Many women have been asked the dreaded question from a stranger, “Can I touch your hair?” Or they may have taken a risk and reached out and touched your hair before asking or not asking at all. Would you say this is a sanitation issue, a violation of personal space, an insult, okay, or just wrong?
I was recently asked to share my views on an exhibit that took place this summer on June 7 and 8 in New York’s Time Square. Before I share my response, here’s the skinny!
Antonia Opiah, founder of a natural hair blog called Un’Ruly.com, followed up on an article she wrote for the Huffington Post on “Exploring the comment ‘No one should say, Can I touch your hair.’” Antonio decided to drill down deeper on this topic by having a very interactive, public health exhibit for two days called “You Can Touch My Hair.”
She solicited several models who were fashionably dressed rocking locks, straight weave and natural loose hairstyles. There were three sistahs at a time who collectively stood outside for two hours each day holding signs that said, “You Can Touch My Hair,” giving people permission to touch their hair.
The intent was to provide the opportunity for people who are curious to touch the hair or have dialogue or provide education for anyone interested in learning something they did not know about textured hair, hair regimen, products etc…
I am in full support of freedom of speech and so were several other women of color who took great offense to the exhibit and stood across the street holding signs that read “Do Not Touch My Hair, it is a part of my body and I don’t know where your hands been” or “No You Can Not Touch My Hair.” There were also other signs that expressed their feelings that were not so eloquently stated for repeating purposes.
The models for the most part wanted to provide education on the mystery of textured hair. The outcome could possibly debunk some myths that textured hair is greasy, hard or stiff. Based on the Huffington Post, one of the models, Malliha, said, “The exhibit gives her the opportunity to learn what motivates certain individuals to attempt such an intimate act.”
I share this story because it outraged many African American women. There were varying opinions on this display being labeled sexual politics, or a petting zoo, or comparison to Sarah Baartman, a slave from Cape Town who was put on display in London as a “freak exhibit.” Many people were emotionally charged and had real concern with the way this was presented.
I clearly understand both perspectives. This is intimate and much more than “just hair.” If it were just hair, we would not have a seven-year-old child in this 21st century like Tiana Parker from Oklahoma being forbidden to wear her locks to school.
On the other hand, people don’t know what they don’t know. If we allow the dialogue to happen, we may be able to create the necessary awareness that can change behavior.
Historically, hair carries years of us being told afro-textured hair is unacceptable and unattractive — the pain is real. This social experiment evoked discomfort for some, disapproval from others, and an opportunity to show off the range of what this beautifully curly, kinky, versatile hair can do.
What many people don’t know is that during the two days, 75 to 100 people actually touched the hair, and the majority was African American women touching the models’ hair! Check out the exhibit on YouTube, read the Huffington Post. Read about Tiana Parker and Sarah Baartman. Learn to love your hair; that is quintessential to having healthier hair!
Keep in mind that being pro-natural does not mean you are anti-relaxer. I like mine Fro Real No Lye!
Natural hair coach and enthusiast Kelley Eubanks welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.