Scene 1: A black co-worker with a freshly-shaved head was working away at his computer terminal when a white colleague walked over, blissfully ran her hands over his head, and cooed “it looked so smooth! I just wanted to feel it…”
He, who is rarely lost for words, was shocked wordless. Later he came to see me and ask “um, what do I do? I don’t want her to do that again! But I also don’t want to turn this into a big deal… Suggestions?”
My suggestion was to tell Mademoiselle Curiosity that she’d invaded his personal space, he felt uncomfortable, and to tell her why, thanks to several centuries of enslavement and oppression, many black folks find unsolicited head-rubbing profoundly offensive.
She was offended that he was offended (go figure), but she kept her hands to herself. No other heads in the office were rubbed.
Scene 2: A pregnant co-worker was discussing the progress of her pregnancy with a second co-worker who had recently given birth. They were comparing notes on when the new arrival would be born when a male co-worker breezed by, patted the pregnant belly and cheerfully announced “getting bigger, huh?” and kept walking.
He didn’t see the eye-rolling among the three of us women. “How do you get them to stop touching?” the shy pregnant woman asked. “I feel so…violated!”
How you get them to stop is by taking their hands off your person and telling them “I don’t like people touching me without an invitation.” All but the thickest folks will get that.
So, just to recap: discourage head-rubbers, unless that’s what floats your boat. Or unless it’s agreed-upon foreplay. Whatever.
As for people who just can’t keep their hands off blossoming bellies? Two words: Ask First. And if the pregnant person in question chooses not to let you feel who’s swimming around in there, remember: unless you’re the dad (or partner), that experience is a privilege, not a right.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday)
Got a story about someone who reached out and touched you even when you didn’t ask them to? Drop us a line at AskComeCorrect@gmail.com. Remember that we might share your story in this column unless you ask to keep it private.
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).