“Don’t touch my hair!” ~ Black women from around the world
White women, this is for you…
Growing up, I went to school in predominantly white schools. Hell, I was always the only black girl in my class, until my second year of high school where there were two of us (yay!!!) and at no point do I remember being taught by teachers that it was ok to touch anybody’s hair without their consent, let alone grab it. Sooooo, I have to ask: Do you learn that at home? Is it passed on from generation to generation? Do you hold secret meetings? I mean, really, where does that come from?
Whoever told you that it was a good idea was wrong. Dead wrong.
As a friend, I am asking you politely to stop it.
It is more than ok to be intrigued by it, to like it, to love it, even, but keep your hands to yourself. Be curious, be fascinated – our hair can definitely be fascinating to look at – but do it with your eyes only. It is not worth dying over, I promise you.
The very first time I wore my afro to work in Toronto, a white lady thought it would be a good idea to put her full hand in it while my back was turned. When I say full hand, I really mean it. All five fingers in and her palm touching my scalp. She said she “couldn’t resist”. Listen, I am a pretty dignified and peaceful grown woman, and I was not going to fight her in a crowded subway train at eight-something in the morning but I still had to let her know that this was not a game I liked to play. She almost lost her hand, but she lived to tell. I will just leave it at that…
When I have to say for the millionth time that this hair should not, cannot, will not be touched, what I really want to scream is: “Stop that shit!!!” And I don’t even curse in real life. Only in songs (Can you really sing “Bow Down” without saying “Bitches”?). That’s how strongly I feel about you touching my hair.
I get that it is not a big deal to you and you probably don’t care whether anyone touches your hair, maybe you even welcome it. And that’s great. This is you, though. We are all different and what matters to some of us doesn’t to others. This happens to matter to us, sistahs. A lot. Maybe it is unfair for us to ask you to understand where we are coming from so let’s make a deal: you don’t have to understand any of it, just learn to accept it. Deal?
Most of you don’t even ask, you just reach out and touch it, but those of you who ask always get very offended when our answer is “No”, as though asking the question should have automatically given you permission to proceed. Newsflash: It doesn’t. Although “No” is a complete sentence and I do not owe you an explanation, I am choosing to give you the beginning of one. As black girls and black women, we all have our own reasons not to want people’s hands in our hair, here are some of mine:
-Our ancestors used to be caged, paraded and exhibited at freak shows, at art exhibits, at zoos, as though they were animals and they not only had to endure the dissecting gaze of the curious audience but they also had to relinquish any control over the most intimate parts of themselves.
-Slave owners could do and would do anything they wanted to do to people who looked like me, including inspecting their teeth and hair, and violating their bodies.
-Society as a whole tells me every single day that my hair and my beauty are not the standards. I am required to be mindful of the statements I make with my hairstyles at school, in the workplace and basically everywhere else in between.
-While to you it might seem as though I woke up and was ready to go, whether I am wearing braids, twists, a weave, a wig or my afro out, getting my hair ready requires work and time. I style it with care and love. Don’t mess it up!
-It has already happened way too many times in my life for me to take one more. Don’t be that one.
-I don’t know where your hands have been.
-I am not your pet.
-It’s not yours.
-I don’t like it.
-I don’t want you to.
Maya Angelou used to say “When you know better, you do better.” Well, ladies, now you know.