Racism and Hair
By G.l. Rendon at Feb 20, 2009
Every few months, I'll get distracted or lazy and not get around to cutting my hair, and because my hair tends to grow fast it gets quite a bit longer (not long long but long for me) and out of control. I'm in one of these phases right now (hopefully in the next week I'll get around to cutting it) but a strange, particular thing seems to happen - people's first perception when they see me goes from being "American dyke" to "Mexican woman". While most of the year I can pretty much fly under the radar of more obvious racial profiling or occurrences I can clearly define as racist - although I'm sure still seen with disgust for being a dyke - these few longer haired weeks have had me experiencing an odd, racially motivated moment a day, it seems.
Take, for example, a commute yesterday. Some man kept looking at me during a ride, and after we all exited the bus and started walking towards the train, he came up to me and proudly was able to get out a "como estas" - a chance for him to practice his Spanish. I said "bien", not really in a friendly mood about it after experiencing similar instances that quickly became annoying all week. He said "mi pocito espanol, mi practica mi espanol" (I don't know how to do Spanish tildes on my computer) and I just told him in Spanish - "good, practicing is the only way to do it". He then said "you pocito ingles?". I switched over to English and said "no, I speak English just fine". Instead of being slightly embarrassed or apologizing, he went on, this time in English "oh, you speak English as well as Spanish, good for you" and I just muttered "I don't speak Spanish as well as I'd like to" but was already walking away from him. Later on that day, having a beer in downtown Decatur - a white, liberal, middle class area - with my friend, some guy comes up to us, asks for a light for his cigarette, does the whole "where are you really from" after not simply accepting me as being from Texas and went on to say "Oh, I've worked in Mexico." When I asked "where?" he said "
Those were sillier examples that seem harmless but wear on a person's self-confidence and slowly start to alienate people and make them feel like forever "foreigners". In these last couple of weeks, though, I've been offended by what I felt were more malicious events, from being stared down and followed in a convenient store to an unfortunate run in with the law that I don't feel like elaborating on. One of the more outrageous examples was walking into a donut store while waiting for the bus and not getting the "good morning" greeting I had received in past months but having the woman behind the counter just point to items under the glass for me to nod my head at, assuming I didn't know enough English to order. Granted, this was in an area, Buford Highway, where there are a lot of immigrants from Latin America who admittedly don't speak much English, so the woman probably adopted this method to, in her mind, simply save time, but I'm sure most of the Latin American immigrants who go in there can place a damn order if given the chance and don't deserve to be treated like mindless drones that can simply nod away to things when the more "American" looking costumers get smiles and "good mornings".
I think the saddest thing out of all of this, besides some nasty words to a cop that didn't wind up good for me, as you can imagine, was that in all the other instances I didn't challenge anybody. I didn't have the will or energy or courage to say a damn thing but just went with the flow. I've decided I have to stop that, but who has the fight in them daily for this type of shit, or for all the injustice we see towards everybody? I never had to experience any of this growing up in an area where almost everybody was just like me - Mexican-American, Chicano, Tejano, whatever other label one puts on it (or immigrants from Mexico). I guess I should have more discussions about this with people of color who grew up in the area that have been dealing with overt racism for a long time. Really, I even thought for a minute my first phase of resistance will be not cutting my hair as short as I'd like it, but being queer I then thought "hell no, I'm not going to let them conform me in another way".