Coffee Rhetoric: Hands Off! -- In Which I Rant About Natural Hair... Again.

July 25, 2011

Hands Off! -- In Which I Rant About Natural Hair... Again.


Today, CNN.com featured an interesting article about Black women who wear their hair in its natural state and their displeasure with having it touched by stranger-hands. Of course, as with anything in the media featuring Black women voicing their opinion or personal stories about anything having to do with their being, it incited people to chorus. "Can I touch it?" recounted an incident as told by Tamara Winfrey Harris, who runs the blog What Tami Said, in which a woman standing nearby reached out to touch her natural hair as she and her husband made their way to their table at a restaurant, much to Tami's chagrin: “I turned around and she said, 'Oh, your hair is neat.' It just floored me because who does that, just reaches out and touches strangers?"  
The article also referenced blog posts which delve into the issue of Black women with natural hair who disdain having their hair petted by curious people who they have no type of rapport or relationship with, which can be read here and here. The article prompted people to trivialize the subjects' personal experiences by claiming how keen us Black folk are on playing the race card, before going tit for tat about how they as white people suffer the same indignities and suggesting that we should feel flattered about being petted like a goat at a petting zoo by strangers: "Someone wants to touch your hair. So what? I have blond hair, and I've stood in line at a convenience store and have had my hair touched by blacks."  And it empowered them to fan the flames of their bigotry:  "No matter what you say or do, black people are going to get offended and remind you of their enslaved history, as if NOOOO other race was ever enslaved.  Get over it... black pubic-like hair is not the only type of hair that summons curiosity."
Subsequent blog posts followed- (Many written by the Black blogging community) - either further explaining why it's not cool to violate someone's personal space and sensibilities or also wondering; What's the big deal? Accusing the Black natural hair community of being "pretentious" and "uppity."
See, here's the thing… whether people think the article featured a segment of women who're overreacting, the fact of the matter is it's simply not cool to violate someone's personal space and touch any parts of their person uninvited. I've had experiences where I've been asked by curious people, if they could touch my hair so they  can "see how it feels" or have had people reach out to grab or touch... growing annoyed when I denied them access or ducked out of the way. There were moments when I was caught off-guard and have had folks actually grab and disturb my neatly piled puff or pinned bun. For me, the issue of having my hair touched is political and a matter of intimacy as well as vanity. Are people that presumptuous and arrogant that they think it's okay to violate someone's personal space, particularly when someone has expressed their discomfort with it? And of course a few hissers from the be-weaved/relaxed peanut gallery turned it into an anti-natural hair manifesto, knowing damned well if someone ran their hands through their neatly laid tracks or freshly relaxed hair, they'd throw a fit of epic proportions, despite proclamations to the contrary. Why am I pretentious because I don't want some stranger mussing up my 'fro? I can't imagine walking up to some pregnant woman and rubbing her belly or squeezing her breast implants... nor can I fathom ever approaching an attractive man in fitted jeans and softly reaching out to caress his bulge because I think it "looks cool" nestled behind the taut denim fabric. Expressing genuine interest in someone's hair because you're curious about it... asking them reasonable questions and reaching out to touch or tousle it, are two very different things. And the latter is simply ill-mannered. 
Regardless of the reasons why Black women with natural hair don't want their hair touched and whether people agree with them, people should respect the wishes of others and pipe down. No one has the right to demand that someone "just deal" with having their hair touched and their boundaries crossed. How I express myself as a woman who happens to be Black and the way I extend or present my personal aesthetic is my business and no one (in this day and age especially) has authority over or is allowed to commandeer that right. That's my word. 

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More of my natural hair diatribes...