WTF Files: Justin Bieber Touches Esperanza Spalding’s Hair

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I think the question, “Who the **** Is Esperanza Spalding?” is getting a rather thorough answer since her Grammy win: incredible jazz instrumentalist/vocalist whose game is recognized by Prince, POTUS Obama, and the Portland Jazz Festival.

And, Best New Artist nominee/competitor Justin Bieber’s answer to the question is: “…and a mixed-race woman who has a pettable afro.”

I first saw the offense on my Tumblr dashboard–and reblogged it: (click on the link if the animated GIF below doesn’t work):

Which came from this source (the “petting” starts at :21):

I guess Usher and nem (yeah, I’m considering Bieber’s mom as a part of “nem”) didn’t school young Bieber on this cardinal rule:

Let alone on the Presumptuous Hand Action, which is what he did.

I thought Spalding was rather gracious about the incident but, as quite a few of us afro-rocking Black women have had to be after such a personal space-invading move least, as one Tumblizen remarked, we “get pegged as an Angry Black Woman”…but in that animated GIF, Spalding looked like she made a split-second decision not to cut Bieber.

Of course, the media has made much of the fact that some of Justin Bieber’s fans hacked Spalding’s wiki page due to the upset. And she was a trending topic on Twitter, much of it from said Bieber fans–and perhaps fans of the other artists who lost to Spalding–who were fuming over it three days later.  Though no one’s articulated it yet, the attacks have a  strangely racialized element to it, namely that the vitriol around a white man losing to a woman of color and how quickly those who identify with that privilege come to defend it by shredding those who challenge it. Just has a certain Tea-Party, “they’re taking our…” contour in the shade-throwing.  So, Bieber’s touching Spalding’s hair–regardless of the complimentary intention behind it–and the vituperations towards her win are linked in the exercise of white privilege: both attempt to made Spalding an object to touch and to dismiss (if not erase) her as a talented person.

In light of this incident, the “who the **** is Esperanza Spalding” question gets replaced with simply with “what the ****?”

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.

Use the "for:racialicious" tag in to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.

Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.

Follow Us on Twitter!

Support Racialicious

The Octavia Butler Book Club

The Octavia Butler Book Club
(Click the book for the latest conversation)

Recent Comments

Feminism for Real – Jessica, Latoya, Andrea

Feminism for Real

Yes Means Yes – Latoya

Yes Means Yes

Sex Ed and Youth – Jessica

Youth and Sexual Health


Online Media Legal Network

Recent Posts

Support Racialicious

Older Archives


Written by:

  • Crsyal1

    He did not ask to touch her hair. He simply just felt as if he was entitled to touch her hair out of nowhere. It’s about respecting people’s personal space and bodies.

  • Anonymous

    In this case the problem is that he asked and then ASSUMED it was all right without giving her time to respond to his request. And then he proceeds to pet her like a dog or something. In general it’s good courtesy to ask before imposing on someone’s personal space, but that’s not what happened here.

    Also, you have to wonder if this is something a person would normally do or if it’s only reasonable when it comes to black people or people with hair that isn’t straight.

    Personally I wouldn’t really want complete strangers touching my hair. And that has happened before. If you’re an intimate it’s fine, but if not at least ask!

  • Anonymous

    When he touched her hair, I covered my face with hands and cringed. He meant no offense but argh, he should know one doesn’t do that! It’s up there with groping a breast or buttock without permission. Oh boy, he still has a lot to learn.

  • Perpetual Explosion

    This is a dude who has no reason to be famous, he’s simply the latest in a long line of talentless, single-use, industry-created devices designed to separate sheltered tweens who don’t know any better from their parents’ money. I can’t say I’m not surprised at all, but it doesn’t come as a shock either. When everything about a celebrity is so artificial, you never know what kind of moronism they’re going to get up to once they’re out of character.

  • their_child

    I truly must be the only black woman alive who has no problem with people touching my hair…ok well it does depend on how it happens. I had a random man in a Mexican convenience store walk across the store, straight toward me to reach out and touch my hair. That was just weird and thankfully the folks I was with jumped in to kick him out the store. But other than that the vast majority of the time someone has touched my hair its been in a conversation about hair and the similarities and differences. If it is obviously complimentary or is done because the person is interested in learning something new, I’m fine with it..

    • Witchsistah

      If you aren’t offended, fine. But that’s YOU. That doesn’t mean BW who ARE offended are bad people (or overly sensitive or “have a chip on their shoulders” or “see race in everything” or that you’re somehow better for your preference. I preferred not to be poked, prodded and pawed like I was an interesting specimen. And at this point in my life, I’d rather not be asked how my body functions either. But then again, that’s ME.

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure you’re not the only Black woman who doesn’t mind being asked.:-D I’m just at a point in my life where I feel like my person isn’t some racially clueless person’s Teaching Moment. Even if I was talking about about hair in all of its glories, I notice that quite a few of those conversations don’t require the other person(s) to touch my hair to grasp that it’s different, even though the person seem to think otherwise. And I’m going to exercise my right to decide who gets to touch any and all parts of my body, full stop.


    What Bieber did to Spaulding goes to show how incapable he still is in treating a black person as a human being, even though he supposedly hangs out with the “black crowd” in music…goes to show having POC friends is not enough if you still manage to disrespect them as human beings.

  • Lyonside

    THANK YOU!! I am mixed, and I’m quite average in the looks department (although of course my spouse finds me gorgeous LOL). The “mixed = beautiful” meme cuts many ways in multiple directions, and somehow manages to dehumanize the pretty and unpretty and mixed and unmixed alike.

  • Witchsistah

    I’ve gotten more notifications of responses to this via email and see no more replies here on the site. I’m not liking this new format of y’all’s.

    • Anonymous

      It’s Disqus. Still a bit wobbly on how it works – I get sporadic email notifications, and I’ve noticed a lot of people double posting. The mods are still ironing it all out. Unfortunately, the switch to Disqus wasn’t a voluntary choice (see: server crash issues) so we’re all going to have to figure it out together.

  • Lyonside

    First he’s a rape apologist [], and now he’s got no CLUE how to treat a black woman like a human being, not to be petted at whim.

    I WAS disgustedly neutral on the Beib. Now, I’m just thinking, how doucheTASTIC of him. GAG.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure it’s not Mumford and Sons and Florence + The Machine fans trashing Spaulding. From what I’ve seen, many of us are fans of both artists/groups, and we’re just grateful Beiber didn’t win. And now we have ANOTHER good artist to check out.

  • autodidactic: mad information

    Just today a white man violated my personal space. I don’t have an afro. My hair is long and wavy. It still fucking sucks. Fuck anyone who would invade your personal space.

  • vixenred24

    If anyone here has had a chance to watch Never Say Never similar themes come out there too when Bieber repeatedly comments on and touches Jaden Smith’s hair they’re rehearsing a duet together. Not a one-off type of moment for the kid.

  • Mickey

    This reminds me of those scenes in “The Karate Kid” with the “Can I touch your hair?” stuff.

  • AngryBroomstick

    Justin Bieber is a 16 years old privileged white boy and I don’t expect him to have any understanding of how fucking wrong it is to ask a Black woman if it’s OK to touch her hair. At least the shitstorm is going to teach a lot of naive dumbasses that this thing is NEVER ok!!

    by the way, Esperanza Spalding is sooo beautiful and I think her afro is gorgeous.

  • Jaya


    Knew someone famous would try to pet her ‘fro. Didn’t think it would be the Biebz.

  • Jane

    Agreed, but Esperanza Spalding is half White (White mother, Black father) and it does show.

    • Angel H.

      What does this have to do with anything? You DO NOT touch a person without their permission. End of discussion.

    • Golden Silence

      What are you getting at here, Jane?

    • Lyonside

      “… and it does show.”

      Jane – what does “showing” have to do with white (male) privilege, the dismissal, denigration, or outright rejection of non-white (or not all-white) people, especially women, and Beiber not learning the preschool rule of keeping your damn hands to yourself?

    • Anonymous

      I’ll give you a half “fair enough,” but not for the reasons you’re stating. There are quite a few mixed-race people who have white moms and black dads and self-identify as black…like that fella currently living in the White House. Also, I know people with black moms and black dads and look like Spalding.

      From what I’ve read, Spalding self-identifies as multiracial, if not mixed-race. So I corrected that in the piece.

  • Margari Hill

    OMG! Only Black folks get petted like that! It has happened to me too. The last incident was when I was in London and a random white British woman asked to touch my hair. Sigh…