A woman I work with is moving from Utah. She of white, black and Native American ancestry, her Black husband, their two young children, even the nanny — they can’t take it anymore. It’s not a diverse place — understatement of the year, apparently — and too many of its populace can’t keep their hands out of her children’s hair.
Yup, you read that right. In 2021, in the middle of one of the most devastating and contagious pandemics the world’s ever seen, her children are touched by random strangers, not once, twice, it’s happened often enough that she asked me for a script of what she could say to these handsy creatures. As every single time it happens, she is so shocked, she freezes up in dismay and disbelief. So, I gave her the following:
“As soon as you see them reach out, hold up your hand like a stop sign and say firmly: “Stop it. If you are reaching out to touch my child’s hair, don’t. First, it’s incredibly rude, as you are a complete stranger, and he is not a zoo animal. You’ve seen curly hair before. Second, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and I did not give you permission to put your germ-laden hands on my baby.” Then hustle your child away like they have the plague, which they might!
“Don’t worry about being polite or rude. They are being RUDE!! They have no right to touch your child without your permission. Whether they mean harm or have ill intent, it’s completely irrelevant; they are wrong. You do not touch someone else’s child, and there is a long and disrespectful historical connotation to rubbing a black man or child’s head. They are making him feel “other,” and he’s perfectly normal. They are the abnormal ones.
“Don’t let discomfort or guilt stop you from checking these fools. You are under no obligation to submit to ill treatment in order to be polite. They are hurting your son, subjecting him to that kind of nonsense, and you are perfectly within your rights to force them to respect his personal space, right to privacy and dominion over his body. Plus, you’re sending a message to your son that he does not have to submit to their $#@ed up curiosity and ignorance, that he deserves respect and consideration and is under no obligation to educate the ignorant at the expense of his own dignity and comfort.”
“I feel so empowered right now I could cry. Kellye, thank you for just saying it straight. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear/read to be reminded that I can be prepared to confront this nonsense and unafraid of what they will think of learning the truth about their actions.
I’m not even going to start on the questions the nanny is subjected to:
Are they yours?
Are they foster kids??
Are both their parents black???
I find it truly odd, yet not at all surprising, that this kind, beautiful, and creative woman has to endure this, and I used the word endure deliberately. Dealing with this foolishness is a trial. It’s a continuous encroachment, a constant irritant, a parade of disrespect and energy-sucking ridiculousness.
Because some people haven’t learned one of the Kindergarten basics: Keep your hands to yourself. Do not touch without permission.
Some people have not learned that a black body is not there to appease your curiosity, but simply to be there, taking up space, like everyone else who should be treated with dignity and respect.
Still, that’s not the lesson for today. If you haven’t learned those Kindergarten lessons, you have much, much bigger issues. No, the lesson for today is, communication is power.
Articulate how you feel. Do not wait. Do not feel guilt. And certainly when the recipients of the disrespect are your vulnerable children, do not hesitate to defend their space, their person, and their dignity.
I can’t help but draw parallels between what my peer is dealing with and what Sheryl Underwood is dealing with following the recent kerfluffle with Sharon Osbourne, who was taken to task for defending her buddy Piers Morgan’s behavior toward Meghan Markle.
The root of it all the drama is our response to casual racism — we had one, and for some reason that seems strange, excessive, threatening.
You’re upset because family members asked you what color will Archie’s skin be? Well, yeah…
I can’t touch your child’s hair even though we’re strangers and it’s a pandemic?? Well, no…
And then there’s the extreme sensitivity that follows when you point out someone is being casually racist. Sharon Osbourne needed a hanky to wipe away her tears.
It’s the most wonderful example of gas lighting I’ve seen recently: I didn’t do anything wrong! You’re attacking me!
Um. No, I’m pointing out why you’re out of order. Be quiet, learn, and then do better. And if you’re feeling particularly evolved and receptive, apologize for your ignorance and the damage it may have caused to someone who did nothing to you except exist in a black skin.
Intent is irrelevant. Black people should not be subjected to this type of behavior, verbal, physical, whatever. That’s why it’s perfectly okay to speak out against it.
Even Osbourne said repeatedly, “Educate me!”
No problem. But when I do take you to school, keep calm. The lesson is worth your discomfort.
You are interested in learning, right? That’s what you said… So, you shouldn’t mind listening and acknowledging the need for information and/or correction if you’re sincere about wanting to learn more about racism. You know, so that you can do your part to alleviate it?
Somebody stop me if I go too far. Because until freedom, as Tamika Mallory likes to say, school will be in session, and we like all students to sit in the front row, and look lively. Thank you.