My friend and I stopped at the bar across the street from our job after work to wind down after our shift. Two older, salt and pepper, white males approached us and started to make small talk. One was more outspoken than the other and proceeded to share with us outlandish stories and racy jokes. He took a liking to me and commented on how much he liked my skin and how my hair (extensions) looked soft. “Can I touch it?” he asked, reaching out before I could respond. As he petted my hair as one would pet a dog, he marveled at how soft it was.
I let this slide because I could tell he had been drinking for a while and that’s what I’m used to doing when people touch my hair without asking. Then that same man proceeded to out due himself with a comment he didn’t think twice about coming out of his mouth. “Black women are so beautiful. There’s a lot of beautiful black women in DC. But if you could mix black women’s hair with white women’s hair you would have the perfect woman. Since black women’s hair is so difficult to take care of.” He didn’t stop there, “I mean, you have to agree that mixed kids are the best looking kids right?”
Once the words left his lips and he saw expressions of disgust wash over our faces, he didn’t waver. Instead of apologizing or cowering away, mortified by his insensitive comments, he continued to defend what he said. “I mean come on, you can’t disagree with the fact that mixed kids are the most beautiful kids.” Speaking to two non-mixed black women with natural hair I’m not sure what led him to believe that we would cheer on him discrediting that we were beautiful simply the way we were. According to him, our natural hair texture was an inconvenience, something that needed to be altered to look more “mixed”. Not to mention that my friend has a black son, and what message would that send to him? “You’re cute and all son, but you’re just not quite as cute as mixed boy.”
I’ve spent years learning to love my mocha colored skin and tightly coiled hair. For years I thought my hair needed to be straight or my curls needed to be looser and my skin needed to be lighter in order to be seen as beautiful. This man’s comments fostered self hatred that many women experienced because they aren’t “mixed with good hair”. Luckily loving myself is something I’ve gotten better at but that’s a whole other blog.
What really made me concerned was that he made these racially insensitive comments with reckless abandon. He didn’t think twice, show remorse, understand why we took offense, or try to apologize. To him, he could say whatever he wanted, and how dare you take offense to it. He was free to say whatever he wanted, free from opposition. Being white in this country has made him comfortable enough to feel that way.
He could be judgmental, prejudice, sexist, and insensitive freely. Speak first, think later. I find it interesting that white people feel the need to comment on people of color’s features. White women will always say how “interesting” my hair is when I wear it natural. “How did you get your hair like that?” they’ll ask as they touch it without asking. Or they’ll say how “jealous” they are of my tan, even though I haven’t been in the sun.
While, yes, they may be genuinely admiring my features, I would never think to go up to a person of a different race and make the same comments. “I love how thin your lips are.” “How do you get your hair to be so thin and straight?” “Is that your real hair or a weave?” “Have you been hiding from the sun because your skin is pale?” “Is it true that all white men have small penises?” Although we have all heard stereotypical assumptions about different races, the openness in which we bring them to the attention of that race is not quite as common as it is for white people.
Although some may think taking offense to comments about your appearance is being overly sensitive, there are other ways to tell that there’s a clear distinction. A few weeks ago a white, male guest at my job refused to pay his $240 dollar bill. He felt like our prices where too high for what he ordered. (Let me ask you, how many times you’ve been somewhere, ordered something, consumed it, and then told the establishment you weren’t going to pay because you didn’t agree with the price? I’ll tell you how many times I’ve even thought about doing it, none. The price is the price. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.) The man was told that if he didn’t pay his bill the cops would be called. The man laughed. After arguing with him for 30 minutes, the cops arrived. He continued to stand his ground and refused to pay his bill, saying to his friend, “They’re not going to arrest me. I’ve got this.” Even in the face of law enforcement he was unbothered.
My black female manager was respectfully trying to get him to pay his bill after an hour standoff. Pointing at her he said without flinching, “Look, this is what Obama has done. Made you feel like you have some sort of authority.” In front of black security officers from our hotel and a black police officer. He had no fear, regard, or respect. What ended up happening to this man? He paid only after money was taken off of his bill and walked out with his head held high. After hours of being combative and making statements like that, he faced no consequences for his antics. Had that been someone who looked like me in a situation with the opposite circumstances, I don’t think they would have fared as well. (There actually was a situation a week before this one where two black guests didn’t understand the prices and refused to pay their bill. However they were held by our manager and security until they paid the entire amount.)
I will never know what it’s like to walk into a room and not be judged by my skin color or the texture of my hair. I will never know what it’s like to not be classified as a “minority” in this country. I will never know what it’s like to be given an advantage or the benefit of the doubt because I am white. I will never know what it’s like to make comments about race with reckless abandon with no fear of consequences. But when I hear people denying that white privilege exist, it’s only because no one has to point out all of the times that the privilege applies. The people who feel its impact the most are the people that don’t have it.