1/08/2014

Lip Balm and Ugly Hair

[Content Note: racism]

Last week I was in Brussels with my little brother and we went shopping for a belt for him. On the way there, we stopped The Body Shop. When we entered, the shop assistant rushed towards us with a quick "hello". I wouldn't have minded if she hadn't spent the next few minutes following us around the shop and scrutinizing our every move. I went in looking for a lip balm and found some good old racial profiling.

She followed us until another customer walked in, who she greeted with "What can I do for you?" - she was white, in case it wasn't obvious. At that point I had picked up a lip balm which I was planning on paying for, and I gave it to my little brother to hold while I tried on a hand cream. The lady who had walked in after us was looking for something which was near the hand cream I was trying on, so I was casually nudged out of the way by the shop assistant so that she could reach the product. Following the departure of the lady, the shop assistant went back to glaring at my little brother, who was still holding the lip balm. I took it back from him and semi-aggressively placed it on the counter and told her I'd be paying for it. She barked the price at me and there was no more words after that, despite the fact that I thanked her and said goodbye.

As if that wasn't enough, I went down a gallery filled with African hair salons, and while looking at some dresses on a stand outside of one, a hairdresser motioned at me from the inside. I had no idea what she was gesticulating, so she came outside to explain to me that she was asking if I wanted anything done to my hair. I kindly rejected her offers, but apparently that was an invitation for her to criticize my hair.

-"Do you take care of your hair?" she asked me.
-"Yes, I brush it everyday" I replied, knowing the conversation wouldn't end there.
-"No relaxing? No weaves? No straightening? Why nothing?"

Basically she was asking me why I refused to alter the hair that grows naturally on my head. She was telling me that black hair is ugly and it must be treated, preferably by her at a reasonable price. She asked whether I would do anything to my brother's hair, who she thought was my son. Afro bad, white hair good! We were also stopped at the end of the gallery by a man who looked at my little brother and said "It's New Year and you aren't going to do anything with that hair?". Who the fuck are these people who think it's okay to shit all over stranger's hair? Shouldn't come as a surprise then, that this is the window of a shop called "African Beauty", with products such as contact lenses and skin bleach.


Thus concluded the brilliant opening to the racism I will be experiencing this 2014. Got a little taster of prejudice and self-hatred.

I don't only have to put up with racism from other races, I have to deal with it from people who look like me, because they wish they didn't look like me. People who think it's over the top to talk about the lack of Afros in mainstream media, or that think only extremists truly believe that black pop stars are white washed are blind. Being told by a fellow black woman that my hair is awful is an issue. Being told by my own grandmother to never date a black man when she and I are both black ourselves is an issue. Consistently teaching people that they are ugly will result in them believing they are ugly, and doing everything in their power to distance themselves... from themselves.


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