(Pic courtesy of Candid Photography)
My wife: She touched their hair? (fuming) That’s inappropriate. When will white people…
Me: Well, what would you have done in that situation? I mean, I even strategically moved Riles to the other side of me half way through the conversation and she still reached out to start touching Olivia’s hair later on. I was just trying to be nice, but it was a bit uncomfortable.
My wife: I’ve never been in that situation. No one has dared to do that, while I was with the girls. She probably felt she could get away with that because you’re a dad and assumed you wouldn’t care. She probably assumed you knew as much about their hair as she did, which is to say nothing at all.
My wife: I mean, we don’t just go up and touch white kids hair. No one would do that.
Me: Challenge accepted. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go up and touch the next white kid’s hair, uninvited and un-annouced because you know, I’m just offering a compliment right?
My wife: That’s not going to end well, and we both know that. [She precedes to tell me a story from the Episode of Empire where one of the son’s is accosted in his own driveway upon suspicion of wrongdoing).
FYI, this conversation has been edited down to it’s main points, but you get the gist.
Earlier today while standing in the Starbucks line with 2 of my 3 daughters along with my niece, (the baby was in the van with my wife) a nice older white lady comes up and starts stroking the hair of my oldest daughter (6 years old). And thus began a quick life lesson in micro-agressions and my lack of response thereof. It began innocently enough. Had the lady just stuck to complimenting Riles on her beauty, it would have been fine. But she didn’t, and moments later I found myself back in the van explaining to my wife what I initially assumed was simply a comical experience. Instead, I’m now later realizing this was likely just the first of many micro-agressions our young black girls will face.
I guess in hindsight, I didn’t really know what to say. Clearly I was uncomfortable enough to move them away from her, but that didn’t seem to convey the message I was hoping to silently get a cross. We had a pleasant enough conversation about the fact that I was a dad with 3 girls, and how girls always take care of their dad. (It’s a common theme I hear when I’m out alone with the girls, as if that’s a consolation prize for the son they assume I still pine for). However, I think what made it feel, you know, brazenly intrusive was the assumption that another person had the right to invade my daughter’s space, simply because she thought she was beautiful.
Here’s the rub, even if it was an innocent act in its intentions, we all know there’s a big difference between impact and intention. I will say though, that I’m glad I had the conversation with my wife. Honestly, now I have a better idea of how I will respond when this inevitably occurs again. Besides, it’s good modeling for the girls for how they can respond themselves.
If I had to replay that conversation back again, it might go something like this…thank you very much for your compliments of my daughter. For future reference, you should probably ask permission first from her if you’d like to touch her hair, out of respect for her personal space. It’s a rough draft. Unfortunately I’m sure Riley, Olivia, London, and myself will all have plenty of practice perfecting our responses over the years.