Today in my exercise class our white instructor walked over to the black woman next to me and told everyone in the class that the woman had just flown to Philly to get her hair done. She reached out and touched it with a smile, saying how beautiful it was. She was happy and gushing over how great it looked.
I sat there, frozen. I know that touching a black woman’s hair wasn’t ok and I could see it on her face that she didn’t know what to do. Neither did I. I felt terrible. I didn’t say anything. The class proceeded and then just what I was afraid would happen, happened. The instructor came over and did it again.
What do I do? That’s all I could think of.
Again, I did nothing.
After class the woman and instructor were talking and smiling and I just cleaned my equipment up, all the while panicking about what I should say. And to WHO should I say it?
Should I say sorry to the lady that the instructor had touched her hair?
Should I have approached the instructor about her behavior and not doing that again?
I don’t know.
So I put my jacket on, slung my purse over my should and walked out.
At dinner tonight I told Abbey what happened and she asked right away, “What did you?” Because Abbey knew. And when I started to cry because I felt so bad about it, she sternly reminded me, “You aren’t a victim, Mom.”
It’s not someone else’s job to tell me what to do, it’s my job to do the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing feels murky and uncertain. I just know that it’s important to say or do something when you see a white woman touching a black woman’s hair.
So for starters, I ask my white friends this-
Please don’t touch a black woman’s hair, ever. It’s not yours to touch and it’s not ok.
And to my black friends, I must and will try, to do better.