For some reason, I never thought about the issue of people touching my natural hair until it actually happened. My friends and relatives who I know personally do it, but what about when it’s a stranger—who’s white?
I’ve felt beautiful, ugly, insecure, nappy, good, bad, #flawless, and flawed the five years I’ve been natural. Accepting my hair in its natural state taught me how to love myself naturally and embrace my kinks, curls and type four hair.
Since I’ve been natural I’ve become a self-taught coiffeuse, learning skills such as wig making and hair braiding. One of my favorite wigs was a curly fro with bangs that I just had to create. This, wig making obsession of mine was about trying different looks without permanently changing my own. Ah, the joy of wigs.
A year ago, my friends, my wig and I decided to celebrate our Auburn defeat downtown with some bar hopping. Saturdays downtown in Athens, GA were typically a fun, hot mess. Depending on your melanin, sex and the racial tolerance of the “security” working the doors, you can actually have yourself a good ole uninterrupted time.
I obtained my undergraduate degree from a public white institution (PWI). Personally, it didn’t bother me, I went to the University of Georgia to get my degree, got that degree and enjoyed my time there. I wish I could do it all over to be honest. But I have to admit, attending a PWI gave me the biggest lesson in self-control.
That self-control would come in handy during our aforementioned weekend shenanigans.
While I was holding a conversation at a bar I felt something in my hair and turned around. There she was, some random White chick with her fingers in my hair. Her facial expression changed rather quickly and she appeared embarrassed and immediately began to apologize.
My hair was just so pretty she had to touch it. Sure.
The Black girl in me wanted to give her a quick lesson of personal space and bar etiquette. But the Black girl in a bar full of White people under a slight Tequila influence smiled, told her it was okay and thanked her for the compliment. That same night as a Black dude squeezed by me, he touched my hair and said, “needs more conditioner.” I don’t know if that was his attempt at a pick up line but I had to let him know he tried it.
I wish this wasn’t all too common, Black women having their hair petted like little animals. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to the things Black women go through with this new wave of natural hair love. I went from having my hair touched because it was admired to being a butt of a joke, in 24 hours.
I get it, afros are cool and pretty. Black people are cool and pretty, but we’re not on public display as much as society finds our culture indispensable. I’ve had people compliment my hair, but I’ve never had someone who I didn’t know touch my hair prior to this incident. I learned at a young age to not put my hands on anyone without their permission, so, I expect that same level of respect in return. However, I understand we all don’t share the same upbringing and morals and what may be a cultural norm to some, is quite the opposite to others.
Over the summer, actress Teyonah Paris, recounted an incident with an older White man on Twitter who touched her hair because he found it “stimulating.” The vent session prompted director, Ava Duvernay, to share the time she missed her train which ended in the police being called all because a random white man touched her dreadlocks.
and a number of other things all in one quick exchange. The sad thing is after all of my explaining to him about how inappropriate he was-
— Teyonah Parris (@TeyonahParris) June 9, 2015
— Teyonah Parris (@TeyonahParris) June 9, 2015
I agree with what Teyonah said about that man leaving “clueless” because I felt the same way. I didn’t express to the young lady why it was not okay to touch my hair, but I also felt she would not have gotten the point even if I tried. A loud and packed bar full of drunk college students isn’t an ideal location to give a “Black Hair 101: The Dos and Donts” crash course. It’s no different then someone walking up to me and touching my purse because they find it pretty (and) interesting. “Okay. Now get your hands off my purse.” Look, don’t touch.
Even if someone were to ask my permission first, I would probably say no. Not because I am not proud of being a naturalista, but because my hair is not a petting zoo. If you want to stroke an afro that bad, take a stroll down the wig section in the nearest hair store. If I want my hair touched by strangers, I’ll go to a hair salon.
The moment I caught her in my hair, I had to be aware of who I was and where I was. A neck roll or a head tilt would have tagged me “Black girl with attitude”. Although what she did was not okay, I had to tell her it was okay just to make her relax. This is the world we live in. I became the friendly Black-girl-with-the-objectified-afro-because-a-white-chick-found-it-amazing-and-couldn’t-resist-touching-it.
I had to think: How will I look arguing with a White girl, here at this bar in this town? Would I be the aggressor? Then if I do react, there will be people who think I overreacted and next thing I know I am being escorted outside. As Black people, we rarely have the privilege to react and apply reason later and it’s often times the reactions of others that cause situations to go extremely left. Although I wanted to grab her hands and in a stern voice say, “Don’t do that, you don’t know me”, I had to apply reason that maybe my hair just looked that damn good.
But, we all know that wasn’t the case.