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.

Sistas…let’s get positive!

Note, this post is not for the squeamish. I am talking about sex today so feel free to redirect if you are related to me or under 18 or….

I am not a fan of the Oppression Olympics as a general rule, but as an open minded and thinking gal, well sometimes there are exceptions to the rules. I am not the first blogger of color nor will I be the last to note that since Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House, suddenly the world is curious about us Black women. I mean shit; the First Lady of the Divided States is a Black woman! Yikes!

Since late 2008 I have read more reports about our wooly heads that some of us are learning to love or else beat into submission. (Guess the state of Black women and our hair didn’t matter before 2008) Then there is the sorry state of romantic life for Black women, it seems at least once a month yet another piece is churned out lamenting the pathetic state of love for Black women. Shit and those are the more complimentary pieces written about us. Let’s take a detour to the less flattering sides and you will learn about how poorly we live, we are broker than broke and then some of us are just “bad” mothers. Of course we can thank ole Ronnie Reagan for creating the mythical welfare mother image, a Black woman with a passel of kids looking for Uncle Sam to finance her brood since of course she has no man and she is too lazy to work! Never mind that the data says otherwise, the average welfare recipient is white, yet for most when they think welfare recipient they see a woman of color.

Yet negative imagery of Black women is nothing new, Black women historically have been portrayed as Mammies, everyone loves Mammy! That big asexual woman who tends to all except for herself, then we have the evil mouthed Sapphire and last but not least the hypersexual Black woman with an insatiable sexual attitude who well due to her wantonness good men and bad just couldn’t control themselves. Jezebels created a great diversion to overlook the millions of Black women since slavery who were sexually assaulted…after all she was asking for it!

Thanks to these pervasive and negative stereotypes of Black women it’s meant that we spend a lot of time striving to prove we are not those stereotypes sometimes to our own detriment. Especially for college educated and or middle class and above Black women, we live in a space often times mindful that we will be judged harsher than our white counterparts.

Fear of judgment and desire to break free of stereotypes has meant that too many times we are afraid to claim our sexuality. Lately I have been reading a great deal about the sex positive movement and wondered how many women of color specifically Black women would be willing to openly acknowledge and or embrace the label of sex positive? Considering it wasn’t that long ago that a blogger who incidentally I like but don’t always see eye to eye on started a movement to get sistas married off I suspect that for many of us, being sex positive would be considered a bad thing or at least not something we would claim. I admit this piece today was sparked by reading this piece about a sista in California opening up a sex positive shop and gallery. Over the years I have known way too many sistas who if a conversation ever turns to the idea of sex toys will give you the stank. Funny because sex toys have gone mainstream, hell you can even get a gadget or two at the local drug store but for many sistas it’s still not something we will openly acknowledge. Ironically almost all my white buddies will admit that hell yeah, they keep a Big Red (or whatever color) under the bed but sistas will quickly tell you they don’t need a toy, they got a man! Fabulous, a man or woman is fine but nothing says you can’t self-love yourself either or use that toy with someone else.

So sistas I say as we strive to advance don’t forget that it’s okay to acknowledge our sexuality and to find pleasure in whatever manner suits us. If it is safe and between consenting adults, the body is a temple and pleasure is allowed in the temple.

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.