The Motley News

Can I Touch Your Hair?



You’ve been asked this before by a well meaning curious white person who has the uncontrollable need to satisfy their exotic fix. Or sometimes you’ve not been asked at all. They simply catch you unaware and plant a hand in or on your mane and exclaim: “Ooh, that’s softer than I thought!”

Whites aren’t doing this to be racist, but damn it if it doesn’t come out offensive and patronizing. What did you think it would feel like? You want to ask them. Don’t. You won’t like the answer. “I thought it would be like a brillo pad.” Honest, yes. Considerate, not so much.

I experienced this, yet again, at work the other day, when my boss’ daughter tried to make a spectacle of me. In front of my co-workers, young white women, who were also her friends, she called out to me while I was straightening things around the register, “Hey, can I touch your hair?” She and my co-workers began to giggle. She didn’t say my name, but I knew she was talking to me.

I stood up and looked at her before saying plainly: “No.”

There was a shocked silence that caused everyone to stare at me before quickly returning to their jobs. The girl asked me incredulously, “Why not?” I did not like her persistent  attitude. “Because I’m not a petting zoo.”

Then the cocky kid whined. “But I want to. You’ll let me do it later, right.” I then told her not all black women like it when they’re asked questions like that. And that made it a race thing. Everyone was terribly uncomfortable, but I stood my ground. She said that it wasn’t “like that” and that she was sorry.

“That’s okay,” I told her. “I’m just glad you asked first.”

that bit of awkwardness made her give up and wander off. How did I feel after that? Terrible! I was embarrassed and angry that I was embarrassed. I felt as if I were sexually harassed and I blamed it on what I was wearing. In this case, I had provoked my attacker with an afro. I wondered if I should stop wearing it if I didn’t want to unwelcomed advances. But doesn’t that give other people power over me? I don’t want to loose my style or autonomy, I just want to live free.

Keeping your hands to yourself is right way to go. Don’t even ask. Because when you ask me questions like that, I feel like my body is not my own. My space has been threatened with your perverse desire for exoticism. Everything on my body is sacred and belongs to me. It’s not a public domain for you “experience.” When you ask to touch my hair and I say no, I’m not being too sensitive. And no, I don’t care if I can touch your hair too. It’s definitely not the same. You are not marked as the “other” like I am.

So there you are. Your girl is handling her business one awkward situation at a time.

Author: charishreid

Writer and Educator.

3 thoughts on “Can I Touch Your Hair?

  1. It is sad. I wish we could all touch each other and not have it be erotic or demeaning. I'd love to be free to touch beautiful big Afro hair, sleek long Asian hair, auburn curls, floaty blond hair. But you can't touch. Sad. As one who grew up with straight brown hair, all those are other and attractive to me.


  2. I'm glad you stood your ground. I've had someone touch my hair in a bar before..I couldn't really say much because it was quick and I missed the opportunity in such a crowded space. But it's ok to let people know that you're not cool with that. They don't get that some people (both black, white, latino or asian) don't want people touching their hair or clothes or tattoos or whatever. We get it the most because of being marked at the “other”. Bursted bubble, oh well!


  3. Uhg. That happened all the time at the bar I worked at. Men are very “handsy.” Women too, I guess. Personal space and freedom to move about in the world without being “felt up” is important to me..


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