Justin, Don’t Touch Esperanza’s Hair Again
This was at The Grio. I’m in agreement: this teenager lost to this young woman, who is at least ten years older than he, is a natural genius, and could be his elder sister. He’s not her speed. Her winning the Grammy in his category was a major upset, and after three days people are still tripping over it. The young guy was seen on television looking disappointed and angry, and like I said, it seemed the entire male hip-hop possé was shocked off their mostly self-made pedestals. Esperanza got death threats from outraged Bieber fanatics, and her Wikipedia page was hacked and vandalized.
So whose big idea it was that he do a joint interview with this woman, and what the hell is he doing touching her hair?
The two sat down with the Associated Press after Spalding’s surprising Best New Artist win. The jazz musician showed the depth of her patience and character by bearing an interview with Bieber in the first place — since when does the loser get more camera time than the person who walked away with the award? But the awkward moment escalates to absolute cringe-worthy when the interviewer asks the pair “how do you feel about each other?” Bieber replies “I like your hair,” patting Spalding’s ‘fro like a memory foam mattress.
Now I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one, but for the painfully uniformed and ignorant, please heed this simple PSA: DO NOT TOUCH A BLACK PERSON’S HAIR.
The hair touching issue is a problem experienced by many black people, but it especially plagues natural hair wearers who sport ‘do’s that defy tradition, gravity, and convention. Certainly Esperanza Spalding has endured a lifetime of unsolicited head pats, and perhaps she’s grown to accept these gestures as moments of wonder and flattery. Or maybe, like the rest of us, she’s perfected her pokerface while inside fuming “Oh. Hell. No.”
Number one, he didn’t even answer the interviewer’s question. Not really. It’s a backhanded answer. He addressed her, not the interviewer. He says he likes her hair, but he doesn’t like her. And he hugs her. And he pats her hair? Condescending. She’s not a child or a pet.
And then he hugged her again, and he touched her hair with his cheek as well, as if to get a last free feel off her. Ew.
I find that both were performing for the media. We really don’t know how they feel about each other and probably will never know. That they had to make nice-nice to each other for the cameras so that people–especially Bieber’s fans–would think that there were no hard feelings that Esperanza took his Grammy away.
I don’t think that all this was necessary.
Esperanza, however, seems to have taken it in stride. She graciously complimented his famous hair bob, but she did not touch his hair in return. Being multiracial, and primarily raised with a Latina mom, she may or may not have the same cultural constructs that other young black women have against this kind of thing. I don’t think, though, that it would have been a good idea for Esperanza to have quickly recoiled from him as many other black people have at what is to many of us a universal sign of disrespect. So I think that she did the best that she could in that situation. Only sixty years ago, white men would run their fingers through black males’ heads “for luck.” It did not matter if they were youths or old men. My father, and I am sure my stepfather, experienced this demeaning behavior. My father, who used to sell newspapers on New Orleans street corners and piers as a boy, remembered it as a singular insult even in middle age.
The only time that I remember that I allowed someone white to touch my hair (outside of being intimate with someone else) was when I was babysitting, of all people, some Mormon children. At that time, a big Afro was almost de rigueur among black people. I was between sixteen and seventeen. The eldest, a boy, asked if he could touch my hair, and after some hesitation, I let him. He was surprised that he found it to be soft and moist. I endured the pats until he figured from a side glance that I had had enough. I then asked him what he thought it was like before he asked me, and he said that he thought it was going to be rough and dry, and that somehow, it would fall away in his hand. I warned him not to ask me again, or to ask any one else who was black. I said I was being nice to him by letting him touch my hair, because it was not nice to request such a thing.
I hope that he got the message.
Bieber’s not from here, and frankly, he doesn’t want to be American. He’s Canadian and born-again Christian, and his mother is still a big influence on his life, and he hasn’t really lived, just like many of his Beibelievers. Furthermore, there’s American racism and then there’s Canadian racism, despite his easy rapport with Usher and other black recording artists (I’m referring to now-on-the-quiet John Mayer, his self-named KKK penis, and his relationships with other black musicians). Perhaps Justin thought he was being playful and affectionate with Esperanza, the young woman who beat him in the Grammy sweepstakes. Perhaps he was being real, and being nice in an awkward situation as well, but this episode doesn’t exactly fill me with assurances that he’s alright. I think the brothers oughta take him in hand about stuff like this, if they know what’s good for him.