My hair, my head and no, you can’t ever touch it!

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.

My hair a few years ago...people were always reaching out and touching me.
My hair a few years ago…people were always reaching out and touching me.

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.

Don’t Touch Me

The following is a repost from July 2010 but in light of all the buzz regarding a certain CNN piece on Black woman and our hair, it still seems pretty relevant.

It’s another hot day up here (when will they end?) and I have a long day since I will be taking part in a community forum as part of my job this evening. So I suggested to the Spousal Unit and son, that we have lunch at Pizza Hut since I am in no mood to cook, thanks to a summer cold, oppressive heat and work. So the family came to pick me up from the office and we hit the local Pizza Hut.

It was a good time despite the lousy food, when I suddenly feel someone touching my hair. I look up and see an elderly white woman muttering something about nice, beautiful and I just wanted to touch your hair. Wait! What the fuck are you doing? I start trying to avoid her gnarled hands like I was Neo in the Matrix, moving closer to my daughter in the booth and even putting my hand up saying “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR

It’s not the first time in my 8 years in Maine I have had a white person reach out and attempt to touch my hair, after all I did have dreadlocks for 5 years but this was the first time I have ever encountered someone who did not respect my desire to stop trying to touch me. For a millisecond I felt reduced to less than human status and even my husband who is a laid back man told the woman “Please don’t touch my wife’s hair” There was a second when I thought he was about to lay hands on Granny. Eventually she and her party moseyed on with her no doubt wondering what the issue was, but damn it, don’t touch my hair.

Look, I realize seeing a Black woman with braids may be a novelty but reaching out to touch one is just a bad idea and frankly the only thing that stopped Granny from getting her fingers broke was the fact that she was elderly. I am still not sure if that was a great idea but hey, I was raised to treat folks with respect even when its questionable if they deserve it.

So to my fellow humans of the white hue, don’t ever reach out and try to touch a Black woman’s hair…it could be hazardous to your health.

Oh my poor coif!

The past several posts have been a bit more on the serious side so I say it’s time to lighten the mood and what better way to do that than by talking hair. Get a group of Black women together and after a few hours of conversation inevitably the talk will turn to hair. Let me say as my Granny used to say and I am slightly paraphrasing but my hair is giving me the flux! Older black folks always have the best damn expressions but seriously, yes my hair is working my last nerve.

Let’s recap for those who haven’t been long time readers, I have had natural hair now for about 10 years or so yet I am not a hair person. What does that mean? It means I have never been the type of gal to just play in my hair for the fun of it. Shit, I can’t even braid hair! (Y’all see now why I live in Maine, I lack some of those skills it’s assumed all Black girls have…I had to hideaway in Maine) Yet my lack of hair skills is coming back to haunt me in a big way.

When I made the leap from relaxed hair to going natural, I kept it simple by just cutting all my hair off. No, really I took it from almost shoulder length to about 1.5 inches total. That was heaven, talk about wash and go, which was the ultimate wash and go. Then I decided maybe I should grow my hair out so I did that for a while and when I got tired of wrapping shit around my hair combined with my mother’s passing I decided it was time for dreadlocks. I had dreads for 5 years and in 2009 decided it was time to let them go. They had become physically and spiritually heavy and the lessons I needed to learn during that process had been learned. So I cut em off but this time rather than an inch or so of hair on my head I kept a good 4-5 inches. Since cutting my dreads, I have let my hair grow out and last year started having my hair braided on a regular basis. I admit I enjoyed the braids for a while but recently after taking them out (my braider uses some extensions) realized that my hair is extremely dry and really not in great shape. I have not had a haircut or trim since 2009 and my hair is all kinds of confused.

Now I know all about the various hair styling tutorials on You Tube and sites like Nappturality, etc as far as places to get hair information. I gotta be honest those places overwhelm me, the other day I spent damn near 3 hours on Nappturality and walked away confused as hell. First off in many cases when folks recommend types of products to use, um….I live in Maine, so my access to shit is greatly limited. While I love products like Oyin Handmade, it’s a pain in the ass to order products which take a week to arrive and then you realize oh this shit doesn’t work in my hair. Hand crafted products like Oyin are just high enough with shipping and time that honestly dropping dollars to get something that may or may not work is really not a gamble I want to take.

The other day my hair was crying out for some TLC, it needed me to make sweet love to it. So off I went to find some products. I realize these may not be the best products but at least my hair looks a little happier. I washed with Pantene’s Relaxed & Natural Shampoo for women of color, and then did a deep conditioning with Palmer’s Deep Conditioning Protein Pack, and then I twisted my hair using Cantu’s Shea Butter Leave in Conditioner Repair Cream. I have also taken to adding a dab of Cantu’s Daily Oil Moisturizer. If nothing else my coif while messy most certainly smells good.

But good people what I need help with is styles, in the past I would rock a wash and go afro puff up high, but in light of the dryness I am trying to stay away from washing daily…my hair seems to be saying no more. The other day I did this adorable side roll thingy that while cute the man said made me look matronly. Oh dear. I would love to rock some two strand twists but mine are not for public consumption…they look horrible though they make for a decent twist out the next day though a tad wild.

I know I have some sistas who read here who are natural; tell me what you are doing with your coif? More importantly if you live in a non urban area what do you do for hair products? I should add I used to try to get stuff from the health food store like jojoba oil, etc but that turned my hair extra greasy but not moist if that makes any sense. I want a moist head of hair, I don’t want to be mistaken for salad dressing!