No. You Cannot Touch My Hair.

No. You Cannot Touch My Hair.

Carmella Neal, Editor

When someone takes a brief look at my appearance, they usually have a comment to make about it. Their attention is mainly directed at my hair. Rarely do they say “I like your hair,” although their intentions may have been somewhere near the spirit of that statement. Typically they ask questions out of blunt curiosity like, “is that your real hair?” or “how long did it take to do that?” or, my least favorite, “can I touch it?”  

I understand that those who take an explicit interest in my hair mean well–for the most part–but there is a layer of insensitivity and deep-seated judgment behind questions surrounding the image of Black women.  

Growing up, my experience with my hair was a frustrating battle. So many girls like me have had the same struggle, and from a young age, turn to relaxers and straighteners to solve their problems. This is not to say that relaxed hair is not just as valid as natural hair. However, for a lot of us, our reasoning for pressing out our curls has not always been positive at its core.  

Within the community even, there is separation between what is desirable or acceptable and what should be altered. Typically, the looser the curls fall, the better off one is seen. Black women with my type of hair that have kinkier and tighter curls are faced with a different set of obstacles.  

My sister (right) and I (left) wearing our curls out

Being bullied and receiving unwelcome attention because of our hair’s natural existence, is not an uncommon experience within the community. This issue generally is foreign to White, Latina/Latino/Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and other racial groups.  

Movements from the Afro in the 60sto the “No. You Cannot Touch My Hair” Campaign in more recent years, all speak to the shared experiences of Black men and women. Most Black girls have experienced the hair-touch moment, some of us most every day.

The act is invasive and dehumanizing.  

Asking someone if their hair is theirs is yet another form of mindless disregard. This question in particular, poses the challenge that black women’s hair is unable to reach a certain length or be managed in a particular way. Not only that, it typically makes the person questioned feel extremely uncomfortable or offended.  

In short, you do not need to know if my hair has ‘extensions’ or not.  

For a lot of individuals, hair is a major part of self-confidence, expression and identity. Women in particular, take a lot of liberty in their hair, whether it be through bobs, dyed-roots, or buzz-cut shaved styles.  

Black women even more specifically, have a deep and enriched culture with hair. Cornrows, box braids, and locs are all integral to our choices with style and functionality. Versatility in textured hair leads so many possibilities for different looks. 

Shot of my mane straight out of the pool at my 9th birthday party

It has been a long journey though. From natural-hair discrimination at work, now made illegal in a few places, to the ignorance surrounding braided styles on little girls in school, deemed to be a violation of dress code, textured hair on Black women has never been more controversial. 

To non-Black individuals who want to be socially-sensitive and aware, do some research! Learn about the history of styles you see in day-to-day life worn by Black women. There are plenty of resources to educate anyone who is willing to listen. All we want you to know, is that it is not our job to enlighten you on the specifics of our hair or hair styles.  

As 2020 has brought on pivotal conversations surrounding social justice, Black women’s hair should be held up with just as much importance in the realm of social change and inclusivity. Awareness is everyone’s duty.