How many black women have been asked the question, “Can I touch your hair?” Especially those wearing their hair in its natural state? I’ve always wondered what the big deal was and why so many people feel the need to touch something we all possess. Apparently, Un-ruly.com‘s founder Antonia Opiah had the same question. When Opiah started the discussion about people touching black women’s hair, she set out to discover why people of other races were so curious about black hair. Little did she know, she had sparked a totally different conversation without getting her answer.
Last June, Un-ruly.com held a two-day exhibit where three black women with different hair textures and styles stood in Union Square holding signs that read, “You can touch my hair.” You can just imagine the questions it raised as people walked passed wondering what those signs meant exactly. Why can I touch your hair? Why wouldn’t it be OK if you didn’t give your permission? And so forth.
By day two, there were women of a different group holding signs that read, “You cannot touch my hair.” And therein lies the controversy about whether people should or should not be allowed to touch black women’s hair. There’s Un-ruly who feels black women should be comfortable with letting people of other races touch their hair because it gives them the chance to educate those on black hair. Then, there are other women who feel no one should be able to touch their hair because their curiosity is based solely on the fact that they’re black. Why are black women the only women judged, characterized, stared at, and profiled whenever their hair is worn in its natural state? Asian women, Indian women, white women or any other women with straight hair don’t incite the same curiosity.
Last night, Un-ruly.com presented the results of Opiah’s social experiment with “You Can Touch My Hair, A Short Film” in partnership with Pantene Pro-V at the Tribeca Screening Room. Once the half hour film ended, it brought on a separate discussion with the audience, Opiah, Michaela Angela Davis and Autumn, a volunteer who participated in the exhibit.
Some women felt they’re asked more by black women to touch their hair than women of other races. Some felt there is a competition between natural haired women and those with relaxers. While others felt there is a beef between naturals and other naturals—those with a tight curl versus those with a looser curl. After an hour of conversation, we all realized that the root of the issue is women loving their own hair and being comfortable with themselves no matter how it’s styled. If you want to wear a weave, swing it. If you want to wear a fro, rock it proudly. And if you want to wear locks or braids, do so fearlessly.
Bottom line, we as women should not let the question of our hair being touched, or the question of our hair being unprofessional, or the number of looks we’ll get from the style of our hair, stop us from wearing our hair the way we feel most comfortable. We should also understand that we can’t expect every black woman to embrace or praise her hair because everyone is dealing with their own pain and perceptions, and each should be allowed to do that in their own time.