What Really Goes Through My Head When You Ask to Touch My Hair...
1) Is this chick for real? Like, did I literally just hear a grown woman ask to touch my hair and squeal at the same time? Or did I imagine it?
No, really...I have to ask myself if I actually heard you...for real. Because it is absolutely absurd to ask another grown up, whom you do not know, if you can touch their hair. Seriously.
This is the type of stuff my mother recounted for me when she integrated the prestigious Sandy Springs Friends School in the sixties. As one of the first African-American students to attend the boarding school, my mother had a group of girls in her dormitory pour water on her hair as she slept in order to "see what it would do." When a woman stops me in my tracks to ask to touch my hair, I feel empathy for my, then, sixteen-year-old mother, who endured a traumatizing year at SSFS where her hair hypnotized other young women into being idiots.
Once I get over the initial shock of having another person take a moment out of their day in order to essentially ask if they may pet me, my brain goes into one of two directions. The first is the "Why me?" direction, where I lament just how often I am asked this exact question by a variety of women.(Fun fact: more black women ask me to touch/feel/fondle my hair than non-black women, way more than white women, however, white women find creative ways to justify touching my hair..."Oh, you have something in your hair...just let me get it...oh...there...here it is...your hair is AMAZING, by the way!") I call this stage 2a.
2a) Is my hair really that much of a novelty?
I mean. It's just hair. Literally, when you Google "What is hair?" what you get back is essentially useless, but the first sentence is interesting (particularly for the purposes of this piece): "Hair is simple in structure, but has important functions in social functioning." And while I absolutely HATE the wording (such poor grammar), the sentiment is clear: hair is stupid, but we've socialized ourselves into making it something extremely important. Hair has no use to our existence aside from what we have made it out to be as a society. For social purposes. It doesn't enhance our balance, it doesn't increase vitality, it doesn't keep illness at bay. I mean, physiologically speaking, a bald person could live as full and happy a life as a person with a full, thick, luscious head of hair. Except, we have made hair an extension of our projected selves, making it one of the ways in which we express ourselves, our personal views, our fashion sense, our sensibilities, and even values. We have made hair, a relatively useless biological quirk, so damned important. So, someone like me, with such "interesting" and "unique" hair, is a sight to see. And with so much of it, my hair becomes something of public interest.
I am always surprised how emboldened people are to ask me, outright, if they can just touch my hair. It catches me off guard, and my hair is so pedestrian to me, I cannot quite understand when it is something that catches another person's eye. Most days, my hair seems really, really lame. It hardly ever does what I want it to do, and I would rather it fly under the radar. Someone approaching me and asking if they can touch it makes me insanely uncomfortable because, most of the time, I just want it to be invisible.
And, yet, it never is.
The second direction in which my mind wanders is the "How the hell is this really a thing?" direction.
No, really. HOW IS THIS A THING?
And this is where I mostly spend my time. In stage 2b.
2b) How did we get to this place where we fetishize the unfamiliar???
Okay, so, I am willing to accept the fact that my hair is different and big and loud (like me), and that it will catch someone's eye. But, why the hell is it so damned interesting that you simply MUST touch it? What do you think will happen? Will it bring you good luck? Will touching it allow you to replicate my look so that you too can have a gigantic, curly heap of hair on your scalp for all to fawn over? Will a little leprechaun jump out and bestow upon you the largest pot-o-gold that you ever did see? Will you be able to die a happy woman? What is it?? What is it that will happen just by touching my goddamn hair? I would like to know considering I touch it A LOT. And nothing magical has happened yet. Maybe if I knew what exactly it was I should be looking for, my veritable fortune would appear!
My hair is just hair. It looks different from yours, and, yes, I am certain that it also feels different. But what will touching it do for you? Will you be able to write home and gloat about having touched a black girl's hair? That is probably less of a thing to hang your hat on these days. At least I hope it is. I think that even in Trump's America, we have moved beyond a place where black people are so alien that to touch one is akin to a UFO sighting. Plus, it's mostly black women who ask me, so what the hell are THEY hoping to get out of it exactly?
It is funny because I think that black women have been so objectified in society that even other black women will look at a woman with certain traits and exhibit the same kind of wonder and excitement that others would display when seen in person. Black women with a lot of hair, who have loose curls or waves or even women with tight coils, but a lot of length are elevated as being "special" or, even more irksome, "mixed." The amount of people who follow up a request to touch my hair with "What are you?" is astounding.
I am human.
That never seems to be enough.
I am black.
That is definitely not enough.
They want to know where my parents are from.
Where were their parents from.
No, no, but where were THEIR parents from?
Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. And here.
I am not just Black/African-American. I am so goddamned American, that I should be telling MAGA Trump supporters to go back to THEIR countries.
So, my huge, curly, wavy hair is real black. And touching it won't change that or anything else. It won't make that fact more or less real. It will just make both of us insanely uncomfortable.
I mean, think about it, when is the last time you stroked someone's hair? It is a very intimate thing to do. I have really only touched, with purpose, the hair of a significant other. I think about the last few people to touch my hair, and it was my ex, my mother, and Lulu (my dog...except that was more of her pawing at my hair to get me out of bed).
Shortly before my grandmother passed away, my mother sat stroking her hair in the Hospice on Thanksgiving Day.
People don't touch other people's hair unless they know them. It is insanely personal.
And so, that brings me to stage #3.
3) Kindly keep it moving.
It is weird. It sounded weird in your head before you asked. You probably shouldn't have asked. Now you look like a creep. I think that it is time that you kept it moving. You will probably now apologize, which would not have been necessary if you had thought things through completely. Had you been a rational human being, you would have talked yourself out of asking simply by Googling "What is hair." Hair is simple. And its only function is social. Touching someone else's hair is not science. It is not research. It is you jumping a social fence that you cannot climb back over.
You're being weird. Stop.
And now for your viewing pleasure...Solange's "Don't Touch My Hair."