Found this on YT last night:
Years ago, I was in a writing workshop discussing a story written by an older, fierce white woman. We were all working toward Masters degrees in Creative Writing, but she had a lot of disdain for such things. She told me early in the class that she was already published widely and just wanted the piece of paper to improve her employability. In her story, the son of the older, fierce white woman narrator was dating a black woman. The black woman didn’t play a big part in the story, but was on scene long enough for the narrator to describe her skin as looking like hot chocolate and her hair as feeling like steel wool.
I read these kinds of descriptions of black people all the time. I might be used to seeing them, but that doesn’t make me any less annoyed by them. Seeing people of color’s skin described in terms of food rankles because it seems part and parcel of the oh-you’re-so-exotic nonsense that continues to prevail. I am not Hershey-bar brown, or toasted honey almond, or dark caramel or any other sugary-sweet item you can think of. And if that girl in the story was really the color of hot chocolate, there was something wrong with her skin (or maybe I need to stop thinking Swiss Miss and start thinking Jacques Torres … still)!
The steel wool description annoys me even more. To those who hold tight to this descriptor, I have to ask: Have you actually touched a black person’s hair? Have you ever touched steel wool? Are you missing nerve endings in your fingers or the proper synaptic sensors leading from them to your brain? Please. This ridiculousness obviously comes from the deeply-ingrained notion that kinky hair is coarse and hard and could never be in any way appealing, certainly not like the silky-smooth business that grows out on non-kinky heads. Stand corrected, people. Yes, there are some people of color who have totally un-touchable hair … just as there are white people with hair that you’d never want to get your hands in. That’s about hair care, friends, not about the hair itself. Don’t misunderstand: I am not suggesting you start asking black people if you can touch their hair. The answer will almost always be negative and you will lose all kinds of cool points for asking. My cartoon friend above isn’t wrong when she says it’s a violation of her personal space I have, on rare occasion, let people touch my hair, but don’t ask me, either.
So no hair touching, but you can observe. Look at women with natural hair. Many of us spend a lot of time touching it. Are we worried that it’s out of place? Probably not. More likely, we are just enjoying its excellent softness and texture. Yes, that’s right: we get to play with our hair, you don’t.¹
I’m amused by this video, and by the others that accompany it. I don’t love that she makes the comment about being able to comb her hair “especially when it’s wet with leave-in conditioner in it.” That seems like a give-back to the steel wool people. But she actually helps make sense of something I ran into a lot during my dating experiment. Men who said I looked like a real “soul sister” or “roots sister” (no, I’m serious), also seemed to think there was no need to take me anywhere nice … or anywhere at all in one case, and always seemed surprised when I didn’t reach for my wallet at the end of the evening. Just to clarify: if I ask you out, I expect to pay. If you ask me out, I expect you to pay. If you ask me out and take me to a place where you can only afford your own dinner, that makes you an idiot. If you want me to split the check with you, you need to be upfront about it when we make plans. Calling me a “roots sister” makes you sound silly, but shouldn’t be code for anything.
I decided to add my own public service announcement to the mix: