Baltimore Magazine, our city’s monthly rag, is so popular in our house that we subscribed to it even when we lived in another state. My husband thinks it’s better than the Washingtonian which is probably more prestigious, but maybe that’s just because he likes Baltimore more. At any rate, last month’s issue featured the top 25 hair salons in and around the city. I didn’t pay much attention – I have locs I was fairly certain they weren’t going to feature any natural hair care salons.
Another black woman reader was not so jaded and sent a letter to the editor which appears in the March issue:
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that, in a city that, according to the Census of 2010 is 63.6% black, all of the salons seemed to be centered around services that Caucasian women would need. I was looking for a salon that I could go to in order to get my hair braided … I hope you will make an effort to have your magazine represent the diversity of your city.
The editorial staff responded with this:
Your point is well taken. There are salons on the list that do cater to African-American hair, but we should have been more specific.
When I read this I had that little cringey feeling I get around racial cluelessness. It brought to mind a point stated by author David Mura in the AWP panel on writers of color in workshops – whiteness is invisible. It’s important for white people to keep whiteness invisible to avoid uncomfortable discussions on race.
In that same panel, Faith Adiele relayed how, to prove a point, she had asked white acquaintances to reference white people by their race in conversation. For instance, “The white cashier at the grocery gave me the wrong change,” or “There’s my white neighbor, Stanley.” No one she asked was comfortable with that because, in general, that’s not how white people relate to the world. To paraphrase Mat Johnson, the consensus culture has been misunderstood to be universal.
I have absolutely no information on the diversity of the Baltimore magazine’s staff, but the oversight in specifying what hair types the salons catered to makes it safe to assume at least that if there are black women on staff, they did not read the article before it was published.
Recently, I had an exchange with a self-published author of YA novels. She is a white author whose novels include characters of color in supporting roles. One particular character is described as being “dark-skinned” with “curly black hair.” I assumed he was black when in reality she had intended him to be of East Indian descent. She hadn’t specified his race or background because “he was American” and “it wasn’t important.”
His race was, in fact, not important to the plot of the story, however, I would imagine that as excited as I am to see black characters in the books I consume, Indian readers are just as excited to see themselves represented. I’m sure I actually read far more books with black characters than Indian ones so they may even be more excited. I told the author this, and it was something she hadn’t thought of. So while I applaud her for actually including characters of color in her work, and recognizing the value and necessity of such, I was disappointed that she didn’t take the extra step to fully describe the character and embrace his racial identity. I believe her when she said it never occurred to her that it would be important – and that is exactly the problem.
It’s not news that their own race is unimportant to white people. For people of color, it is extremely important. And when that fact doesn’t make white people uncomfortable, I think we’ll all be better off.
Agree/Disagree? Let us know in the comments!