Natural Curly Hair, Please Don't Touch

Natural Curly Hair, Please Don't Touch

So..I've been natural for about three years now and the journey has been filled with challenges. I can't say that I will never go back to the creamy crack, but I don't see it in my future. I'm quite satisfied with the way that I can style my hair in it's natural state and to my surprise it's more manageable. Now that I've prefaced my love for my hair, time to get down to business in terms of a particular issue that I've been encountering lately.

Even before I went natural, people have always wanted to touch my hair. My college roommate from Booneville, Missouri. The lady at the gas station in Hammond, Indiana. Even the little Indian lady who I sat next to for two hours on a flight to Baltimore. When I receive the "can I touch your hair question," I'm usually very polite. Most of the time it's from white people and I understand the curiosity. It's important to note that these folks, the polite people who ask, is not the reason why I'm writing about this.

Lately, I've encountered a less mannerable group of people. Those individuals who don't ask, who just take, or shall I say touch my hair after making a couple of quick comments. "Oooo you got some good hair." or "girl, how you get your hair like that?" as they reach for it. It's not like a light stroke either. They dig into it like you would a bowl of popcorn at the latest Tomb Raider flick. And you know what? I don't like it. It feels like going to the doctor for your yearly checkup only to find out that a medical student will be performing the exam. You want to trust them and believe that they're going to do the right thing, but something is unsettling about the whole ordeal.What's interesting is that most of the time, the offenders are black.

Perhaps it's because they are African American that they feel like it's okay to do it. Like "hey I'm black too so I get a free pass. Those whites and others have to ask, but I'm a sista." No. Being a member of the same race doesn't excuse you from being rude. I understand that we have a variety of different textures and everyone's curl pattern isn't the same. I understand that you get excited at the sight of  a natural hair style that you haven't seen before. But would it kill you to ask me if you can touch my hair? Most likely I will say yes if I'm up for my head being treated like a science experiment.

This baffles me because most African Americans are very particular about their personal space. When we deal with someone who comes from a culture that does not include the three foot rule, we're looking at them sideways and backing up when they approach us. But when we see a curly fro, there is no hesitation of not only invading personal space, but grabbing someone's hair.

The experience that I've had with my hair is comparable to the double standard regarding the n-word. The common argument is that blacks can use it freely among each other. Some even regarding the use of the word as a term of endearment. But let a white person rap the word in a song and they are getting cursed out. The argument for this double standard is that we are not saying the n-word version with "er" at the end. We're changing it to "uh." That way we're "empowering" ourselves and reclaiming it. There's something wrong with this mode of thinking. When you're really reclaiming something, everyone is entitled to say it. There is no division. So until everyone either agrees to say the n-word or not say the n-word, don't touch my hair without asking. This may seem like a silly comparison, but perhaps I want to show just how silly it is for one group of people to feel like they're entitled certain privileges over others because of the color of their skin.


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  • I have naturally curly hair, too.

    When I was younger I had a white-fro going on.
    Usually the people most curious about my hair then were black people. They would reach out and touch my hair because they wanted to feel the "banana" curls. I didn't think a thing of it, except I was glad to meet other people with curly hair. They didn't ask permission and I didn't care.

    Not everything is a race thing. Sheesh, give it a rest.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Race matters. It doesn't matter in EVERY facet of life (thank God), but it is a significant factor with regards to cultural differences, life experience and at times opportunities.

    Maybe if you were dropped in the middle of an area like 69th & Throop, or somewhere else that is pretty race specific, you would be able to attempt to understand the inherent differences and experiences surounding race, culture and class.

  • Mr. Davis, I can certainly agree with you. Not everything is about race. In my reading of the article, Ms. Jamison is addressing the complications of privilege, not race, from her perspective as a black woman with curly hair. Of course, from her perspective, race may come into play and she uses the ideologies of race as a part of her argument for clarity. However, it seems like your interpretation of her post makes it into a commentary race more than actual the written prose of Ms. Jamison. Her focus is privilege. With that said, she doesn't have the privilege of overlooking race in her daily life as a black woman, just as other people who represent other marginalized groups in the world. To ask her to comment about privilege and to ignore the identity that shapes her (or "giving it a rest") would only serve to invalidate her experiences and render them inferior. What's wrong with authentically being herself and giving her truth as she understands it? That's probably why she was hired to write this blog, so that she could honestly provide a perspective that is always told to be silent on their issues. Speak on, Shantell. I have no further comments.

  • In reply to bettyc:

    *appaulding bettyc*

  • Gee Betty, did you read the blog, she is clearly talking about how black women have no respect for her space or person, and I quote
    "Perhaps it's because they are African American that they feel like it's okay to do it. Like "hey I'm black too so I get a free pass. "

    It's refreshing to see a Black woman call out other Black women on blatant acts of ignorance.

  • BK Ray I agree with you. Most of the time people excuse what their own race is doing just because they are a part of the group...but I think Betty was addressing Richard's comment about how the author should give race a rest. In this instance what she was trying to point out was that race has to be included, but the main focus is in fact privilege and how it should NOT exist. All in all this was a good read.

  • Going back to the "touching" element, it's a bit like when you have a big pregnant belly - some people literally cannot but touch it. Sometimes too, you barely even know them. Always amazes me. (And usually women!)

  • i've been wearing locs for about a dozen years now and i feel your pain. some advice, as i've encountered situations that make touching seem mild (i was once told to cut my hair and look like a normal person...whatever that means): take a deep breath and use it as a teaching moment. if you plan on keeping your hair natural you're going to have plenty of them, so unless you plan on spending the rest of your life angry about how people approach you and your hair, patience is the way to go.

    richard is a great person to start exercising patience on.

  • I hear you Shan Tell' em. I have big curly hair (like Kelis). It is touched, poked and prodded often. I try to dismiss the outright rudness, even snapping back at a really good friend that felt the need to touch when she already knew the inherent rule.

    It is what it is. Race does matter, unlike Mr Davis comment. It doesn't matter in every facet of life, but it is a significant factor with regards to cultural differences, black women and our hair. Even the surgeon generally weighed in on black women and hair at one point. Too crazy.

  • I am a white middle aged woman and have changed my hairstyle a dozen times in a dozen years. At any given time, my hairstyle does not match my drivers license picture. I once had to show my ID in a shop to a teenage girl (who was black) and she said "this ID doesn't look like you." I explained that when I got my license renewed I had a perm and the perm had grown out and I had cut it all off. I was totally shocked when she leaned forward and grabbed a handful of my hair and felt it! Everytime I go past that store I laugh when remember the shop girl who touched my hair! I was not mad or offended, just surprised!

  • Do you get unabashed, prolonged stares too? As a ginger with a for, I get lots of grandmas and others doing the same: touching without asking permission first.

  • Having had naturally curly African American hair all my life, I feel ya. The whole touching and questioning thing gets old, just like any criticism (especially from us), so yeah keep your hands to yourself.

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