It was his birthday weekend. And we had a great time despite the unsettling attention. We let it roll off!I used to wonder why @Nisus seemed so obsessed with her hair. Being the supportive boyfriend I am, I just got used to it. I didn’t ask many questions about why; instead I chose to accept it as something she is in to. But this weekend I caught a glimpse into the why. I always thought it’s just hair, but this weekend I learned, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s more than just hair, maybe it’s how Nisus is perceived and representative of how all people who sit outside expected norms are perceived: with curiosity, sometimes, with amusement, and mostly, with a healthy dose of ignorance.
The first interaction was when we checked in the Bed and Breakfast. At first she was amused by Nisus hair. She loved it. In fact, this older white woman had a daughter with hair just like it, curly and everything, except her daughter’s hair always looked horrible. She wished her daughter could get her hair to behave like Nisus’ hair. Nisus suggested some products her daughter could use but, no, her daughter had tried them all and it was just a curly mess. All the time. I’m used to people checking Nisus’ hair out so I didn’t think anything of it. Plus the innkeeper seemed nice enough. But after the trip, I wonder, is it that her daughter looked a mess or was it the simple fact she had curly hair that created the disapproval? Was it the shock that curly hair could actually look good as it did on Nisus head, which led to her loving Nisus’ do? Or was it that she truly appreciated Nisus hair?
Later that evening we encountered a most obnoxious couple at the bar. The man sat down and the first thing he said was “Your hair is kick ass!”. Macho Man Randy Savage voice and everything. I kid you not. The woman co-signed. Oh, yeah, she loved it too. The man said “I love it, but really, how long does it take you. It looks great but you must spend all day on it. Like, you wouldn’t get in the water with that.” I’m thinking you’ve got to be kidding me. This man has got it all twisted. I thought about my ex girlfriends with weaves and perms etc and how they would never get in the water and might even dread walking on the beach because of the heat and wind, and water in the air, and how those girls sometimes spent hours getting it “right”. And this dude thinks Nisus’ ten minute wash and go is labor intensive. The irony of it all…
Nisus assured him she would get in the water with it. Maybe she’d twist it or put a braid in or something like that, but she’d get in, no problem. He must’ve heard somewhere black women spend hours on their hair (lots do) just for some delicate “do” quickly undone by the elements, and since Nia was black and had curly “black hair”, she must’ve spent hours too. But dude, you got it all wrong. He looked at me to co-sign. “How long does she take? Seriously?” I assured him it wasn’t long. I wanted to shake the guy. So if you are out there straightening and perming your hair, at least one white man out there thinks that’s how it comes out your head because the high maintenance “do’s” which require extra work are curly fyi.
Then there were restaurant patrons or passersby interrupting our meals or beach strolls to say how they just had to say something about Nisus’ hair; the woman who rolled her car window down to say “Oh my god I LOVE your hair”. Then, of course, there were the obnoxious teenagers which screamed “AFRO!” as they drove by.
It got really weird.
Shortly after we were looking for a bank and Nisus was rushing ahead of me because I like to take my time on vacation. I noticed people were passing her, turning around as they passed her, and then talking amongst themselves like “did you see that?” A lot of people were doing this. So much so I took to making faces at the people when they emerged from the spectacle that was Nisus’ hair by sticking my tongue out, making googly eyes, and displaying other manners of silliness.
Cool as Cape May was, it was a bit unsettling to me. And I wasn’t even the one being gawked over. I guess the reason for my discomfort is these people know very little about us—black people. If they can’t grasp our hair is different and it is indeed just hair and should not under any circumstance evoke such strong emotion, positive or otherwise, what hope is there for understanding in some of the more nuanced cultural aspects which make black people unique. I kept waiting for someone to comment on how well spoken, articulate, and clean we were a la Joe Biden. But then again, maybe I’m over-reacting. Either way, Nisus and I just wanted to enjoy the vacay and the constant commentary got tired after the—no exaggeration— 11th remark in two days. I kept track, though I wish I had counted sunsets or Seagulls.
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