Collier Meyerson is a writer for Fusion.net who recounts a story that almost sounds too incredible to be true… Almost. It’s a story of black women’s bodies being viewed as offensive, of a culture clash and a generational clash. It all started with her receiving a Christmas gift from her parents — tickets to the opera;
On Christmas morning, my parents gave me two tickets to the Opera for the first weekend in January. “It’s the orchestra, Collier,” my Poppi says. “Real good seats. You’re going to get to see the action up close.” My eyes bulge something wild when I look down and see the ticket prices: $307.50 each. They’re an aging middle class pair who don’t got millions in the bank.
I take my friend Allison because I know she’ll revel in the hundreds of dead animals draped over the hundreds of close-to-dead humans with me. I love the opera more for the pageantry of New York’s stale, geriatric elite than I do for the ornate costumes, the larger-than-life sets.
And it is true that the opera is a geriatric affair considering 75% of the cinema audience are 65 or over and 30% are over 75. And still, Meyerson looked forward to having the ‘old world’ experience. Until this happened…
In the theater, a man taps my shoulder. “Excuse me, dear,” he says, with that almost-extinct thick New York accent. “Can ya put yah hair up? My wife has to sit on her coat in order to see past all that. And then you know of course the people sitting behind my wife won’t be able to see past my wife because she has to sit on the coat.”
I feel woozy. A giant fat frog crawls in my throat, then jumps like lightning straight down to my bowels. I’m on a roller coaster with a drop so high it’s illegal. I can’t find the words to reply to him. I only have a vision of my mom popping me real hard across my face for letting the old white man see me cry. She’s a militant “do not let the white folks win” type of broad.
So I don’t cry, and I don’t talk. I do sheepishly pull my hair into submission.
She eventually realizes that this man has no right to tell her to adjust her body for his comfort, and this upsets him.
I close my eyes real quick and summon that deep black woman courage that I’ve seen in my mom so many times. I pull my phone out, hit record, turn around and tell the old man in the calmest voice I own that I’ll be taking my hair out for the remainder of the opera.
“You’re disgusting,” he barks.
I laugh nervously.
“No, you know what, you’re really disgusting,” he says again, cementing his position. “Who comes to the opera with hair sticking straight out of their head like that?” He’s crossed into full-blown rant territory.
My friend Allison pleads with him. “It’s her hair, sir. It’s just her hair.” I tell him a different version of what I’ve been practicing through the whole first act. “There’s an army of ushers here. Someone can help you find another seat if you’re unhappy with my hair.” He tells at me that I’m the one who needs to find another seat. His wife chimes in, saying, “You used to be nice but now you’re mean.” Clearly, I tell her, we don’t really know each other.
Meyerson goes on to recount that the opera staff were unconcerned about her treatment and flippantly told her to call police if she wanted to report it.
This incident brings to mind Teyonah Parris’ run-in with an old man who fondled her hair and called it stimulating. These are distrubing reminders that America is a culture where black women were only recently given full agency over their bodies and, even still that agency is challenged, compromised or discredited altogether.
Read Collier’s full account here.
Ladies what are your thoughts?!