Towards the end of last week, there was quite a buzz about a social experiment called ‘You Can Touch My Hair’. Organised by Antonia Opiah, founder of hair blog Un’Ruly, it was a public art performance giving people the opportunity to explore the tactile fascination with black hair.
For two hours on Thursday and Saturday, these three women let curious passersby touch their hair.
There have been mixed reactions. Quite a number of women feel it was unnecessary, degrading, dehumanising, fetishizing, objectifying… we could go on.
I never try to invade anyone’s personal space and yes, hair touching without permission is intrusive. It’s rude, it’s not something you should do.
I’d like to point out at this point that 2 out of 3 of the women that took part in the experiment are not fans of people touching their hair. Joliana, the model with the locs said she volunteered to help herself confront her tolerance issues with people touching her hair. And Malliha, the model with the fro said she was interested in knowing the reasons why people wanted to touch her hair. And on a slightly unrelated note, Jade, the weaved up model said people tried to convert her as she held the sign. LOL.
Our hair is part of our history. Yes. So it wasn’t surprising to me when I started reading about natural hair and the natural hair community and discovered that many kinky-curlies have an aversion to white people touching their hair. The media has also not helped in awareness about black hair. There seems to be a standard of beauty and this on many platforms, is not us. Society consistently tries to stifle kinks- for more people, straight is better. I don’t really care about what the blanket “they” think, but I’m just trying to say that by no means is this attitude from black women irrational.
A few interviewed participants admitted to be surprised about the texture of our hair. One said she expected it to be greasy, oily. I really don’t know what about our hair looks greasy or oily but anyway sha- this was supposed to be a platform to educate people about black hair, right?
Well, to this, it’s also easy to ask why we should be the ones to educate. People are ignorant because they aren’t curious at all or because they aren’t curious enough to google or ask questions on their own and satisfy that curiosity.
NOT AN ANIMAL AT A PETTING ZOO
According to this article in the Huffington Post, most of the people that ventured to touch the women’s hair were people of color. Maybe white people didn’t want to because they felt it would be racist or inappropriate.
BUT people are really clueless about kinky hair. For real. I was too. I remember watching Big Brother Africa one year (I was in secondary school) BBA3 I think, and I loved Lerato’s hair. I was confused about how it could be long today, short tomorrow but I left it at that.
I got my first relaxer before I was 7. One of the reasons I was so scared about going natural was that I honestly could not remember what my kinks looked like. I had short hair throughout secondary school but I got a cut every 6 weeks or so- so I truly had no idea.
I’ve had my twa touched, pinched, pulled several times and all of them were by my fellow Nigerians. People really are curious. People really don’t know what to expect. So I allow it, I’m not mad. For many, shrinkage is a mystery so they pull my hair out and are surprised at how long it really is. My hair as I like to say, is the coiliest of coilies. It doesn’t get kinkier than 4C hair. So when people feel my hair and it’s soft (on good days lol), not what they expected, I feel like YES. If MY hair is like this, the excuse of “uh, natural hair is difficult and unmanageable”, becomes invalid.
AND we aren’t the only people that get our hair touched. In secondary school, we had this Canadian-Indian teacher Ms. Archer for a few months. She was in my class one day and people asked to touch her hair. I wasn’t interested, I didn’t touch it, but I wasn’t disturbed that my classmates wanted to do so. Hair in general, is fascinating to me. I love seeing healthy luscious hair of every texture. Dr. April Kepner (on Grey’s Anatomy) can be so annoying but her hair gives me a few seconds of life.
So here’s what I think:
Is this experiment interesting? Yes.
Has it started a conversation? Kinda. I mean, I am talking about it here, aren’t I? But I think it has sparked more questions about race and privilege than about hair itself. I’ve read different comments sections and a lot of the angles are great points for a sociology class. The hair angle is being discussed mostly by the people that care lol and that’s basically the natural community.
I think this may be like the N-word. We can use it, but others can’t. Black people may be comfortable with other black people touching their hair, but feel a little pissed when people of other ethnicities want to try.
I don’t think a white person touching my hair makes me an animal at the zoo though. I think it’s just good old universal curiosity.
As Antonia Opiah said, it’s important to understand the exhibit simply as a social experiment, not a movement inviting the world to reach out and touch the head of the next black woman they see.
Whatever your roots are, please ask before you touch someone’s hair. It is a rude intrusion on personal space if you just reach out your hand to touch. I know our hair is beautiful and all but please try. ^.^
So, tell me- do you let people touch your hair? Do you touch other people’s hair? What are your thoughts on this experiment and hair touching in general?