Hands Off My Hair

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.   



  1. I have no idea what it’s about, but people do it to me constantly. I am white. I have very curly, thick hair. We can be anywhere at all and someone will touch my hair, 90% of the time not asking first, or asking at the same time they’re stretching out one of my ringlets to “see how long it is when it’s straight.” My husband calls it “hair-mauling,” and honestly it’s about as annoying as people touching a pregnant woman’s belly. I don’t know why they do it, but I’m with you – hands off my hair!

  2. I think not being able to touch a woman’s hair is ridiculous. I’m a black man and If I ask to touch your hair its cause I like it. There are legitimate reasons for saying no but the one giving in the post about property and some such is ridiculous. Its hair get over yourself. If your hair is so delicate or your so sensitive about people touching it shave it off or wear a hat.

  3. I guess I’ve never experienced the hair touching phenom, but being a tall girl, I often have to endure comments such as “omg, how tall are you?” and “do you play basketball?” Maybe it doesn’t seem like the same issue, but to me it is. Any quality we were born with (hair, height, etc.) sort of becomes a part of us and when others question it or want to put it on display (like it’s an oddity) it sort of makes us feel our entire self is odd. I guess just something to think about.

  4. Oh, you RandomNimrod, you gotta step up your reading comprehension, playa.

    The writer isn’t talking about loved ones who want touch her hair. As she mentioned, she has no problem with that. She’s talking about strangers – black, white or otherwise – snatching on her dome. Wouldn’t you be annoyed if the cashier at Target wanted to run her fingers through your S-curl or pat you on your played-out Gumby fade? Even if you personally aren’t offended, there are personal-space boundaries that some folks disrespect. Why should she shave her head or wear a hat just to keep strangers from being annoying?

    But if you’re cool with this, I’ll yank on your dreads the next time you come through. If you don’t like it, wear a hat.

  5. @Mariesa: I guess there’s just something about our curls. People can’t help themselves. LOL

    @Nimrod: I don’t follow your logic. So women (and men too for that matter) should allow complete strangers to touch their hair just because that person likes it? What if someone likes the way my boobs look? Should I let them touch those too? I think you’re missing my point and the point of the other women mentioned in the post. It’s not just about hair. It’s an invasion of personal space. Not even my elbow should be freely fondled by some random person.

    And for me, it’s more about being made to feel odd and so, Kate, you are exactly right. In that way these two issues are related.

  6. Fascinating. I don’t get it – but then again, I’ve never felt the need to “touch” another person’s head.

    When I was in Egypt, the women kept wanting to touch my face and stare at my eyes. I sort of laughed, because it was just different to them. One even said, she tought my skin would be colder and smooth like powder. LOL

    Curiosity – I guess.

    I suppose if the shoe was on the other foot, I might simply take it as a compliment. Perhaps it is so pretty, people can’t help themselves. šŸ˜‰

  7. I have very long blonde hair and am asked monthly “Is that your real hair?” Then they touch it. I’m a germ freak, so all I see is their unwashed bathroom hands touching my tresses. Stop!!

  8. Thank you all so much for your input. Perhaps the hair touching thing is less about race and more about people just being weirdos. ???

  9. I think it is more about curiosity. We don’t always have to play the race card. I always hear white women say how black women’s hair is beautiful.

    The natural hairstyle is getting very popular. I can see evidence of this even when I go to the barber shop.

    Let’s leave race out of this.

    Nice post Javacia

  10. Most of the time I don’t mind my hair being touched if I’m asked first. I know most people think it’s hard and rough. I love to “BUST THEIR BUBBLES”…LOL NICE AND SOFT!!

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