Receiving quality Black hair care in Thailand, or any Asian country is not an easy task. I recently sat down to blow-dry and straighten my hair for the first time since 2018. My hair wasn’t silk-press-straight because the dangers of achieving silk pressed hair can be detrimental to kinky, coily hair, but I was proud of how healthy my hair proved to be.
When my girlfriend’s Thai mother got a load of my hair, she had a lot to say. Mainly, she was surprised because she thought I wanted my hair straight, but to her, it definitely wasn’t straight. She used to be a hairstylist, so she was quick to give me some tips and suggestions. Her suggestions included telling me I needed to wash my hair better and that my hair was too dry. I explained that I had freshly washed my hair and used heat protectants and serums to protect my crown. The final straw was her trying to show me how to straighten my hair, which involved taking a piece of my hair, putting a bit of water on it, and then placing the straightener directly on to it — multiple times. I’m sure you can imagine the horror I felt while experiencing this. Once she did that to one piece of my hair and the results didn’t come out as she expected, she got quiet and I high-tailed it out of the room.
That interaction made me think about my perception of racism as a Black woman living abroad in a homogenous country. The default thought process I fell into was, “Wow, I’m so offended. Microaggressions. White gaze. White supremacy,” etc. As a Black American, I’m entitled to think about these things, but I must also recognize where I am and how I’m internalizing these traumas. I live in Thailand, a homogenous country that was never colonized. I’m not in the United States, a country that was built on the back of racism and genocide. I had to reckon with the fact that some people just really don’t know what’s going on when it comes to Black people. That can make someone ignorant, but how much malice can someone’s ignorance hold if I’m the only Black person they’ve had the opportunity to become close with during their 50 years of life? Not all countries are diverse and can boast that they understand many races, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations, and religions.
I had to accept that just because something feels really uncomfortable doesn’t mean anybody is genuinely trying to make me feel uncomfortable. My girlfriend’s mom previously cut, styled, and died hundreds of people’s hair, so why wouldn’t those skills transfer over right now? Her intention certainly wasn’t to be mean or hurt my feelings. Still, my feelings ended up hurt. This caused me to reckon with the fact that even at 24, I am still plagued by uncomfortable situations I experienced as a child, and by experiences, I mean feeling embarrassed about my hair and having people paw at it like an animal. I had to remind myself that I’m no longer a child. I am strong, I am brave, I am allowed, and I am able to speak up for myself. It would’ve been perfectly fine for me to say, “Thanks, but I like my hair this way,” instead of shrinking into myself. I was quickly hit with a hard truth: my traumas are mine to bear, and that intent and impact are separate entities. The impact you feel from a situation is valid, but so is understanding someone’s intent, and because this is true, I was able to separate my feelings from someone’s behavior toward my hair for the first time in my entire life.
Has the coronavirus quarantine given you clarity on anything? Do you think we should take the time to recognize people’s behaviors regarding the way they’ve experienced life? Let me know in the comments.