“Don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear” These lyrics from Solange’s hit ‘Don’t touch my hair’ are so powerful to black women because there is so much history and endless stories related to our crown.
This week on the TL Podcast we (and a couple of impromptu guests) touched on that infamous moment when people ask to touch a black woman’s hair. Is it offensive, or complimentary? What kinds of thoughts and emotions run through our minds? With all the concerning and hilarious stories we had to share, we thought it was worth an episode! If you haven't listened to the episode listen here.
There are lots of complexities that come with touching black women’s hair, we understand that women of other races may be completely surprised to even hear that this is a topic for discussion! One theory is that we are all so used to the texture and look of European hair, we probably knew people growing up or even in the purchasing and wearing of wigs, weaves and extensions – we got to know what it would feel like. The reverse isn’t quite as familiar, there are much fewer people who feel as familiar and casual with African hair texture. This breeds a kind of fascination which can sometimes be offensive to express. Which is how we get to the point of asking ‘how are we supposed to feel’? We can all be advocate for teaching others about our race and culture, but at which point does the ignorance stop being innocent and becomes offensive?
What about when someone reaches into your afro without even asking? It’s like the existence of your hair serves as an invitation. And when they retract their hand and say “ wow I didn’t expect it to be so soft, I though it would be more of a straw like texture”. Again, there’s a huge variety of ways these events can play out, sometimes to provide funny stories and other times it’s genuinely offensive and degrading story to relay to your other black friends and family who have something similar to say on the topic.
Here are some women's thoughts on the subject online:
All of that being said… we can argue that when a person doesn’t find you appealing then they don’t want to touch you. So sometimes it’s coming from a place of true curiosity and admiration. Yes, some of us black women have the kind of natural hair that will mesmerise an entire room of people upon entry. Others have the kind of skin that radiates life and glows in such a youthful and healthy way. It may be uncomfortable when people stare or ask to touch you, but on some occasions – all they see is the beauty. (Or so we hope!)
If this is the case, then maybe it’s the delivery of the question that is so bothersome. You can express admiration and compliments but not as if you’re talking to a zoo animal! Think of the difference in tone and approach when complimenting a friend’s new haircut versus a koala bear that you’ve just seen for the first time at the zoo. There’s a certain childlike excitement when looking at the koala because you don’t associate it with being a human being. It’s a tricky one to explain, but the “Oh my GOSH can I touch it?!” isn’t the way you usually comment on something attached to another human, especially a grown adult. There is an undeniable lack of acknowledgement and respect in this.
On the other hand, there are some who don't mind their hair being touched and see it as an opportunity to educate and a way to encourage conversation on diversity. We are increasingly becoming a diverse and multi-cultural world and it is very rare to find a black person without one or two non-African friends or colleagues. Is it our duty as Africans to educate? If we don't does it open us to the never-ending curiosity or are we at an era where information is widely available on the internet for people to google and educate themselves?
As always, we’re super keen to hear your opinions on this one. Tell us your funny, cringe worthy and even painful stories to do with your hair as a black woman. That can go all the way from people’s reactions to “no, I don’t wash my hair 4 time a week” to your braids falling out in class or in the office (we’ve all been there too!) Feel free to share experiences in the comments, DM’s and email!
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