|image from Bossip.com|
Years ago, back when I was a full-time reporter, I was on an elevator at work with two white colleagues when one started to gush about how gorgeous she thought my hair was. I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. Then she said, “Can I touch it?” This colleague was not a close friend, at all, but I reluctantly said yes and then as she fondled my tresses she started carrying on about how soft my hair was, as if this was a great shock to her.
When we got off the elevator my other colleague was furious. “I can’t believe she just did that!” he exclaimed. “Doesn’t she know you should never ask to touch a black person’s hair?”
Apparently she did not. But are all black women offended by this question and is this really a race issue at all?
Yesterday, CNN addressed this topic in the story ‘Can I touch it?’ The fascination with natural, African-American hair.
One woman interviewed said she had no problem with strangers asking to touch her hair as long as they ask first. And I feel her on that. Too many times I’ve been at the grocery store or church and felt a strange person’s hand in my head.
But here’s the thing: most of the time, those people were black. Lately, the people most interested in touching my hair are black women with relaxed hair who are curious about the texture of African-American hair in its natural state.
So could this be more about curiosity and less about race? Renee Martin, who runs the blog Womanist Musings, says no. She’s quoted in the CNN feature saying:
“I think it’s the idea that they have the right to possess black women and they will take any excuse they can to jump over the border, whether it’s policing our behavior or policing our hair,” Martin said. “I think it’s about ownership of black bodies more than it has to actually do with hair.”
At least one other blogger seems to share Martin’s feelings on this matter:
Blogger Los Angelista explained her response to a woman’s incredulous “Are you serious, I can’t touch your hair?” by writing that no she couldn’t, “Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors’ property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn’t want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you’d best move your hand away from me.”
Honestly, I do get upset when a white person asks to touch my hair, but not because I think they see me as a piece of property (unless they touch my hair without permission, but that will piss me off regardless of what color you are).
I think what bothers me is being treated as if I’m alien in some way just because my hair is different from white hair. There is this implication that white hair is the standard, the norm, and that mine is peculiar and, therefore, needs to be examined.
But again, since black people often make me feel just as other-worldly with their never-ending questions about my curly coif, is it unfair to make this about race?
As the CNN report notes, some white women who responded to Martin’s post “Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo” shared stories of their own hair being touched in countries populated by people of color. They chalked it up to natural curiosity and accused Martin of being too sensitive.
Maybe I’m being too sensitive too. But until I figure this all out, whether you’re black, white, or blue, and unless we share blood or a bed, keep your hands out of my head.