Black Hair and Autism Politics
I don't care what he does or does not do for the rest of this administration. Because of this picture, part of me will always love President Obama. This image matters more to me than him appointing the first autistic person (ever) or saying he supports gay marriage (finally), even though I'm autistic, gay, and white.
The boy in the picture is Jacob Philadelphia:
“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.
Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.
“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.
As Jacob patted the presidential crown, Mr. Souza snapped.
“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.
“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.
I wish every little boy who looks like the President could touch his hair, if he wanted to.
And I wish every little girl knew what it was like to see someone like her as president, too. And could touch her, too, if that made it real. And know that someone just like her can be anything.
We need to see people like ourselves.
Especially when we are young.
Especially when who we are is devalued.
And maybe especially when we tend be visual thinkers who are very literal in our understanding of language.
I was reminded of Jacob and President Obama, by Melissa Harris Perry's recent segment on Black hair.
Ta-Nehisi Coates praises MHP's willingness to go on television and try to educate people about race. I think many autistic people will relate to some of what he says about resenting needing to explain himself to the dominant group:
When I went to work at Washington City Paper in 1996, there were no other black people in the newsroom. Jokes flew around in meetings which I had zero access to, and it became clear that if I were going to continue working there--much less in the field of writing, itself--I would have to get acculturated. I think, in varying degrees, all black people in the working world go through this. No one explains white people to us. There are no manuals. We either figure it out, or we get left behind.There are merits to that kind of learning, but my aversion toward education is not always so pure. The fact is I resent having to explain, even as I know that without explanation we can't really move forward. It is great thing to see this discussion on a national cable network. More, it's just a really, really good segment. Watch it.
"To keep my hair the same texture as it grows out of my head is looked at as revolutionary -- why is that?"
To use my body in ways that are comfortable for me in public is also considered revolutionary.
But I decided to share this segment with you because of the story Harris-Perry tells about a 9-year-old girl who watches her show because she loves seeing the host's braids. Her mother wrote that seeing someone with that hair on television tells her that her dreams for herself can come true:
She know that she can be pretty, smart, and wear her braids.