Every natural has heard this question at least once: “Can I touch your hair?”. Some have heard it so much they immediately go from minding their business to frustrated in 60 seconds. Personally, my decision not to let others touch my natural locks isn’t because I am being negative or spiteful, it’s simply because I don’t know where your hands have been! On top of that, I’m a wash n’ go gal, so if you catch me while its still wet, you’ll just end up with a wet hand. Who wants to have a wet hand?
What’s The Fascination?
Despite my personal reasons, and I’m sure everyone has their own, I do see other naturals become rude about the situation. Especially when permission is not requested and suddenly foreign hands end up caressing your fro’. You either stand there like you’re in a petting zoo with a fake plastered smile or explode taking it out on the poor person who failed to realize you’re not animal with fur. What is it about being asked to feel a few strands that sends naturals over the edge? And what is the fascination to touch natural hair?
Many times this ends up being a cross-cultural fascination. I emphasis ‘many times’ because this is not always the case. People of other cultures tend to want to experience the unknown. Natural hair varies in curl and texture but society has made it hard to accept people of color having beautiful curly natural hair. That’s just plain ole’ ignorance. Maybe this fascination could be the key to spreading the idea that natural hair is just, well, hair! It is not inferior or superior to any other hair type.
In an effort to promote these kinds of dialogues, Antonia Opiah of African American hairstyle site Un’ruly set up a public art installation on June 6th-8th in New York City’s Union Square called “You Can Touch My Hair” in which visitors were invited to do just that.
In an essay posted on HuffPost, Un’ruly founder and editor Antonia Opiah discusses her experiences with her own natural hair, as well as the experiences of others, ultimately concluding that curiosity is good, so long as it’s “the right kind of curiosity”:
America the Melting Pot was renamed America the Salad Bowl — a mix of cultures that didn’t blend into one homogeneous one, but instead maintained their own identities. There is such thing as a Black American culture, a White American culture, an Asian American culture, Native American, Hispanic American, and there are nuances and differences within those cultures. Living in America and not knowing anything about the other people that live in the country is impolite. It’s like living with roommates for 236 years and knowing nothing about them; awwkwaaaaard. It’s good to know your roommates; it makes for a more comfortable living situation. Americans are already notorious for not knowing much about the world outside of the U.S. We should certainly make an effort to know about the worlds inside America.
And if that effort means asking someone if you can touch their hair so it’s not something that’s foreign to you anymore, ask it. Ask the question. But ask it only when you’ve earned the right to do so. Ask it when you’ve taken the time to Google some of the basic questions about black hair. Ask this five-word request when you understand that it carries the weight of hundreds of years of being told our hair is unacceptable and now being told that it’s a curiosity. Ask it when you understand that enlightening you about our hair is a responsibility no one individual wants to bare. Ask it when you’ve actually developed a relationship with a person to the point where you don’t have to doubt their response to the request. Because if you’re actually friends with a person, “Can I touch your hair?” is a question you don’t have to ask because you know that you can either just do it or know to steer clear. And if you don’t know any black people that well enough, maybe you should be asking yourself a different question.
The exhibit has created an uproar of both positive and negative discussions.
Thank you so much for putting this out into the world. You really made me think about how I as a white woman view these issues. I have been guilty of asking black women questions about their hair and – one time – asking if I could touch it. The context there was that a black friend of my daughter’s was telling us about how her mom had just braided her hair. I asked a few questions about maintenance and then asked if I could touch it. She didn’t seem to mind, but thanks to your insights I don’t expect I’ll be asking that question of any black woman again because I really don’t want to give offense…
Others took the exhibit into their own hands:
You Can Touch My Hair is now over, but the exhibition goes on. Any time a stranger tugs on some unsuspecting person’s hair, a person is put on display. Any time the question, “Can I touch your hair?” is asked, a person is put on display. These barely noticeable encounters that happen everyday is the real exhibition. Tell us what you think below.