White Hair Privilege
My brother’s family may be taking a trip to China this summer, and I may get to tag along. Now, I’ve given it some thought, and I’ve decided that if I can go, I am going to have to come to terms with some things, and the most of all is having people come up and touch my hair.
My brother went to China after he graduated college and taught English for a while. I’m not sure how long it was, but I’d ballpark it around 3 or 4 years. I was definitely not paying attention. He’s like, 12 years older than me, so I was totes in junior high. Lol. Back to anything important.
But yes, that is where he met his wife, and we may get to go there for some time this summer. It would be awesome because she could take me around and I could see awesome things and have someone compensate for the fact that I DEFINITELY don’t speak Chinese and pick up some here and there. My brother told me that the “weirdest thing” he found there (could have been what he said, idk, this is the weirdest thing I chose to remember) is how people would come up to him and invade his Western culture personal space, and sometimes, touch his hair.
Now, this is not a new thing. Black people in the United States have this crap happen to them all the time because their hair is not what my culture thinks it should be, and for real, I am jealous of how beautiful some people’s hair is that also happen to be black. Like, I wish I could put the blonde curls into something less dumb. It is so bitterly bizarre that my hair looks like a movie set 90% of the time without me trying, and I totally have been afforded the right not to care. That probably won’t stay that way for long if I go to China.
When I was in Chile, there was a good measure of personal space, in comparison to how I was raised. In the Midwest of the United States (as in, the middle), people are friendly anyways. We nod when we pass the street, there is a such thing as social courtesy and the friendly wave if people have decided to be nice to you when you are driving. It isn’t as bad as in the North of the US, we will start arguments and we will finish them, but there’s still a certain measure of small town charm in Kansas, even in Lawrence. Some crazy hippies would argue that it is only in Lawrence, but whatever, we love them too.
I know that the Northeastern parts of the US definitely are colder than here, in terms of frigid personality, or at least what cause me to be offended. I hear people complain about big cities like Chicago and whatnot, and although I have only been to Chicago like once and DC also once, I concur. I know that California’s are supposedly mellow as hell and benevolently deranged, although I’ve never been there. The Southwestern US still holds a part of my heart as being home. And apart from that and tiny snippets of Florida and the South on road trips, the hell if I know.
But. Personal space. It is a thing, no matter how much you require. In Chile, it was cozy. Women young and old, walking down the street with arms linked, people getting in what I would have formerly considered my grill just being friendly (no matter how well I know them), people just being people. Now, not all of it was friendly. Some of it was taking advantage of how clueless I was in a foreign culture, and part of me never having significant problems with that was dumb luck (and the other part was a tried and true BS detector that can suffer none of your garbage). Crap happens, but at the end of the day if I wanted, I could still break your nose.
But I digress. These Barbie-esque ringlets were never my doing. I was a mostly red-headed three year old with blue eyes and clown curls that were turning blonde, what can I say? The eyeballs have turned “green” in all that time, but mostly they’re just blue with lots of yellow (idk it just is). My Dad always tried to brush out the curl, and it never worked. Duh. Recently, I have tried certain kinds of hair oil, and who knew! Apparently my curls will last at longer lengths if I don’t abuse them! My hair is fine enough that I can brush it straight if I want, but dang, I’d rather not. Sometimes I do if I want less attention in certain places or if I want to look like a stereotypical white girl for obvious and entirely selfish reasons (as in, anything that involves large amounts of money; not because I want it, but because I don’t want to get stared at and I could give less craps). This white privilege is something that you either own or it is like a foreign language you have to stumble to understand, even if your skin is basically transparent, like mine. My veins are blue, which leads me to believe that all people’s veins are blue! Science! Anyways.
I have given too much thought to this, which is basically how any young white girl trapped in privilege overthinks. You have to qualify being nice. All the time. Everywhere. I am not complaining, but I have to say things like “I am not complaining”. What?
But this hair thing. I chopped most of it off when I got to college, I was willing to look extra fat given my round face and that awful haircut to get less attention and be less complained about. No one thinks it’s any kind of threat when the derpy fat girl chops off most of her hair, but we fawn and swoon when people 100 lbs smaller than I was cut off an inch of theirs. And still, I’m all like, what?
I like being exactly how God made me. It gives me a lot of shame to have any amount of extra attention for it, I don’t get it. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t need it. Why do I get it? Oh right, because of the get out of jail free card that I wear and walk in every day.
I like having friends that are beautiful in the way God made them so much more than I would ever want friends who look like me. It makes me very sad. One, because I feel like I somehow made them choose that by being born like Disney, two because I love them just as they are and I would never want them to change for anything that hurt them like that. I love the differences God gave us, I think they’re extremely beautiful and awesome, and I think it hurts us most to diminish them. It hurts all of us, even if people want to look at me with my transparent, easily burnt skin and call me the oppressor. That’s fine. I’m used to it. I’m used to people touching my hair at this point, but one thing I am decidedly not used to is thinking I’m beautiful. I think that’s okay, I never cared all that much and I think it is better to be ignorant of those things. What is not okay is when people touch my hair, look sad, and insinuate I am more beautiful than them. That is not okay.
Which is why I’m a little afraid to go to China. My brother is over or around 6 foot (idk I haven’t asked in a while lol), so him going with brown blonde, sandyish hair and fresh out of college was not always great when it came to personal space. He met his wife (of natural causes I hope lol, seems like it). But he told me about how people came up and touched his hair (those who could reach) and smiled and he made friends with lots of young children who just did what young children do and had no sense of boundaries. Western boundaries are a joke anyways, but what I’m saying is that it will take some courage and personal sacrifice to be willing to let people touch my hair. It is not just that they are curious. It is that I see their sadness on their face when they look at in and compare themselves, like it was competition. It isn’t. Please don’t be sad.
No one chose their life. No one does it right. My hair is just as beautiful as yours. It was not my choice that it is in the movies and looks a lot like a Beaches Farrah Faucett. You are beautiful. And I will be honest, I love my hair but I would chop it all off in one beautiful second if it meant no one would look at me and feel bad. I can’t gauge out my eyes, so that plan is debunked from the start. But to think about how much God loves you just as you are and then to see you stumble with that when you look me in the face…now that is some White guilt for the story books.
I hope each of us celebrates his or her unique beauty. We are beautiful creatures, because we were made in the image of God. It does not have to be so complicated. It does not have to be a competition. I hope you believe that I mean all of these things honestly, and that they are not meant to hurt anyone.
All the best,