Black women do not like their hair touched.
Solange Knowles even wrote a whole song about it.
Don’t touch my hair
In the lyrics and music video of her song, she made sure to highlight the beauty of black hair.
I respect her art and I respect her opinions and the opinions of other black men and women who do not like to have their hair touched, particularly by persons of other races.
I understand the social, political and historical reasons behind why black hair should not be touched on notion or whim.
During slavery and colonialism, black people were coerced to ‘tame' their ‘wild’ afros. This was humiliating and dehumanising. Because black hair and self-expression through it, is a huge part of African cultures, this also stripped black people of their identities. The Black Panther movement made black hair a symbol of pride and strength and touching it simply because you feel like it can be disrespectful. Touching a black person’s hair can be patronising and has been likened to petting a dog. It is also annoying, intrusive and invasive. It can be unhygienic and can pass on germs.
I, however, don’t mind my hair being touched sometimes. That’s because I am also fascinated by the hair of other races too.
Don’t get me wrong. I hate my head being touched. Especially by strangers and for no reason at all. I find it to be a total bother. I loathe going to the salon as that means a lot of head touching. It’s also the only time I will let someone touch my head. I will also not let my friend’s children practice their future hairdresser skills on my head however much they beg and however cute they look when they beg.
My head is my sanctuary. I do not like it bothered. I even avoid alcohol for among other reasons to make sure my head and all its contents are intact, sane and unbothered and to preserve my clarity of thought.
What I don’t mind, however, is when people of other ethnicities out of sheer curiosity reach out and touch my hair.
Let me clarify.
I will not accept a complete stranger walking up to me and touching my hair just because they are curious. I do however let friends and other people of other races that I get close to fulfil their curiosity about my hair and other aspects of my culture.
In all honesty, even black people are curious about the hairs of other people. Personally, I wonder about Caucasian hair. I have asked to touch the hair of Caucasian people that I have gotten to know several times and I have spent a few minutes feeling and examining it. I am fascinated by how it reacts when wet and when it lathers. In shampoo ads when it is being washed, they make it look like the most glorious thing!
I find it crazy that a few minutes of heat from a blow drier can not only dry Caucasian hair but can also detangle and straighten it. It takes much longer and a few more units of your electricity to detangle and straighten black hair. Some instances of detangling and straightening black hair might even involve smoke.
I love how soft and straight Caucasian hair can be. Ranging from red to black to blonde, I love how wide natural Caucasian hair colours are. I have even witnessed Caucasian sisters who have completely different hair colours! I find it very intriguing. Most of us black people only have predominantly black and mild brown as our hair colours. It’s good to note though that the Melanesians people living in the Solomon Islands have naturally blond hair and blue eyes even though they are of African descent.
I also wonder about Asian hair. Particularly Indian hair. It is so dark and lustrous. It can also grow so long. I once saw a YouTuber untie her Indian hair and it unfolded and rolled on her floor like a glorious magical carpet. It intrigues me because as a black woman, even if I got to live 9 lifetimes and did everything in the book to take care of my hair, it would never get to half of that length.
This curiosity is also in others not just in me. I have seen videos of black people living in foreign countries mentioning that they had their hair touched on subways, train stations and in other public spaces. Some of them do mention that they would have preferred to be asked first. They also mention that it was older people that mostly did it and even though they hadn’t consented to it, they could understand the curiosity. As the societies they grew up in weren’t as open as they are today, chances are they had never encountered a black person and their hair before.
It’s good to note that people of African descent living in foreign countries or in countries where they are a minority experience this more than we that live in countries where we are the majority do. The frequency of these experiences may make them more annoying.
White people that have travelled to African countries have also shared the curiosity the locals showed about their hair. Women wanted to feel it and kids complimented it with the young girls asking to plait it.
The curiosity about our different hairs can get annoying sometimes I will admit. I once had a Caucasian person on the internet ask me whether black pubic hair was as kinky as the hair on a black person’s head. I almost didn’t answer him but then I realised that the eyebrows of black people are not kinky! I figured that maybe his question was legitimate and he wasn’t just asking ignorant and infuriating questions. I have even seen people getting shocked that the palms and feet of black people are not black!
The truth is, black hair calls for attention. It’s the only hair type that does not bend down to the force of gravity. It sits on your head like a majestic crown asking for people to look at it. To notice it. It grows towards the sun like a flower blossoming.
The many curls on a black hair strand are also playful and engaging. When you pull a hair strand they straighten making the hair longer. Releasing it functions like a light spring. It’s fascinating even to black people. You will find various videos on social media of black people showcasing these and other contrasts as they beam with pride about what their black hair can do.
The diverse hairstyles from braiding, to wigs and weaves, to crocheting that black women adorn can leave one looking completely different! A Caucasian friend of mine who is dating an African woman even mentioned to me that dating a black woman in his opinion was like dating an entirely different person each time they changed their hairstyle. I wonder what that says about him and men in general about their preference for variety, but I do agree with how a different hairstyle can make a black woman look and feel completely different.
Black people have also developed hundreds of hairstyles over centuries that conceal the natural look and textures of their hair. Braiding, crocheting, wigging, weaving and relaxing it brings out the different look that most people get to see in public.
To better manage and protect their hair, for fashion, for modesty and religious reasons, many black women from all over the world also tie their hair in headbands and headscarves or hide it under flamboyant hats. This also contributes to the natural afro not being displayed in public as often. And this could also help explain the curiosity about natural black hair in general. As it is seen scarcely, it attracts more attention.
It is only after many women started embracing their natural hair that Afros in all their glory were back in full display. Black women particularly on social media are teaching other black women about embracing their natural hair and about how to take better care of it.
Better products that enhance afros rather than erase them have been developed in recent years. The relaxer industry is also dying. According to Mintel relaxer sales were aimed to decrease 45 percent before 2019. As a black woman that proudly adorns an afro, they have not seen my money for the past six years. I am still on the lookout though for blow drier manufacturers that will design a product with black hair in mind.
I came across this YouTuber who was in China and needed to get her hair done. So she went to her local salon and had the Chinese attendants take care of her hair. The shock one of them when he couldn’t understand what had happened at the sink after he poured water on her African hair! As a person who had probably never experienced hair shrinkage prior to this encounter, he is visibly confused and can even be seen going over to call his colleague to seek his opinions on the matter. He probably thought that he had done something wrong and nobody would want to be on the receiving end of a woman’s wrath for ruining her hair!
When the two colleagues figure out that the shrinkage reaction might be normal, the first guy continues cleaning the hair. Blow drying it is another entirely different matter. More than one person was required to straighten the YouTuber’s hair. I doubt they even had an appropriate large patterned comb to deal with the kinky afro. They might even have struggled with the extra physical energy they needed to run the blow drier through. A task that would take a seasoned afro hairdresser 20 minutes, took them an hour plus.
The end result was not anything a black girl would be satisfied with, but I gave it to the Chinese hairdressers for even attempting to try. I can imagine that many of their questions about African hair were answered on that day. I can also imagine the conversations that they had about African hair from that day onwards. The comment section on that YouTube video was filled with conversations that we need to have every day about our physical differences as humans sharing planet Earth.
Even though I respect other people’s opinions about their hair being touched, I feel that under the right circumstances allowing people with different hair textures from ours to experience it could help bridge the gap between ourselves. Even if it’s just a small gap. It could help clear some misunderstandings and could also help clarify and enlighten some of the assumptions we may hold about those different from us.
Don’t be afraid. Come over and touch my black hair. But you gotta be my friend first.