Monday, August 19, 2013

White People's Weird Obsession With Black People's Hair

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Bill de Blasio his son Dante de Blasio
In June, three black women stood in Union Square holding signs that read YOU CAN TOUCH MY HAIR. "It was a brave social experiment and public art piece," the Village Voice reported, because this is something black women have to deal with regularly: one of the models, with a "soft, wavy 'fro," told the paper someone asks on a daily basis to touch her hair. "It's like you're an outsider, you're something strange," another model said.

Last week, Colby Hamilton, DNAinfo's City Hall reporter (who is white, judging by his photo), filed a 600-word story about Bill de Blasio's 15-year-old son Dante, who came to some prominence following a popular advertisement. Or, rather, he filed 600 words about Dante's hair. (De Blasio, as you should know, is white. He's married to a black woman, and his children are black, at least according to the way we determine race in America.) It was, for me, the last straw after months of weird media obsession about de Blasio's kid's head.

Hamilton refers to Dante's "striking Afro," his "inspired hairdo," and his "fabulous 'fro," all in just six paragraphs; he reports on how the kid maintains it: which products and combs he does or doesn't use, family friends who help maintain it, pop-cultural inspirations, and more. It's ridiculously detailed: "Riqui Braithwaite, who befriended Dante's mom Chirlane McCray many years ago, has been cutting Dante’s hair from a young age. She only uses scissors, no electric clippers."

It's hard to read this story without thinking of that Union Square model's words about being treated as something strange, to read it as anything other than fetishizing physical difference. But Hamilton can hardly be singled out; he just managed to get the exclusive most other reporters surely wanted. Media outlets, following the lead of Twitter, have been focused on the kid's hair since de Blasio announced his candidacy with his wife and son outside their Park Slope home in January.

If you type "dante de blasio" into Google, the first (and only) auto fill suggestion is "dante de blasio afro." The Observer ran a piece in January titled "The Secret Behind Dante de Blasio’s Afro," which considered Bill de Blasio's musical tastes and those of his son. This was after the Times had run a piece called "De Blasio’s Announcement Is Upstaged by Son’s Hair." The Daily News' Celeste Katz called Dante's haircut "a stupendous afro." This is just a small but representative sampling of the general tone of coverage. There's even a Twitter account called Dante's Hair (that, so far, hasn't tweeted anything).

You could read the kid's hair as political, a powerful statement of pride in natural African hair, which could appeal to voters, black or otherwise. But most media coverage thus far hasn't been about that; instead, it reads like a city's entire political class asking, "can we touch it?"

Follow Henry Stewart @henrycstewart

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