08 1 / 2013

Of all the random questions I get about America or being a mzungu, my favorite questions are about the logistics of being white. These are questions I feel very confident answering, as I feel that over the past thirtysome years I’ve earned the right to speak on behalf of pale Americans of European descent.

Before the holidays I held a workshop on skin and hair.

“So is this what you call a sunburn?” Fred says, touching one of the freckles on my arm.

“No,” I reply, “that’s just a dark spot that is always there. It’s called a freckle. Let me show you a sunburn.” I remove my watch and show him the difference in skin color – a white stripe against a pink background. He and Isika are concerned about this coloring. They are concerned it might hurt. It does, but only a little.

“And is your hair wet!?” Isika asks, actually holding the end of my hair in his hands.

“Yes, I wash it every day.”

“But how will it dry? And won’t it ruin your hair?”

And I explain the difference between white and black hair, but he’s still suspicious. Until later, when we’re tramping through the mud to a group meeting and he picks up the ends of my hair again. “Nicole,” he says, clearly surprised, “you were right. Your hair is completely dry.” 

I do believe I could have pulled out a magic wand and disarmed him with a shout of “Expelliarmus!” and at that moment, the magic of my dry hair would have seemed more perplexing.