My Hair Shows Me Anti-Blackness Exists Everywhere
My Blackness put me in a position to been seen as inhuman — and my Americanness forced me to accept it
I last got my hair cut in March 2018, one and a half years before I first began my four-month stay in Vietnam. My hair is coarse and nappy. It’s untamed and sprawls out everywhere, but I like it that way because it lets me accept my Blackness in its natural state.
Every time I ventured out in the Southeast Asian country, my hair gave me an unwarranted celebrity status. I was in Vietnam on a scholarship to study abroad. Although unconventional compared to the traditional European study abroad experience, I knew it was where I wanted to study because of its anti-colonial revolutionary history. But I didn’t know that in Vietnam, many folks have a deep desire to emulate Black culture — they’re inspired by Black hairstyles, rap, and hip-hop. And because of Westernization and its obsession with cultural appropriation, it is easy for them to separate those Black features from Black people.
Western culture is constantly being consumed in the country through film, music, and social media because it’s perceived as the most modern. And because Black folks are often not given credit for driving the force of American pop culture, their contributions are lumped in as just purely Western. Frequently, this forced me into a caricature of myself — a prop to be passed around for joyous consumption.
We had just finished bargaining for 10 minutes. It was my last full day in Vietnam, and I wanted to buy beads for my family back home, but I struggled with the idea of what they stood for. Once a symbol of status and prestige for Vietnamese people, the beads were now trivialized into cheap, colorful knickknacks for tourists.
The small market was still untouched, more than 60 years after the French had left the country. The brown fixtures on the walls, once gold, could no longer reflect faces, while the high ceilings and open space made me feel alone. I was a little brown droplet within a sea of White travelers. I watched them parade around in their matching tropical outfits, gawking at mass-produced symbols of Vietnamese culture.