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Don't Touch My Hair

Some of us are either preparing to go or have already gone back to work or school. Others are going to uni for the first time.These are all a huge part of life, we get to meet new people from all kinds of walks of life. It’s exciting, fascinating and it can be overwhelming, but it’s something to be enjoyed. 

 

As black women we can be conscious of diversity, or lack thereof in the everyday spaces that we occupy, like school and work. We know that sometimes lack of diversity means that you stand out and quite frankly I think we should embrace this difference however, diversity is the goal. Yet, I am aware that the unknown naturally brings about questions which definitely are not a bad thing. So being in a new space where there isn’t much diversity may lead to questions about yourself, your culture and background. Conversation leads to education and tackling ignorance. There’s no such thing as a stupid question… or is there? 


There’s one question (one of many) that should never be asked. Can you guess? Well, if your answer was “Can I touch your hair?” you either have been asked one too many times or you read the title. Either way you guessed right.  Don’t touch my hair isn’t just a song by Solange Knowles, or a book by Emma Dabiri (great read by the way) it’s the appropriate answer to this question. Why? Keep reading to find out.


First and foremost, I must admit I would much rather someone permission to touch my hair, then someone reach out their hand and just touch my hair. This has happened to me before. There was no prior discussion. They just went for it. They thought it was okay to just reach out and grab my braid. Which always invokes one reaction from me - the squinty side eye. You know the one, where your neck slightly sticks out, overtly expressing your confusion. Even when I do get asked the answer is still no, but at least they asked. 


The conversation around this topic is one that has been discussed for a while. The reason being is that for black women our hair is more than just hair it’s actually part of an experience, for which I am grateful, that ties us together. Our hair is loaded with history and stories that are empowering so being asked can I ask if touching your hair has some condensing undertones. 


First and foremost, we’re not pets. Do I think people that ask that question consciously see us as pets honestly, no. It does create a sense of ‘other’ and can cause a sense of alienation that no one wants to feel. Especially in a new environment. The history behind black people seen as objects of fascination to be goggled at,  is one that is long and traumatic. Black people were placed in zoos and forcefully experimented on by scientists. 


Now, I’m not saying that these are equal but there is an element of being patronised and to certain extent dehumanised. It’s an exoticisation, being treated like a brand new object.


Secondly, respect my space and my hair. No one goes around touching each other’s hair - with or without permission. Especially when it’s then followed by statements like ‘it’s softer than it looks’ or ‘it feels like cotton’. It’s weird. It’s not normal social conduct and etiquette so why is it that black women are exempt from this social norm. Please stop, it’s weird.


Thirdly, my hair is tied to my culture. We don’t just get this question when you have your natural hair out, or straightened hair or braids. No hairstyle is immune, but what people fail to realise is that hairstyles are tied to culture. Our braids are there to protect our hair but it has been part of our culture for centuries. Although your admiration is appreciated, let’s not trivialize my hair or culture, by poking and prodding at it - thanks.


As  black women we’ve often had complex relationships with our hair. Often being told our hair is bad or it’s beennegatively described. Having people touch our hair as if it’s abnormal only reinforces those negative stereotypes. 


So, don’t touch my hair. In addition, do not feel obliged to let anyone touch your hair either. Admiring and asking questions about black hair is not a bad thing, it’s healthy to ask questions about things you don’t know. However, touching a black person’s hair is actually dehumanising and very awkward so… stop. Thanks.