Pointing at my hair, she said that’s how human hair was supposed to be. Like a white woman’s hair. What?! I could only shake my head, unable to reply. Then I changed the subject, because I was too uncomfortable.
We never spoke about hair again, but her words haunted me for months after I left West Africa. I tried to talk about it in university but I never figured out how. What was I even talking about? Auto-racism I would call it, but the word really only hurts the ones with less power. That woman didn’t invent racism, she only mirrors it unconsciously, because she was subjected to it her whole life, even though I was the first white person she met. And by the way, who am I to even start this conversation? As a social anthropologist I knew I didn’t want to be a “white savior”. So I let the questions fade.
Fast forward 6 years and today I happen to be mom of a black girl, who cannot yet say “hair” but already starts disliking hers thanks to “kind” strangers who constantly touch it and comment on it. So, what am I going to do now?
Well, I started setting boundaries and believe me, it hasn’t been easy. Telling kind people that their “kindness” isn’t wanted or needed, upsets them all the time. As much as I want to be that superhero who enlightens people and magically destroys all racism in their heads, I am not, because sadly, it doesn’t work that way. You cannot change another person’s believes and thoughts, you cannot take away her emotions and her pain and you certainly cannot give power to someone, if she is not ready to do it all herself. What you can do however, is offer tools that (might) help and watch compassionately as she does the work herself. So, what I want to do, is teach my child how to set boundaries in order to protect herself from toxic people and and thoughts. Even if it’s uncomfortable sometimes.