Not at ALL What You Thought

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More on Haircuts and Race than You Wanted to Know

So a friend of mine sent me this essay from this blog, and I don't know how she thought I'd respond, but two of Cecily's musings (and then one comment) made me scroll down so I could comment, even before I'd finished reading everything.

Cecily begins by describing her ordeal at a hair salon. She, a white woman, takes her daughter to a black shop because it's in the neighborhood and (we discover later) because she wants to be undiscriminatory. Both commendable motives, IMO. And then the hairdresser ruins the baby's hair, explaining that she didn't know how to cut white people's hair (with scissors because blacks don't get their hair cut with scissors).

I had Issues with that.

See, I haven't always been (dread)locked. I used to perm and relax with the best of 'em. And when it was time for my stylist to cut off the damaged part or the split ends, or just to give my hair a sassy look, she used scissors. Every time. (Yes, she had to use clippers on the kitchen, but we're not talkin about the kitchen, now, are we? Can I move on now? Thank you.) And even now, now that my hair is (dread)locked, my loctician, at the end of every session, uses scissors to neaten my look. In fact, she has never used clippers on my head. So for Cecily's stylist to play the "I don't do white people's hair. Black people never use scissors on they hair" card ticked me off. The problem with the Cecily's stylist wasn't exposure; it was honesty. Here the woman brings her baby in, trusting her baby's hair to strange black people, in a gesture of good faith, and not only does the stylist ruin the baby's 'do, but she lies about it, too.

So I posted a comment to that effect. Then I read on. Cecily's ordeal in the shop is a kind of metaphor for her response to Obama's "Wright" speech, it seems: the stylist jacked up the baby's hair, you see, because she didn't "feel comfortable turning" Cecily and her baby away.

Discomfort is a powerful thang.

In a coupla emails back and forth, Cecily and I discussed the normal reaction to (someone else's) anger: discomfort. I said that discomfort was normal, but we need to realize that anger is, too. "Where I used to go to church," I emailed Cecily, "people quoted Ephesians 4:26 ('Be angry and sin not'), usually to mean, 'It's all right to be angry, but don't let your anger make you sin.' Over the years, though, I've come to think the warning ALSO means 'It's a sin not to get angry over the right things.' Righteous indignation (as opposed, say, to road rage) is in short supply these days."

While many in the black (and, apparently, white) community were waiting for Obama to respond in kind to Clinton barbs, just as many were uncomfortable about Obama talking "candidly"* about race. All in front of God and e'body. BUT, Cecily says, not as uncomfortable as we'd feel, say, if Clinton had discussed race:

There is a bit of, well, I don't know what to call it. What if Hillary, in reaction to Ms. Ferraro's comments, decided that SHE needed to give a 'major speech' about race?


Only Mr. Obama is allowed to give such a speech. Because he's not white.

I had Issues with that, too. Personally, I would not feel any "not allowed" in response to Clinton giving a speech about race. IF she hadn't been so sneakily racist in her campaign all along. And IF she wasn't liable to put her foot in her mouth while talkin about it. No problem. Let Clinton talk about race, too. Whatever. It's a free country.

Unlike Cecily's stylist, Clinton isn't unqualified. But, like the stylist, she might be too dishonest.

*As candidly as any politician can speak, that is, with a speech in hand before cameras.

Dear Jesus, my brother, help us to speak honestly with each other, redeeming the time (for the days are evil).


  • At 12:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Amen, amen, aaaaa-men!

    Clinton probably would have been a *great* person to discuss race--but she blew that in this campaign.

    Y'all revoked Clinton's "First Black President" card yet?

    B/c remember, y'all revoked my Sistah card and I'm annoyed about that.

  • At 9:08 PM , Blogger Elayne said...

    It worked! I got you posting again!

    FTR, like I said, I wasn't particularly looking for a response; just so many of the things in comments reminded me of things that had been said elsewhere. (Cecily's blog entry itself wasn't what I found the most interesting; it was the comments and the wide range of responses there.)

    Also, by what Cecily said about the stylist having a scar on her hand from a previous run-in with the scissors (assuming that the stylist was telling the truth about how she got that gash), I think that the truth of this particular situation might be that this particular stylist doesn't usually use scissors to cut her customers' hair. So it might not a dishonesty thing either, or at least not entirely.

    And actually, going back to Cec's blog, what she reports the stylist saying is not that "Black people don't get their hair cut with scissors," but that most of her customers don't get their hair cut with scissors.

    Certainly a discomfort thing, in all directions, no doubt about that. I'm just not seeing actual DIShonesty; I do see a lack of TOTAL honesty, but then, how feasible is TOTAL honesty in every non-intimate situation anyway?

    (Lord, I can't wait until the first time I have to testify in court, and they wait for 16 hours for me to get to the point because I swore to tell the WHOLE truth, and so in order to answer a yes or no question I have to explain about the time when I was four and... )

    I'm gonna have to find another blog post to email Trin; she hasn't updated her blog yet.

  • At 7:52 AM , Blogger Gine said...

    "And actually, going back to Cec's blog, what she reports the stylist saying is not that 'Black people don't get their hair cut with scissors,' but that most of her customers don't get their hair cut with scissors."

    How, then, does this explain HER ineptitude with scissors?

    I still call bull. The stylist was obviously unTRAINED, not unused to scissor-cut customer.

  • At 2:42 PM , Blogger Ranuel said...

    Sounds like BS to me. I know things vary from state to state but in Florida if you want to legally cut hair professionally you have to have attended some sort of formal training and pass some sort of test and as far as I know you can't just specialize in doing the hair of one race or another during your training.

    And they use electric clippers to neaten up the nape of the neck no matter what hair type you have if the cut's short enough for it to be seen.

  • At 3:19 PM , Blogger Gine said...

    Thank you and amen. The little girl who does Goobs' hair is black, but spent her first year as an employed person cutting ONLY white people's hair.

    That's how she was trained.

  • At 6:38 PM , Blogger Elayne said...

    How, then, does this explain HER ineptitude with scissors?

    I still call bull. The stylist was obviously unTRAINED, not unused to scissor-cut customer.

    It explains her ineptitude with scissors because none of her customers request scissors, therefore she doesn't use them, therefore she is not skilled at doing so, therefore none of her customers request scissors (more than once), therefore she doesn't use them, therefore... etc.

    I'm confused as to where we're not connecting on this. Aren't they the same thing in the end? The results are certainly the same. If she's untrained or improperly trained (with which I agree), she's not going to have people coming back who want their hair cut with scissors. People who want their hair cut with scissors and have tried her once will go elsewhere next time. People who want braided or clippered styles will go to her, and will recommend her to their friends for braided and clippered styles.

    Over time, her clientele will, through both recommendation and attrition, consist almost solely of people who want non-scissored hair care. At that point in time, she is, and remains, inexperienced in scissor cutting as both a cause AND an effect of the fact that most of her customers do not request scissor styles.

    Maybe I'm looking at it too much from my perspective: My mom was trained as a barber before she married my dad. She gives him all his haircuts, and has done so ever since they got married. (She still uses the barber kit that her dad gave her as a barber-school graduation present, in fact.) She cut my hair - usually horribly - up until the time I was about 10, when she tried to give me a layer cut but didn't know how to get the layer effect, so I wound up with more like "reverse steps" cut into my hair. She wouldn't cut my hair for years (and I wouldn't let her), but she continued to cut my dad's with the clippers.

    Shortly after TJ was born, I was having trouble finding time to get to a stylist, so I asked her to trim up my ends. She did okay on the bangs, because they were a straight cut and not much hair, but after 15 minutes messing around with the sides and back, she threw her hands up and refused to continue, because it'd been too long and she'd lost all confidence in being able to cut my hair; she couldn't do it, she knew she couldn't do it, and she felt comfortable telling me (the key difference, I think, between that situation and Cecily's stylist).

    Each feeds into the other: Women's hair was her weak point; a lack of exposure/practice made it weaker; because it's SUCH a weak point, she gets no practice, which makes it weaker, which...

    So... how could it possibly NOT explain HER ineptitude? (her = my mother's, the stylist's, anyone but Clinton because I haven't been able to understand anything I've tried to read on politics lately except something about the healthcare thing)

    If you never do something, you can't possibly get good at it. If you're not good at it, no one will ask you to do it. If no one asks you to do it (and you don't need to do it because you're making a perfectly good living at what you DO do well), you stay not good at it.

    *genuine confusion* Where is the bull that you're calling?

  • At 6:58 PM , Blogger Gine said...

    "It explains her ineptitude with scissors because none of her customers request scissors"

    First of all, you said "most," not "none." As I alluded in my comment to Ranuel, today's stylists are trained to be more versatile, regardless what the clientele. Bull #1.

    Secondly, her claim is based on the fact that her clientele is BLACK, Elayne, that MOST black clients don't "request" scissors. (Ever seen "Barbershop" or "Beauty Shop"?) Bull #2.

    Thirdly, the disconnect between what you're claiming and what I'm claiming goes back to my "first of all": lack of training, PERIOD, is what the stylist showed (as described by Cecily), not lack of experience with scissors (or white people). Bull #3.

    And I don't see what the story about your mother has to do with any of this. Cecily's story is about people's discomfort outside political correctness (and, IMO, the perceived necessity for dishonesty).

    I hope that's clearer. (And I hope your response doesn't have to be longest because it's the third, lol.)


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