The Takeaway

The Pandemic Prevents White Preoccupation With My Hair

Working from home has an unintended benefit: White co-workers can’t get close enough to me to reach out and touch my tresses

Carolyn Desalu
Momentum
Published in
5 min readMar 8, 2021

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Photo: Morsa Images/Getty Images

My natural hairstyle changes frequently, and pre-pandemic, I wore it in a short, tight, coily wash-and-go style or, other times, in small twists or flat-ironed. The style that elicited the most attention was my Afro, which was larger than Angela Davis’ signature hairstyle.

I was accustomed to inquiries about my ’do from White colleagues but hoped that in some way, conversations surrounding hair, Black beauty, and, at the very least, professionalism would have connected some dots for them. However, working in predominantly White spaces in all but one job taught me that the aforementioned does not resonate with many White people. White privilege tends to be their language of choice.

I’ve had some colleagues marvel at my Afro and others stand so close I take a step back to avoid feeling their breath on my face. I also knew my hair stirred slightly since I didn’t use hairspray to keep my Afro shaped. The close talkers looked at my hair, so I assume they wanted to touch it but didn’t dare. At least they maintained a sense of professional decorum.

As I started to exit, he said, “I just want to touch your hair. I’ve never felt hair like yours before.”

Except one who did not.

An older White man, who previously was a congenial and respectful colleague, blatantly disrespected me by attempting to touch my hair.

We were chatting in his office, and as I started to exit, he said, “I just want to touch your hair. I’ve never felt hair like yours before.” He didn’t ask; he stated what he wanted to do regardless if I co-signed it or not. It was the epitome of using his White privilege to try to control and take ownership of my Black hair and invade my personal space.

I said no.

Instead of letting the topic drop, he asked, “Why not?” At the time, I didn’t want to engage him in a conversation about my hair being my crown and the…

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Carolyn Desalu
Momentum

Essayist + lifestyle writer. Bylines in Thrillist, Catapult, Essence, The Globe and Mail, Atlanta Journal-Constitution + more. Literary agents, holler.