fairness later.

so we went back to watching a show about a white south african family held hostage by a taiwanese rapist.

[noted because of this and this.]

24 comments:

Aron Ranen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Micaela said...

That sounds like the most infuriating conversation. You summed it up really well though.

In HS some white boy with Asian fetish sat behind me in class and was fascinated by my hair. He called me "feisty" when I told him to back off. That was my first experience being the object of disgusting racist white desire and I wanted to vomit.

That "it's your baggage" crap is shit. Who is this friend? I want to punch her in the face.

This is why I seek and befriend POC in situations where I am forced to be surrounded mostly by WP. WP can't be trusted to respect your experiences.

ding said...

Well, she's been my best friend for years and, to her credit, i would put her firmly in the ally column rather than not.

Being friends with one another has helped both of us, I think. But it's interesting that, as close as we are and as BFF as we are, when it comes to race/ethnicity/difference, we are sometimes having two *different* conversations.

If you asked her what we were talking about, I can guarantee different nuances registered for her. We aren't talking about the same things.

And this is conversational or conceptual misfiring probably characterizes most conversations between people of color and white people.

We're using different histories, lexicons, languages, taxonomies.

Utterly psycho this level of damage that racism has done to us.

liza said...

It's hard being close to white people sometimes. I have to say: "baggage" is so dismissive; I hope you called her out on the way that pathologizes you individually. It sounds like you tried, but she's really not listening. I'm sorry.
As for fair: to whom? to you? To your friendship? seems irrelevant in some ways.

ding said...

I think that she said, and I heard, 'baggage' on different registers. I was looking at it through the lens of history, cultural practice and pattern and she was looking at it...not like that.

Again, as if racism (or acts of racial problematic-ness) only matters in terms of personal psychology.

Gooch said...

Not sure why this is a topic of interest two weeks after the initial conversation, but as the other participant, I am compelled to add:

The woman who took such offense at Chris Rock’s documentary because he was ‘spilling all the secrets’ was the launch of this conversation.

“Baggage” referred to assumptions you, D, wield when referring to ‘all white people’. Generalized statement inclusive of ‘all white people want to touch black hair’ is bullshit. The assumption that ‘all white people’ want to touch hair is very different than pointing out—rightly so—that all minority women have been approached to touch their hair. These are separate issues and not mutually exclusive. Such a request is outside of every possible realm of etiquette and class. Rude people do. Socially Inept people do. Classless people do. There are clearly a lot of clueless, classless people who were not raised to respect others. Sweeping generalizations about how white people think about minority hair was overstated. The pale set doesn’t start conversations about black hair. The conversations are initiated by those with the issue: Through complaining, through voicing their struggles, their wins, their losses, products, the topic is often on the table as it relates to weather, weaves and wigs. The women I’ve worked with aren’t talking about history when they repair their wigs and evening weaves on the lunch table in the cafeteria.

The comment re: coworkers was whether they talk about their hair at work. I was the only white person at the table, hardly a force to silence them. They spoke and at length—there was no assertion on my part that they speak to coworkers the same way as their closest friends. That particular group was raunchy, indiscreet, transparent about their challenges, proud of their achievements and finds in the city. It was on the table. Literally. No secrets in regards to their frustrations and high points/low points with their locks.

History was not challenged in our conversation. I don’t question it. I take offense to the phrase “all white people”, just as you would have my ASS if I ever dared to use the phrase “all black people”.

The question we should be answering through dialogue is how we can navigate through the codes and language so as to avoid resentment, disgust at misunderstanding, and disdain for the curiosity that this documentary and discussion has awakened. The ignorance of one group regarding cultural aspects of another group are deemed unacceptable and offensive without the necessary corrective smack down. Before sending one group running for the hills in anger, it’s clear that education is needed in order to avoid the cycle of resentment. If anyone asks to touch someone’s head, they had better be fucking Helen Keller. In any race, that’s just out of bounds. We all have a collective moral responsibility to step up to the plate and engage in ignorance in order to destroy it.


We may have different filters on this issue, and certainly two different conversations were happening. I’m hardly ignorant of white people’s ignorance, but I’m smart enough and composed enough to call out inappropriate thoughts and comments from strangers when I witness them. The burden is, unfortunately, one-sided…..unless, of course we can find a solution to school dumbasses without having to talk to them.

ding said...

I'll take the clarification on the context and specifics of the conversation but it did register differently.

Sure, 'rude' people touch brown people's hair without invitation but why are they all white? Why is there a history and pattern of this? That's where I was coming from.

On the surface, yes - it's a generalization that 'all' white people touch/think about black people's hair. I know that's not true; I was in the room with two white people who don't.

But, historically and socially - not anecdotally - there is a pattern of pathologizing black/brown people's hair by the dominant., i.e. white, culture. That's what I meant by history - which was then called 'baggage'. There is a pattern of the larger culture building rules around black hair, creating preferences, ideologies, choices and narratives around ethnic hair.

If this isn't recognized as a real history and valid legacy (and more than mere interpersonal baggage) then you have some research to do. Because it's there.

Now, if I misconstrued 'baggage' the way you were using it, then ok.

For me, the interesting part of the conversation was the part when I said that there are different conversations that happen between people of color and white folks. That was the interesting thing for me. And the point of this post.

(And? If you didn't go to those other links, you should. I think they're valuable.)

ding said...

And why is this an issue now when it happened a week ago?

Because I don't have the *privilege* to choose to not think about issues of race and ethnicity.

(and those links reminded me of it when i read them.)

ding said...

and i cross-posted this on Bitch where the comment thread is a lot different and could be illuminating:

http://www.haloscan.com/comments/bitchphd/7124757747586656811/

there are even (gasp) resources!

Gooch said...

You misconstrued the use of baggage---period.

The conversation *I* was having was about "Good Hair", the assumption that all black people have secret conversations about their hair and noting that the women I worked with didn't pursue any discretion whatsoever when it came to their hair. This is not to say they had the same transparency in the workpace as they would their salon, but that simply they talked ad nauseum about their fucking hair. It ruled the conversation, no mystery left unrevealed.

Purely anecdotal as it related to the documentary and certainly not included to persuade anyone that black people disclose everything to white people.

I don't employ that lens.

Nor did I question the validity of history regarding black hair--it wasn't in the topic of discussion. I point out that the show aired in September because your powers of recollection suck. The quotation of the responses are out of order, changing the context. The recounting of the discussion is sloppy and confirms that we weren't listening to one another.


The links provided did not illuminate anything other than this guy hangs out with assholes.

I'm not interested in academic analysis, trucking out examinations of historical perspective in order to give yet further context. Colonialism. White Man bullshit. Got it.

I'm interested in a solution to fix the dialogue in order to avoid blogs entitled "stuff white people do". I'm interested in finding a productive solution in which people on both sides are railing against rudeness.

You focus on the conflict and the perceived argument instead of offering up thoughtful ideas to *help* the situation.

It's exhausting hearing and reading the anecdotes without solutions, the debate without the summary, the personalization without the responsibility. We're all accountable for the actions of others.

Micaela said...

Gooch. You are exhausting. Why does it hurt you to accept that your conversation with Ding, as it was validly perceived by her (because her interpretation of her own experience is valid) was painful.

Your insistence on being "right" and righteous in "looking for a solution" is oppressive. Do you think we are not struggling in our daily lives to fight oppression? You know, sometimes when you are the target of abuse you just need to cry. Sometimes when you feel your white friends don't understand you, you just need to vent. This is a tactic of surviving racial oppression and it is one of the methods we use to live to fight another day. I would guess that's why Ding wrote the post.

As far as I can tell, Ding is taking the higher road by recognizing that you both perceived the conversation differently, and that's that. It's a product of the situation we are all in (WP and POC). She even defended you.

You, on the other hand, are being totally defensive and aggressive and it's standing in the way of you truly understanding Ding's perspective.

Anyway, I don't really want to punch you in the face. But your reaction to all this is like a punch in the nuts to this reader of color.

Gooch said...

The upshot from my perspective is this: after nine years of intimate friendship and cohabitation, it is BEYOND insulting to think that my best friend would think that I'm such a lemming and would *ever* respond in the meaning depicted in this conversation. It's insulting to be thought of as someone so obtuse. The history of our previosu conversations and years of dialogue do not warrant this misinterpretation. Our relationship and subsequent dialogue is worthy of more credit--and in this case---understanding. If the topic on the table was oppression, there is no disagreement on my end. There is no argument. There is no debate. Nothing is questioned, nothing is taken for granted. I own my defensiveness, because I know that D is smarter than this/ It's disappointing to see that the sediment from that conversation has rotted.

ding said...

c'mon, Gooch.
i'm not even upset. chill out.

9 years of friendship with *me* does not total racial understanding make. still love you, and i even understand why you're mad, but i am just illustrating how conversations misfire.

that's the point.

the point isn't the actual 'rightness' or the accuracy of the conversation (which i'll still stick by because we had the conversation last *week*, not in september, even though that was when the episode aired); the point isn't even the fraught topic of hair.

it's about how even with two people as close as we are, when it comes to race, there's still a divide in how we talk about it, what we're talking about, and where we're coming from.

*that's the freaking point.*

and, yes. to some extent we are accountable for each other's actions, but sometimes not. it's fine that you don't want any academic analysis or context but, unfortunately, that limits understanding. in this country, every racial interaction is colored by history and cultural practice. we shouldn't ignore that.

perhaps conversations like ours wouldn't misfire if folks would read some stuff so that other folks wouldn't always have to explain shit.

that's taking accountability, too.

but c'mon. get over it, already.

Gooch said...

I'm not mad. I'm appalled. Gobsmacked. (The conversation happened on the same day the show aired. There's a witness to this salient point. For me accuracy matters when it comes to someone representing me in print. If you quote me, get it fucking right.)

If the point of your blog was to point out the differences of racial perspectives, the example was a poor one. In rereading your post, the bulk of the entry was a recounting of a conversation. I was talking about a documentary, you were talking about history. I was talking about five women I worked with, and you heard a diabtribe. If the point of the entry was to highlight the struggles society has on conversations related to the racial power struggle, zoom out a bit.

Analysis and academic context should not be ignored, but it should lead to action. To solution. What is the directive? What are we to infer from other people's shitty experiences?

Do us all a favor and don't use your friends as chum.

Gooch said...

P.S. Dude, if I ever told you to "get over it" you would lose.your.collective.shit.

As you know, I am too much of a wastrel to be stunned/irritated past two glasses of wine. Note to self: buy some wine.

Linda said...

Oh COME now, Gooch, surely you realize there's a BIG difference between a white person telling a black person to "get over" a racial issue, and a black person telling a white person that. Surely you see what's wrong with equating those two.

It's amazing to me that you've known ding for that long and can't see how self-centered you're being. And how common-for-white-people several aspects of your behavior are.

Gooch said...

Again, the filter in which I am referring to "get over it" is a personal one, not a racial one. D would call anyone out who tried to dissuade or deflect an argument of *any* nature if being dismissed with a 'get over it'. Of *course* I know the fucking difference.

The lack of reflection on how we receive one another's communication--stopping and examining the context, the person whose mouth is working, whose fingers are typing is crucial--before assuming ignorance on the other's behalf is bemusing.

This conversation should have happened in person--any misunderstandings would have been corrected point blank.

"Common for white people?" Awesome. Just....awesome, guys.

ding said...

"Common for white people?" Awesome. Just....awesome, guys.

But it is!

This conversation should have happened in person
No it shouldn't have. I have made a conscious decision *not* to talk to you guys about race stuff. Why? Because we are all talking about different things and it makes me tired.

You want solution? Here's the solution: read some shit! (and i write this while smiling at my desk!)

as for using friends as chum, if you look at all my posts on race (which you probably haven't) you'd realize that this is the first time i've mentioned any of you guys.

i haven't even mentioned the times you all point at me during charades to act out the word 'black'.

if i did talk to you guys about this stuff, this is where we'd start:
http://johnraible.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/revised-2009-checklist-for-allies.pdf

and that's not a pretty place.

Gooch said...

Generalizing white people, generalizing black people, it stops discussion in its tracks. It thwarts understanding. To say that my questioning your recounting of a conversation is "common" is disregarding the core issue that you processed that conversation through a huge filter, leaving out large components of context and intention. Ignoring the specifics and the truth of that conversation led to your assumptive reaction.

I rarely if ever comment on any entries related to personal anecdotes or storytelling on other instances which you have creatively edited for the benefit of a good read, but on this entry, I was compelled to call it out.

We--your 'girls' have read your blogs, have followed the links diligently, but I am left with the perpetual question of how to facilitate a healing process. One person of color's article/essay doesn't represent all people of color. One person's analysis does not cover everyone's experience or reference. The patterns throughout are acknowledged.

Without reflecting on one's accountability in the way one receives and processes information as a starting point seems to set a stage for doom.

It's a mine field to be navigated and it is exhausting, but the greatest tool for learning is personal engagement and interaction.

You *do* call everyone out on their bullshit--including the problematic charades evening. You *do* quote countless articles about hegemony during conversations on the deck. Your references inform our own. You have had an enormous impact on all of your friends and to ignore that and to dismiss this discussion as 'yet another example of why "white people infuriate me"' is disingenuous to your relationships.

When I read a link you post, I reflect it back upon what I know of you, what your struggles have been, what your hot buttons are, why you may have been intrigued by the posting, but I rarely, if ever, walk away with an idea of how I, Ex-Roomie, can change the world from being filled with white dumbasses. Except of course for killing them.

Gooch said...

....and *why* is this not a pretty place to start? You sent a version of this to me in 2001, dude.

ding said...

killing them is a start...

bu then i'd have to visit you in jail while you wear an orange jumpsuit. not a good look.

Gooch said...

Poison leaves no trace. By the time I'd be suspected, I'd pull a Polanski and live in the Swedish hills with the whitest people on earth as my cover and drink copious amounts of vodka throughout my exile.

soul said...

I'm reading this and my jaw is damn near on the floor.

Gooch you seem to think that because you are friends with a person of colour and have been for 9years that you are can't possibly not be aware of certain things.

You come off defensive , extremely aggresive, dominating and extremely rude.

What's worse, is the fact that your friend has to constantly point out to you that she's smiling, laughing, not mad at you despite the fact that your posts were so damn near rude and aggressive and I can tell she won't say but I will.. they were soo damn offensive.

It's obvious you don't know this, but I'll tell you, there can be a room full of black women and just one white women will make the conversation change.
Why? because of the very things you are exhibitting here. Instead of trying to here what your friend has said or is saying, you insist that you know different. Your blinders are firmly set and placed and so is your denial.

It happens. We are telling you it happens. Your reaction is not a surprise it is just tireome and that's what many of us black people try to avoid. Tiresome conversations which lead no where.

And we know it leads nowehre most of the time, because even when we spend forever 'explaining', you still do the same ish, or say it, or then get mortally offended that we called you on it.

That is exactly what you have done here. Get offended that your best friend of 9 years called you out on something.
Instead of listening, you insisted that the problem was hers.
Then brought up your 9yr frienship as proof. All of this to silence her and live blissfully in ur denial.

and guess what?
It bloody well worked didn't it?

Why are you friends with this person? I understand as a black woman/person living in a majority white country we have to overlook certain things otherwise we'd be walking around everyday feeling belittled and harrassed.
But honestly, when a friend can't, won't and refuses to accept certain basic things, you seriously have to question what type of friend that is.

I knew how this convo was going to end and yet I was still saddened to see it.
It was always going to end with a dismissive, oh heck I'm smiling... yeah how about we go get a drink... see you later homie.. we are still friends right, smile smile.. wink wink..

Sigh..
This is just about the saddest thing ever.

ding said...

Well, we *are* friends and we've chosed to leave this at an impasse (of sorts.)

But to the larger conversation, our kerfuffle here just shows that these misunderstandings or misfired conversation take hard work to overcome in any meaningful way. Will ExRoomie and I overcome this misfired conversation? Probably.

But it's also probably going to be running underneath a lot of things for a while. (At least it is for me. And not in a grudge way. In another way. Sort of an amber light in the distance.)

I think what was valuable about this, also, was how it shows how we privilege things. I mean, yes. I could press a point, couldn't I?

But do I value my friendship with this woman more than this one conversation? Yes, I do.

And, yes. These things *are* saddening.