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.