UFC fighters asks “Can I touch your hair?” during live interview

Note: I meant to blog about this late last month, but I forgot!

As women of color, we all know how hard it is to even get our feet into the doors of journalism. Furthermore, once we get in and get settled into the world of bringing the news to the public, we know we have to work twice as hard and twice as often for our talents to be taken seriously. We work overtime to prove we aren’t just some affirmative action hire who at best can only provide mediocre talent.

Yet, after all that hard work, we are constantly reminded that no matter how much we excel in our jobs, our bodies and our beings will never truly belong to us.

The video above shows UFC fighter Chael Sonnen randomly asking ESPN reporter Sage Steele if he could touch her hair. Steele, who responds with an awkward, stifled laugh and responds with how “random” the question was, graciously allows Sonnen to touch her coils.

Of course, Sonnen goes on and on about how everyone just fantasizes about touching Steele’s hair and marvels at how soft it is! Who knew our naps could actually be soft and lush and not feel like a fucking Brillo pad!!!

Did you notice how Sonnen blatantly dismissed her interview as if her work as a professional is inconsequential or not important enough to respect? Gotta love that sexist derailing!

Time and again, whiteness and white folks feel it’s their God-given right to have access the bodies of women of color whenever they ask. For him to even ponder asking a reporter — during a live fucking television interview, I might add — if he can invade her personal space and touch her hair on demand is mind-boggling.

I know some of you won’t see the harm in allowing a man who is merely curious about black women’s hair. I know some of you won’t even understand why this is a big deal. After all, he compliments her about how awesome it feels, right!?

While Steele did say in a tweet she was fine with it and “couldn’t care less” and went on about how she knew he was a “wild man,” Sonnen’s ability to ask her to invade her personal space only magnifies his white privilege. It publicly declares to the world in an oh so subtle way that black women’s bodies are open for touching and exploring.

This treatment of black women and our hair as some sort of oddity and a curiosity only adds to the continued othering we have to face on a daily basis. Black women and our hair are not some mobile exotic being that exists only for the pleasure and entertainment for whiteness whenever it’s feeling bored.

Asking to pet a black woman’s hair and complimenting on how soft and velvety it feels is not a compliment; it’s a demonstration that whiteness continues to marginalize our bodies and our hair as substandard and inferior, and only exist to satisfy its occasional curiosity with the exotic.

H/T to Womanist Musings

3 comments on “UFC fighters asks “Can I touch your hair?” during live interview

  1. As a woman of no-color, but a woman who gets being marginalized and demeaned and not being able to respond in kind right on the spot, I was totally appalled by that interview and saddened that Steele wasn’t in a position to say “I beg your freakin pardon? No you cannot. Now don’t ignore the question! Do you hate people? ‘Cause, I kind of think you do.”

    Hopefully, as she gets a little older, more confident, she’ll be able to lob those insulting volleys right back. She was clearly uncomfortable, and at a loss and embarrassed. As women are admonished to fight this sort of treatment with humor, all that does is make us feel weaker and unable to handle it when it happens the next time. And the next time after that.

    He was rude and dismissive, demeaning and misogynistic and took the control right out of her hands, which she didn’t see coming (she’s young, right?) Then he disguised it as cutesy macho flirting or God knows what, and yes, gotta call it, Racist with a capital R. I suppose he might have asked to touch some blondie’s straight locks as well and said the same fake-complimentary words to defray the effect after the fact, BUT, looking into the camera to report “And it’s soft, everyone!” Please! Even I know what’s going on there.

    1. She’s probably used to this (I know I am) but when you’re in a position like this, you don’t have the right-as a woman of color anywhere but certainly not as one trying to make it in a male dominated profession-to tell people they can’t have access to your person, as you’ll be perceived as being the angry Black bitch. That’s the power play happening here. There’s a reason he did it during the interview (when she was put in a position like this in public) as opposed to behind the scenes or during a commercial break-it puts her in a position of more or less having to say yes, no matter how uncomfortable she is. This doesn’t have to do with her youth or a lack of volition on her part-these are simply the things we endure as Black women.

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