Steele graciously leaned forward and Sonnen took a huge hand full for her hair and said, “I love your hair btw. Has that every happened to you before? Because everyone that sits in this chair is thinking it I assure you. That’s real hair people and it’s very soft I might add.”
After the exchange, Sage Steele tweeted the following.
Why am I writing about this if Steele was not offended by Sonnen’s request to touch her hair? The answer is really simple, he treated her like a curiosity for all of the world to see. It’s hair and yet Black hair is treated like an oddity and that is “othering”. I cannot see Sonnen asking the same question to a White person. The fact that he was surprised that Steele appeared on television with her own hair and that it is indeed soft is really rather telling.
Treating people like a curiosity is not okay and though Steele was fine with Sonnen’s behavior, both his request to touch her and subsequent comments about how soft her hair is, only reified his privilege on a national stage. It further cemented the idea that Black female bodies are available and open. Seeking permission before an offensive act, does not make the act itself or the intentions behind the act any less offensive.
Steele is more than free to do what she wants with her body and so I will not challenge her right to grant access to Sonnen but her acceptance does not negate the problematic nature of his request. He should also be forewarned that Steele is an individual and such a request of another Black woman may not yield the same response.
I know that there are some Black women going on about how Sonnen has just opened the door to a Black girlfriend and see his comments as complimentary but for me this reeks of internalistion of racist and sexist ideals. What Sonnen said can only be viewed as complimentary if you have internalised the idea that all Black hair is bad, or if you need the approval of Whiteness to feel acceptable in your own skin.
I am sure that I will be writing more pieces about the desire to turn Black women into a petting zoo because this does not seem to be a trend that is going anywhere soon.
Editors Note: I don’t want to see comments about how you’re White and some person of colour touched your hair because it’s not the same thing.