a young black woman with dreadlocks twisted on top of her head
Photo by M. M on Unsplash

Allies: Stop Grilling Me About My Locs

Nobody asks you if your ponytail is real.

Winter sneaks into the medical exam room through an exterior brick wall. Ordinarily, pacing would keep me warm, but there’s no free space around the table, and the floor feels sub-zero.

Per the instructions of the acupuncturist who’s left the room to give me privacy for a partial strip, I’ve tossed my coat, sweater, and shirt onto a chair in the corner. My shoes and socks are shoved underneath.

Lying half naked in fetal position, I pull a thin blanket up to my chin. A chart tacked to the wall maps the chi meridians of an anonymous human, their legs and arms spread as if they’re leaning backward into a trust fall.

On NOVA, “Butterfly Blueprints,” a researcher, sitting in a lab, examines a morpho butterfly — iridescent blue, perfectly preserved. A collection of the beauties is mounted in a display case that hangs on the wall behind him. The scientist holds the morpho by a pin that pierces the thorax. As he rotates the pin, the camera captures winking iridescence.

Its coloration attracts females, but also makes the male morpho easy prey for marauding birds. By employing a zig-zag flight pattern, the butterflies evade the predators.

What NOVA does not say: The morphos in the lab did not escape the predation of researchers.

I’ve landed with this particular healer — white — because she practices traditional Chinese medicine exclusively. This exclusivity hints at a willingness to immerse herself in a non-western mindset. I make a naïve leap from she’s studied Chinese culture, to maybe she’s got Chinese friends, maybe black ones, too.

Therefore, I’m hoping to evade the cultural appropriation I associate with chiropractors who offer acupuncture as a side dish. Therefore, I’m hoping to avoid the awkwardness that lurks beneath the surface of interracial interactions. Therefore, I’m hoping to elude the intrusive comments of white folks exhibiting their color-blindness.

I’d like for a person of color to care for my body, but I have no points of reference for people of color. My colleagues, friends, and half my family are white. Ask them do you know a good doctor/dentist/what-have-you, and the recommended what-have-you will be white.

The NOVA researcher is studying the nanoscopic structures in the morpho’s body. Ever so gently, he places a severed wing on a slide under a microscope. His computer monitor reveals the nano technology — layers of scales, like shingles.

Holding the intact morpho, the researcher hones in on the screen. What are the implications of lepidopteran biomechanics for humans? The value of the butterfly rests in its severed part.

“Are you ready?” the acupuncturist calls through the closed exam room door.

“Ready,” I answer.

What I do not say: I’m afraid you’ll try to prove you’re comfortable with black people.

She leans over my prone body. To find the spot that’s causing pain, she kneads my shoulder She moves with deliberation, locates the insertion spot. “You doing okay?” she asks.


There’s an intimacy to this ancient practice that comforts me. The laying on of hands. A human-to-human connection that transcends centuries.

I relax.

“Let’s work on your migraines.” Ever so gently, she inserts a needle into my eyebrow. Poised for another insertion, she pauses. She’s examining my locs through her spectacles. “Is your hair religious?”

I zig-zag across the decades. What the hell did you do to your hair? Is that your hair? Let me touch your hair. Does your hair hurt? How does it stay like that? Your hair causes headaches. Extensions, right? Great wig. Let me pat your head. How long does it take every night? I want your hair.

“Is your hair religious?”

I’m pinned to the table, a specimen.




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