Hair Matters: Can I Touch Your Hair?
A black woman’s tresses shouldn’t be on display.
My college roommate was the first person that asked about my hair. She was a white girl from the northern suburbs of Illinois. Neither of us had ever bunked with someone of a different race.
So you can imagine her confusion with my differing hairstyles. When I moved into my freshmen college dorm, I had braids. A month later, I transitioned from braids to a weave.
“Omg, your hair is so pretty,” she said.
Then I walked into our room wearing my real hair— relaxed and styled in a shoulder-length bob. This confused my roommate, who asked shockingly, “You cut your hair?!” When I told her that I had had a “sew-in,” she didn’t know what that meant. Come to find out she didn’t know that my braids were hair extensions.
The Hair Inquisition
From that day forth, she’d always ask me about my hairstyles. How does the weave stay attached to your hair? How does your hair stay straight? How are the braids so tightly connected to your scalp? She also asked to touch my hair in its natural state; I let her with no problem. Her questions didn’t bother me. After all, I didn’t know anything about her hair either.
I learned that her hair gets oily and she has to wash it everyday. At the same time, she found out that my hair doesn’t get oily as often, so I don’t have to wash it but once a week or once every two weeks.
The Real World
My interactions with my roommate prepared me for the interactions I would have in grad school, and that I now have at work. Being that I am one of two black women in the office, I get asked questions about my hair every time I change the style. Right now I have a short, relaxed hairstyle. Before that, Senegalese twists, which my boss admired nearly everyday.
[ALSO READ: 8 Black Hollywood Actresses Who Proudly Rock Their Natural Hair]
But it always isn’t easy, having my hair on display. Sometimes I feel objectified.
You Can Touch My Hair
I felt these very emotions while attending a hair exhibition entitled “You Can Touch My Hair” in New York City’s Union Square. Antonio Opiah, the founder of black hair website Un’ Ruly, put herself and several women of color on display, welcoming strangers to fondle their tresses. I instantly thought about my relationship with my roommate. In a strange way, her curiosity about my hair (and culture in general) created a bond between us.
So, can you touch my hair? Can I touch yours? I’ll leave you with Opiah, who had this to say in response to the criticism of her exhibit:
“It's easy to disapprove of something so literal, but when you get the question 'Can I touch your hair?' in your everyday life, it goes unnoticed.”
How do you react to someone asking, “Can I touch your hair?”
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Photo Credit: Flickr/DioBurto