"Excuse Me, Are You Ethiopian?" and Other Backhanded Compliments

"Excuse Me, Are You Ethiopian?" and Other Backhanded Compliments

"Are you Ethiopian?"

The cashier at Trader Joe's asked me this at check out after inquiring if I had a name for my frohawk. I responded,

"No, why?"

He replied,

"Your look and your hair."

Granted, I do have a huge red 'fro atop a 117 pound slim frame that sometimes draws a bit of attention and welcomes ignorant, uniformed questions such as this. I get it. But only to a certain extent. Why I would have to be Ethiopian to have a bangin' hairdo is beyond my comprehension. I have not an ounce of accent, wasn't purchasing any specific spices to make a traditional Ethiopian dish, and I sported zero paraphernalia to proclaim my allegiance (to anyone).

Because of my "look," he concluded that I had to be something OTHER than exactly what I am - an African-American woman with a hairstyle that caught his eye. It's not the first time I've been asked a question like this. I'd be rich if I received a dollar for every "Are you mixed?" question, as if only a blender could produce a caramel complexion. Many black women experience similar inquiries. How many times have you been asked if your long or non-Type 4 hair is a wig or if in fact you are "mixed"?

Nothing against my Ethiopian sistas; I take no offense with an association to Africa.  Society‚Äôs frame of mind surrounding beauty, origin and possibility is where I have an issue. There is a psychological pattern that automatically assigns foreign references to black women who are just too beautiful, intriguing, polished or interesting to possibly be born in the States, be of one race, and own their own hair. At times, we subconsciously adopt this mental trajectory.

The unintended message? 

Avoid having great hair, above-average height, striking bone structure or a skin tone lighter than molasses or be subject to society's curiosity ignorance.

The resolution?

Think about the questions you ask of other women whose appearance aesthetically pleases you. Consider your mental process and check yourself if necessary. When dealing with others, accept no ignorant question as a compliment. Take that moment to educate.

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