Seinfeld of the day: "Should we be talking about this?"
Perhaps you were wondering where I was going with this baby-touching post. I hope I can throw some thoughts out without sounding too nutters. I may need my favorite college soc major to help me out.
As y'all noted, people like to touch babies, even if they don't know them. That's understandable to some extent, depending on the situation.
The skin thing I can let go because it's usually just a hand, which baby herself reaches out or could pull away, and it's usually baby-loving adults talking about how soft baby skin always is. If someone seems amazed at the softness I just smile and with my best Queer Eye for the Straight Guy voice say, "Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!"
But I have really been noticing the head-touching lately and it's starting to bother me. It's just really, really too much like petting sometimes. I love her curls too, but she's not a poodle, people.
I let a lot of things go because it's teenagers who are the most frequent offenders--probably 75 percent--and I know they just plain don't have much sense of certain social graces like personal space and baby boundaries. Let alone, here where we live, extra sensitivity to how it might look and feel for them to be so grabby with the only black child in sight or the knowledge that just because she's black doesn't mean she'll grow the kind of massive disco-funk afro they think would be flippin' sweet.
And now I think that's exactly why I need to not let it go so much: lest they think it's okay to touch a black baby's (or any baby's, actually) head without hesitation or asking, and so think it's okay to touch a black three-year-old's head/hair any old time, without asking. And then a ten-year-old's hair. And a fourteen-year-old's hair. And then that poor only black girl on her dorm floor's hair (because I recall this interview I did at my 90% white college with the school's minority student representative and how she mentioned how while the black students were all for talking openly about race, it gets awful tiresome to have everyone wanting to feel your hair all the time). And God forbid they develop some kind of embarrassing Barbara Walters pawing compulsion. Newsflash: Black people don't like random people touching their heads. (Also, this just in, parents don't like random people touching their babies!)
So why did I ask this on MLK Day? Well, first of all, it was just on my mind because I'd noticed a lot of head-patting on our last outings (and yes, it's starting to mess up her hair), and I was wondering how to politely discourage this. Then I wondered how other parents deal with this and realized that it probably wasn't a major concern for most of my white friends with white babies. Of course, as your comments noted, we all deal with the touching to some extent, because people just can't seem to keep their hands off of babies. But I'm telling you, it's like her hair is magnetized for some people. And here, I think, is the important difference: If your child is white, you never have to wonder if people are touching her because she's black. (You also don't get hair care questions or all those afro jokes.)
When you don't have to think about a problem that other people have to deal with, that's called a privilege. In this case, an example of white privilege. I'm not mad about it or anything; obviously we signed up for this, and it's more of an observation than a problem at this point. I'm just a sociology nerd who found it interesting that while some people would say this privilege doesn't even exist, here I'd found an example to add to my personal list (right after inability to purchase inconspicuous Band-Aids).
Maybe you think I'm thinking too much about this. Maybe you're thinking, as Peggy McIntosh puts it, "my chief worries about [my white children] do not concern others' attitudes toward their race." But that's my point: they don't have to if your child's in the majority. I'm just saying that if you've never thought about how people react to your child's race at all--never wondered how to keep well-meaning curiosity from one day turning into a lot of burden for a little girl to bear--well, isn't it a privilege that you don't have to worry about that on top of all the other worries about creepy grabby people in general and plastics leeching into food and the icecaps melting and yada yada yada?
All I can tell you is that from my observation, people touch my girl's hair a lot. So the next question is, how do I reverse this trend? I think my new rule might be if you're not holding her, don't touch her (head). If she reaches her hand out to touch you, that's different, of course. But I've never once seen her thrust her head at someone. And I'm just sayin', there's a difference between needing one of these:
and also needing one of these:
We'll take one of each, please!
Postscript disclaimer: If you're a friend or relative reading this, don't worry, I probably don't mind you touching my baby.