Debate This: Should Black Women Allow Others to Touch Their Hair?

Posted by on Jun 7, 2013

Unruly "You Can Touch My Hair"

Nicole: Honestly, my first reaction was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is dope!’ Then I was like, wait. People get to gawk at black women and touch them?

Julie: Is it because you always have people asking to touch your hair?

Nicole: People do ask to touch my hair, especially when I was younger.

Deena: Well, unfortunately black hair is presumed to be abnormal in this country. But our hair isn’t exotic, it’s just normal hair. So if we can open the dialogue about it, it’s a win-win.

Julie: To be honest, my first thought was an across the board, “I DO NOT WANT TO TOUCH A STRANGER’S HAIR!” Like, that just seems weird and germy to me period, regardless of hair texture.

Nicole: Ha! I see which way you’re looking at it, [from the perspective of] being the toucher. I just wonder if they’d line up people of other races or ethnic backgrounds and touch their hair too?

Julie: I think like you said, Nicole, that it would be different if it was some kind of exploration of ALL hair types.

Deena: Now I’m not saying I would want someone to touch MY hair, but I think this serves as a “get it out of their system” movement for people who are always curious/wanting to touch.

Julie: But by making it just black women’s hair, to me, it just “others” black women. It plays on weird tropes about the exoticism of black women. But I can see what you’re saying, Deena, that on a practical level this could sort of demystify black hair for people who are totally clueless.

Deena: Exactly. This movement is particularly unique to me because I’m transitioning to natural hair, and to be honest, I don’t fully understand how to properly care for/style kinky hair. I have questions about what’s growing out of my head. So if I have questions how can I expect a non-black person to fully understand?

Nicole: Do the questions have to be on this type of platform? The signs? The standing outside with random people (potential creepers) touching them? Maybe if this was a forum, a panel, something a bit more controlled…

Julie: Yeah, I think on a personal safety level it freaks me out too. Because as a feminist, I already feel like strangers think they have more ownership over women’s bodies — and especially black women’s bodies — than is comfortable or safe.

Deena: Fair enough. I think we can all agree that touching a stranger’s hair is distasteful, but we’re still left with the curiosity about black hair. And how do we answer those questions? Would you ladies have an issue with this movement if there was no-touching allowed but just an honest and open dialogue?

Nicole: Kinda. I’m not even sure why black hair stirs up this much conversation. Is it truly for understanding, or to cater to society’s fetish over black women?

Julie: I think I would have less issue with it, yes. To me, the touch aspect definitely brings up issues of personal space. And it also, I think, like, dehumanizes black women — turning their bodies into a fetish object.

Nicole: Because you’re going natural, Deena, you have questions… but why do others? They’re not, most likely, going to get a weave or grow dreads. I’m just not sure why there’s so much importance on this dialogue…

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