You’re waiting for the bus when a stranger gently touches your hair.
That’s what happened to Seattle TV writer Melanie McFarland. It was 1996 in Portland. She was on her way to work when she felt tiny fingers running through her long braids.
“I turned around and a woman was smiling and holding up her small child to touch my braids.”
The woman looked surprised when McFarland said, “Please stop touching me.” Her child was fascinated by textures, the woman said.
“She just assumed that she could hold her child up to pet the texture in front of her without actually thinking that that texture is actually part of a person’s body,” McFarland told KUOW’s Bill Radke.
Radke asked if there is a polite way to ask to touch someone’s hair. Probably not, McFarland said.
“It’s associated with a long history of people of color — and particularly African-American bodies — being used for commerce,” McFarland said.
Her advice to people who want to raise questions about race: Think before you ask the question. If the answer will bring dramatic change to your life, then ask politely.
She added, “I wouldn’t do it with a stranger.”
But even if it’s not a stranger, she said, “Recognize that, if it’s somebody that you know and trust, you are also essentially saying, ‘I know you, I trust you, and right now I’m about to ‘other’ you. I’m about to remind you that, although we are friends, I see you just a little bit differently.’”
This post was originally published Nov. 19, 2015.