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Writer Recalls Being Called “Disgusting” at the Opera For Wearing Her Natural Hair

Avatar • Aug 18, 2015
https://twitter.com/collier/

https://twitter.com/collier/

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?!

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LBell
LBell
5 years ago

She should have pulled her hair back. When you are in a theater, with seats that you choose and pay for, attending a performance with OTHER PEOPLE, it’s not just about YOU. You have to be considerate of who’s around you, in front of you, and behind you. That couple probably paid for their seats (unlike the writer and her friend) and who knows whether they had to save up for that performance or how long they’d been saving up. This might have been their first time or their only time to see the opera. It’s one thing to sit behind… Read more »

cc
cc
5 years ago
Reply to  LBell

Nah they were old nasty people use to getting their way.

white people
white people
5 years ago
Reply to  cc

agreed

DLB
DLB
5 years ago
Reply to  cc

You are right.

Me
Me
5 years ago
Reply to  LBell

So what would your advice have been if she were just 6 feet tall with slick down hair and still blocked the woman’s vision? Her body is not for others to dictate how she carries it. If that couple wanted to guarantee that their view wouldn’t be blocked they should’ve purchased front row seats.

Andrae Da-Ryte
Andrae Da-Ryte
5 years ago
Reply to  Me

The way your body is to some extent (barring plastic surgery) is not up to you to decide but the way your wear your hair is. It’s like going to the theatre and wearing a big hat, it’s inconsiderate. I don’t even think the “you’re disgusting” comment was aimed at her hair. It was more likely aimed at her attitude. The first thing said didn’t seem rude to me at all. It was her response that brought out the rudeness in him.

lindy_arter
lindy_arter
5 years ago
Reply to  LBell

I understand that the writer has been teased in the past and made to feel inferior because of her hair, looks, etc. So when the guy asked her to pull her hair back, it triggered an emotional response. Instead of taking her anger/hurt out on the people who actually were trying to be offensive and hurtful, she took it out on someone who was actually being polite. Until she got ugly, then all bets were off. I’m 5′2″, so I know how disappointing it is to get behind a tall person at the theater, opera, what-have-you. That’s what makes me conscious… Read more »

Faye
Faye
5 years ago
Reply to  LBell

Cosigning on everything stated here. She was rude and probably a little insecure about her hair. Let’s face it. Some of us are. Thus, any comment about hair gets interpreted as racist and/or demeaning even when it is not.

roo08
roo08
5 years ago
Reply to  LBell

so how do we explain away his calling her and her hair disgusting? DISGUSTING…really? Whether it’s race or not, i bet he wouldn’t go as far to call someone with straight hair that was in an updo of some sort (And blocking views) disgusting. Not saying she was completely in the right but the guy was rude too.

Summer
Summer
5 years ago
Reply to  LBell

Agreed!

Elle P.
Elle P.
5 years ago

So the older white guy was really the one being ‘disgusting’, ‘rude,’ ‘uncivilized’ ‘ignorant’ and ‘immature’ at an opera of all places, smh

Camille
Camille
5 years ago

They should have found another seat. I feel bad she ever thought she had to put it up in the first place. I wish more black women were natural. I hate seeing so many of us walk around with wads of hair in a tight bun on the back of their head. I know it’s preaching to choir here, but there is NOTHING strange or unusual about a black woman with big hair. As long as natural isn’t the default, the hair that grows out of all of our heads will be treated freak show style. Also, if you can’t see,… Read more »

folamix
folamix
5 years ago
Reply to  Camille

The issue to me is not that she wore it natural but that she wore it in such as way that it obstructed another paying customers view. She has the right to wear her hair as she choses; but they also have the right to view the play which they had paid to see. A little consideration would have gone a long way.

Camille
Camille
5 years ago
Reply to  folamix

I personally wouldn’t have worn my hair that way to the opera, but she did. I’m not saying it’s not inconsiderate, but people don’t have the right to dress you down verbally and impose that way- no matter how much their seats cost. If it was that terrible, they should have complained to the usher, not her. What if she didn’t have anything to tie her hair up with? People have to change seats all the time and it’s not the end of the world. Like I said before, there are people whose bodies block views. That has happened to… Read more »

cryssi
cryssi
5 years ago

Ummm, okay so I’m torn on this one. The man was definitely beyond disrespectful and it would have taken every fiber of my being not to snap on him .….but, even though I’m guessing it must not have been a full house since she said he could have moved, I find it inconsiderate when people wear a large hairstyle or accessory to a showing that I paid for and now I can’t see it. That annoys me to no end. Whenever I am wearing my hair in an afro or high puff to the movies I tend to ask the people… Read more »

Victoria Owl
Victoria Owl
5 years ago

Of course everyone has the right to wear their hair as they please. But at the same time, there is a time and place for everything. In certain work professions due to safety, sanitary, and other reasons, we know when it isn’t the best time to wear our hair out big and free. We all know that Afro textured hair is not like the average person’s hair, it can be huge with a personality of it’s own and that’s alright! But considering how close those theater seats can be, if at any point the hair is obstructing another person’s view… Read more »

Shirley goodbody
Shirley goodbody
5 years ago
Reply to  Victoria Owl

What do you mean average ?

Victoria Owl
Victoria Owl
5 years ago

As stated above, it can be huge with a personality of it’s own. Especially considering blacks in America make up only 13.2% of the population. Our hair grows up and or out, it defies gravity and humidity does a number on it. That is not average hair. It’s beautifully unique. So with that said, I would not be surprised if her hair was actually obstructing the person’s view. It happens. In fact, I’m almost certain that her hair was bigger in person than it appears in photo. Looks like she couldn’t fit all of it in the frame. Again, not… Read more »

Camille
Camille
5 years ago

I am a black women in my thirties. I have big hair when I let it be. Turandot is my favorite opera. Nessun Dorma is my favorite aria. Opera houses, as with most theaters, were built for a different size crowd in my opinion. They are extremely tight. I’m fascinated by the geriatric crowd too but I also remember these people were my age in the 60’s and 70’s. Old-fashioned but not genteel. Suggestion, lower your expectations of geriatric strangers. I am all for wearing my hair out as a formal style. I am also aware that it is capable of… Read more »

Elle
Elle
5 years ago

So, for all the ‘concerned citizens’ CHASTISING the writer for HER NATURAL HAIR, do you know what it looked like that night? If it was really even blocking someone’s view? Or are you just so convinced that Mr. Charlie and Miss Anne are always in the right? Do you even care?

The same people ticking off boxes on when and where Blacks have PERMISSION to wear the hair on their heads exactly as it grows OUT, are the same ones screaming when celebs perm their hair or wear straight weaves. Crabs in a bucket — the lot of you!

Twinkle
Twinkle
5 years ago

The old man was a bit mean but I do think she should have been more aware of her hair for the situation she was in because although natural hair is glorious it can obstruct views, especially at the opera.. BUT that still doesn’t give anyone the right to treat her in an embarrassingly rude manner.

Me
Me
5 years ago

I don’t take personal requests for what to do with my hair, especially from strangers. Furthermore, I am not going to change my hairstyle in public without a mirror to verify that I don’t look ridiculous (assuming I was feeling particularly generous one day). Your ticket doesn’t come with the right to choose who sits in front of you, so if you have a hard time seeing, make personal accommodations, not demands. Final note, if her hair was the same as what is shown in the picture, the request was purely outlandish because her hair is not oversized in that… Read more »

Camille
Camille
5 years ago
Reply to  Me

I think a lot of black women are used to being overly accommodating and don’t even know that it’s rude for someone to ask you to tie up your hair.

agman
agman
5 years ago

She should have pulled her hair back. I would have been pissed too.

Blair
Blair
5 years ago

My first experience attending the Opera was in Prague seeing Madame Butterfly. The crowd was mixed, many young and middle aged people. My boyfriend at the time, who is German and older, fit perfectly into the crowd, and I stood out, with my neat and beautiful locs. People looked at us strange because we got box, which were surprisingly cheap ($34.00) and I will never forget the look I got from this family in the next box, the woman looked at me like I did not belong…but the ushers and other people were perfectly fine. I guess the problem *she*… Read more »

MixedChickChloe
MixedChickChloe
5 years ago

All I can say is that I wish some parents will tie back their daughter’s hair on the day when the class portraits are done… even though my daughter is taller than most in her class and she’s being put in the back row, we can hardly ever see her on these precious pics. I’m always conscious of this and I tie up her lovely curls so why can’t others be as respectful?

Eva
Eva
5 years ago

I’m with the old couple! Regardless of race or hair texture, I wouldn’t want someone’s big-ass hair blocking my view either, especially if i’m paying $300+, per person, for tickets. The man may not have been the most tactful, but his original request wasn’t unreasonable. If any part of Meyerson was blocking the view, the couple had the right to ask her to do something about it, so that they too could see the stage and get their money’s worth. As for the man’s ‘disgusting’ comment, it’s not clear from the article if he was referring to Meyerson’s hair or… Read more »

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

I don’t agree with how he talked to her but I think she should have her hair pulled back. I’m short. I already know what it’s like to be behind tall people but I know they can’t become short. But I would think like to think if someone did have the opportunity to be considerate they would. I remember being in a car with some friends and the driver said she could see traffic behind because of my big hair. ok. bun. I wasn’t offended. let it out when I got out. My cousin and I went to a show.… Read more »

DLB
DLB
5 years ago

Would this white man have told a nonBlack woman with a beehive to move? I’ve seen many nonBlack women with big, puffy, teased, curly, buns, pinned up hair, etc. hairstyles. If the person was tall, would this same white man have asked the guy to stoop his body down so his wife could see? According to the original article, one of the floor managers stated this happens all the time, so this sister did nothing wrong. Also, if people READ the original article, the white man did apologize to her, so again, the sister did nothing wrong.

eljjai
eljjai
5 years ago

Again with playing the victim. Ugh. The man asked her nicely first and explained nicely why he was asking and his request was reasonable. How would she feel if those expensive tickets her parents bought her were wasted because she couldn’t see past someone’s bigass fro. Come on.

Liz Abwooli
Liz Abwooli
5 years ago
Reply to  eljjai

Thank you!!!

Robyn
Robyn
5 years ago

Don’t really see a problem. I’ve also asked a lady with huge hair if she could either put it up or move one seat up. For me the bigger issue is that she looks as casual as someone going to the Friday night movies or sundowners at the local dive bar and not the opera with $300+ seats. The opera and the theatre to me are places that you dress up for, and smart dress often requires a hairstyle up and away, e.g. a chignon or a bun. I’ll probably get flak for this comment but I feel that regardless… Read more »

Lakitha Goss
Lakitha Goss
5 years ago
Reply to  Robyn

What ever happened to freedom of self expression.

sanjidude
sanjidude
5 years ago

He could have made his request of her in a more charming manner (i.e. “Excuse me Miss. Your hair is quite lovely this evening, but it’s blocking my wife’s view. Would you mind tying it back? I hope you don’t mind”). There are ways to ask for a favor if you have been properly trained by your parents. His way was the wrong way.

Lakitha Goss
Lakitha Goss
5 years ago

A sista would have been arrested. That man and his wife would have been toothless. I refuse to apologize for the hair that God has blessed me with.

tracena barnwell
tracena barnwell
4 years ago

I would of gotten arrested. People never cease to stop amazing me, when I think someone won’t say something or do something dumb stupid, no matter how irrogrant or racist . they do it tens times worse than I expected . It’s sad the we have to live in a world with these type of people.

marie
marie
4 years ago

This should not be made into a natural hair being disgusting, it is beautiful. No one knows what this lady meant. “It is her hair” yes but why do people have to say that. Whether a wig, weave, or real hair, wear it in a nice updo. There is a place and time for every hairstyle; I believe you should have worn an appropriate style if you knew your hair would be preventing people to see. Natural, straight, curly, weave, lace, braided, dreads, bleached, bald, 1a- 4c, who cares; you still have to do the right thing. There is too much… Read more »

Joanna
Joanna
5 years ago

The writer never claimed the guy picked on her without cause. It seems she agrees her hair could have been blocking the folks behind her view. So, who in their right mind wouldn’t be pissed after paying all this money and can’t fully see the show because of someone’s big ass (AA, Caucasian or Asian, Marsian) hair? Even if he apologized later, I can totally understand where he was coming from. I too would have been more than a bit annoyed, and even if I didn’t, would have wanted to ask her to bun it up or something. And quite… Read more »

Ugonna Wosu
Ugonna Wosu
5 years ago

I don’t know what to say, I’m not sure it’s a race issue so much as she was blocking the way with her hair. I think the author was prepared for a race issue and stood up for herself unnecessarily, and it escalated the situation. I’m sorry for both sides, misunderstandings happen.

Maralondon
Maralondon
5 years ago

The title of the article is very misleading. There is nothing written to suggest that the old white man called the lady’s hair disgusting. I think he was referring to her attitude. The other week I was at the theatre watching a Brazilian dance company. 5 minutes after sitting down a couple sat in front of me and unfortunately the boyfriend’s head partly blocked my view of the stage. It sounds like the writer is making the incident into something it isn’t.

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