In college I went to a friends house for an all nighter. Suddenly the sun was burning my eyes. I was gross, in surrounded by papers, in yesterdays clothes and reeked of the crushing weight of deadline stress.
“Hey, can I use you shower?” I asked a friend.
“ Sure,” He says yawning and hands me a towel. “Use anything in the bathroom.”
Half sleep I walked out and hopped into the shower, glanced around and saw a bottle of head and shoulders and a bar of soap. I shook my head at the “conditioner”, and stepped back out.
“Hey, you didn’t give me a washcloth.”
“ a what?”
This, my friends is when I knew something was really wrong.
“A cloth? For your body? To wash with?” I said. Thinking back to the bar of soap… no… he couldn’t.
“That’s what the soap is for. Gesturing to running it over his body.”
What I’d incorrectly assumed that Black and White Americans shower in the same way.
I left that day after rinsing off, and not touching that soap, with a sudden understanding. All those movies with white people showering by running a bar of soap over their body was real. To this day, I don’t use bars of soap, nor expect a wash cloth, (or wash rag) in certain house holds.
When guests are away, Black bathrooms often have a few smaller square clothes drying on the racks, on the curtain rod or somewhere else. Houses with kids often have a variety of colors. These cloths and the towels that go with them are NOT the decorative towels found on the shelf, back of the toilet, or otherwise hanging. These pristine, cream/white, embroidered, towels are not for use, only for Black mom’s staging.
Once puberty hits some girls/women graduate to poofs, but when visiting other homes there will always be an extra wash cloth.And many use a wash cloth just for the face then. Some homes share soap but many people have their own.
It’s the little things.
It’s the little cultural differences that we overlook when addressing diversity.
*please do remember how generalizations work before getting sensitive about this.
If, you are having Black guests over this is an easy way to help them feel more at home. Provide a wash cloth, public-use lotion, conditioner that actually works, and not the same soap bar you use directly on your genitals. We will, for sure, do the same for you!