It seems no matter whether we are born with straight tresses, curly tresses, blonde, red or coal black hair, hair is a loaded issue for most women regardless of race. The dance of frustration seems to start early in life as I am learning with my own almost 8 year old daughter. We want what we don’t have and what we have frustrates us to no end.
I have had more than my fair share of hair struggles. I spent more than a third of my life trying to tame my tightly curled hair into something that would hang down and bounce. Oh it would hang and bounce, but as a Black woman with kinky hair, I paid a high price to achieve what was not natural for me and one day in my late 20’s, I said enough. I was tired of the weekly visits to the salon, tired of sleeping with a scarf on head, tired of fearing the rain and really tired of the $200+ a month I was spending to achieve straight hair.
So after months of thinking about it, one day I went to the salon and told my then stylist to cut it all off. I went from shoulder length hair to approximately two inches of tight coils that looked like a more feminine version of my Dad and brother’s hair.
Yet even the decision to wear my hair in its natural texture has not been without stresses, that’s how I know that hair is a journey for all women. In the 12 years since I started wearing my own natural textured hair there is another journey that I have encountered and that is people wanting to touch my hair. Back when I had chemically straightened hair, I don’t recall anyone (complete strangers) asking to touch my hair, yet in the past decade plus, I have encountered more than a few eager people wanting to know about my hair and yes touch it.
As a Black woman this is just another part of the Black experience, now that Black women wearing their own natural textured hair has become more normal. So has the increase in non-Black people expressing interest in our hair. This week in New York City a group of Black women decided to hold an interactive public art exhibit where Black women were willing to let people/strangers touch their hair and ask questions. The event was dubbed ‘You Can Touch My Hair’ and when I first heard about it; I honestly thought it was a joke.
Historically in the United States while all women have suffered indignities and a lack of ownership for the bodies, for Black women it was worse. There is a historical precedence in this country of whites having a fascination with Black female bodies and them using that fascination to further dehumanize and denigrate Black women. Lest you think I am reaching into the annals of far flung history, have you ever read any commentary about Serena William’s body? The legacy of the Hottentot Venus still lives on today for Black women, so the idea of willingly allowing anyone to touch any part of my body including my hair as a teachable moment, just doesn’t sit well with me at all.
Perhaps it is because I have had too many people just walk up to me and assume a familiarity that never existed and just start touching my hair. The funny thing is never in my life have I ever been curious enough about white hair to either touch it or ask to touch it. It wouldn’t feel right to me and I would never want anyone that I consider a friend to feel uncomfortable.
So while the younger generation may be willing to wade in the murky waters of racial difference and play a vital role in providing a teachable moment to people. This crotchety old Black woman is just going to have to sit this one out and say no. No, you cannot touch my hair.