You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain
By: Phoebe Robinson
I am a 52-year-old white woman and I have never asked a “POC” (person of color) if I could touch their hair. It’s just never occurred to me to do so. I mean, how weird is that? Imagine my surprise when my granddaughter—a 10-year-old bi-racial beauty—came home from (a predominately white) school recently and told me that her friends all “love touching my hair.” I asked, “why”. She said, “I don’t know. They think it’s cool I guess. Still…it made me feel weird.”
That was about three weeks ago. One week ago, I opened the People Magazine, to their book recommendations page, and saw Phoebe Robinson’s book, YOU CAN’T TOUCH MY HAIR AND OTHER THINGS I STILL HAVE TO EXPLAIN. I bought it without blinking.
As a woman, I’ve always assumed that ALL women shared—for the most part—the same kinds of experiences. I mean, we have all experienced the same physical experiences, right? And, as a group, we’ve all experienced the same kind of gender bias experiences. You know what I mean; the whole, “stand back and let the men handle this, little lady” thing. We’ve all been undervalued, underestimated and mis-understood. Right? Yes. However, what I guess I didn’t realize was that African-American women have had a whole other set of experiences… That makes me either ignorant, self-involved or just…unaware. Maybe a little bit of each?
I want to understand—as much as I can—what my granddaughter may have to face as she gets older.
Phoebe Robinson’s book, YOU CAN’T TOUCH MY HAIR AND OTHER THINGS I STILL HAVE TO EXPLAIN, opened my eyes to quite a few issues I never realized existed for women of color. I now know that my Lizzie might always have to have an answer ready for the question, “can I touch your hair”. She might always have to be “the token black friend”. She might always be subjected to stupidity, ignorance and oblivious obtuseness from silly white folka who just don’t get it. That sucks. But, I also now know that she’ll live through it, no matter how awful it might be and be stronger for it.
I’m glad I read Ms. Robinson’s book. I appreciate the new insight into my granddaughter’s possible future.
As far as the book and the writing within goes… This book is made up of a series of essays on the different issues a woman of color has or may face. As an older woman (translated not-hip, cool or with it), I didn’t appreciate the vulgarity in these essays—especially toward the end of the book where the last chapter was written as a series of letters to the author’s toddler niece, Olivia—this seemed not only unnecessary but also VERY inappropriate. I, too, am an aunt and would never talk to any of my nieces like that—and they’re all adults. Nor did I get many of the pop-culture references and/or all the abbreviations (POC, BPS, OBL, etc.). Again…I’m an old, white lady.
However, I understand that the author was just being herself.
This is an enlightening and titillating (if somewhat filthy) commentary on our world and the way it treats African American women and African Americans in general. It’s not flattering to white people. But, it’s real.
I would recommend it to anyone who needs to see life from someone else’s eyes.