“What are you?”
“What are you, like your race?”
“No, no, no. Your ethnic background.”
“I mean I have family from Barbados, but…”
“I knew it. I knew you couldn’t just be all Black. You had to be mixed with something because you don’t have the nappy hair like most of your kind do. You have nice curly hair.”
I’d Love To Stay and Chat, But You’re a Total Beach (Keeping it PG-13)
I can’t make any of this up. This happened to be on Thursday evening after leaving my Advertising and Social Change class. I couldn’t even get a good look at the guy’s face, but I was just so stunned because I’ve never been approached like that before. Welcome to the United Kingdom, I guess. Have you never seen curls on a Black girl before? We all have different hair textures, colours and lengths. I understand you’re curious, but that doesn’t give you the right to just magically assume that I’m mixed with something else because I have “good hair”. There’s no such thing as “good hair”. We’re all different. Remember, y’all, curiosity killed the cat.
Oh, I’ve got an even better one for you. When I was in one of my classes, we were going over some of our favourite 18th century satirical writers. Of course, I said Alexander Pope. I mean, who doesn’t like a good story about a girl getting her hair chopped off, right? But, the professor had mentioned an African-American writer named Charles Chestnut and asked everyone in the class if they knew who he was. They all said no. When he turned to me, he said, “Come on, you have to know who this guy is, don’t you?”.
I had to remember my place as a student in a predominantly white academic setting so I politely shook my head and said, “no” before shifting my focus back to my laptop. What I really wanted to do was ask him why he thought I would know. Yes, I’m the only Black person in the class, but that doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about Black authors. Don’t assume that just because he’s Black and I’m Black, that means that I’m his biographer or something. Now, I know this may sound like I’m taking it a bit too far and I’m thinking too much into it, but this is a brand new experience for me.
I attend an HBCU, the number one HBCU in the country, in the mecca of Black entertainment. I’m used to everyone looking like me and empathizing with me when it comes to racial and sociocultural issues. I’m not used to people questioning me about how I get my hair so curly, if I come from a single-parent household or if I’ve ever heard of this or that African-American writer. -Sigh- This is going to take some serious getting used to. I’m definitely going to have to work on my mouth and my attitude problems while I’m here. Please pray for me.