“This wasn’t the first time she touched me and it wasn’t the only place. She repeatedly touched me, inappropriately. I complained, nothing happened. So she thought she had a license to my person. And she exercised that right – in a meeting, led by my Manager, with everyone in my office. And they. Did. Nothing.”
Oh the kink in my curls – I love my hair. I love every which way my Afrocentric natural hair displays, how my curls hug together tightly when wet, and how many hours it takes to detangle and style. My hair is beautiful the way it grows but one day I decided to cut it. It wasn’t really my choice, I just had to.
You see, I was having a bit of a problem fitting into my unit…well the women had a problem with my image in the unit. There was some curiosity as to how my hair defied gravity. Colleagues I consulted for advice suggested that my thick afro-puff was distracting. So I agreed to take responsibility and believed that “less was more.” I was counting down the days to my vacation and thought little of it as I admired my reflection. It would be another ordinary day. How wrong I was.
Taking my seat at the conference table, I was all smiles engaging in small talk with my coworkers. My Manager started the weekly office meeting by going over the schedule of work assignments. From the corner of my eyes, I saw my coworker enter the meeting room and sit behind me. I stiffened…but I dismissed my discomfort, reassured by the fact that this was a professional organization in a serious meeting at THE WORLD BANK.
Instinctively, I leaned my body forward anyways, going in closer in a futile attempt to have some distance from her. She had a habit of touching me in spite of my protests, I had complained before but it had no effect. My Manager didn’t believe me and he thought I was being too sensitive. As I recalled this, I got lost in a tense moment of thought, when I noticed that my Manager sounded weird. His face was turning bright red, and his eyes widened. Was he staring at me? It was too late when I realized WHY.
I felt strange thin fingers massage my scalp. I suffered their passage through my curls as they ascended, ripping through stubborn knots. I sensed my curls scream as childlike digits unwantedly made their way in and out. Violated, my hair whimpered as her tentacles dove in again and moved across my head. Twisting my chair to confront her, I shouted out “I knew it!” Pinned by the table, I had no escape from her public onslaught. Her hands were still lingering, hovering near me.
Pleadingly, I turned to my Manager now a witness along with the entire office. EVIDENCE!! I wasn’t making it up. His attention was stolen by my colleague shifting his weight away from me in an exaggerated manner, as he said, “Why do you people always have to be so loud?” This white American male was staring at me with such contempt, that I felt like an outcast, for sure this was some stereotype. I returned his stare begging for empathy, he had also seen everything happening but chose to chastise me for my reaction. I was raw with pain – physical and emotional.
Once again my eyes locked with my Manager’s, expectantly. He seemed unable to process an appropriate response to either of them. The knife twisted in my heart and I could no longer handle the humiliation. I understood. I wasn’t entitled to a rescue. I didn’t know if I had permission to cry or leave, I certainly had NO PERMISSION to protest.
All I could do was politely endure.