Something happened a few months ago… I was out shopping with my four-year-old daughter. We entered a shop, there was an older white lady at the tills, she had a lot of things to check out so we waited patiently. When she was done and leaving the store, she apologised for taking long. I smiled at her and replied “not to worry”, I had appreciated her being so considerate of us. She then looked at my daughter and said hello, now anyone who knows my daughter is aware that she is a chatter box, so confidently she smiled at the lady, said hello and waved. The lady was clearly impressed and said my daughter was cute and at the same time proceeded to touch her hair. (My daughter is cute I agree to that, but the complement was clearly a pretext to touch her hair)
My daughter’s hair at the time was parted in the middle and each section was tied with a bobble. Anyone with knowledge of black hair knows that the hair will not fall into a ponytail but it forms an afro puff.
I can imagine that this lady may have been fascinated by my daughter’s hair at the time; the expression on her face whilst she reached out to touch my daughter’s hair was one of pure excitement, she was thrilled and if she had been four years old like my daughter she would have made a hooting sound. Looking pleased with herself she promptly exited the shop.
I cannot begin to explain my feelings at that action. I was left frozen for a few seconds before I realised that I was next and quickly went about my shopping. Meanwhile my daughter was unfazed and continued doing what she normally does when we are out shopping; pester me to buy her chocolate.
On the way home I mused over the incident over: –
A stranger touched my daughter’s hair without my consent
If that touch was directed at another part of her body would that constitute a form of harassment? Would touching her hair be any different? Isn’t that an extension of her, a part of her body… would those connotations of harassment still not apply?
People will always ask for permission before touching other peoples’ dogs (or any other pet) why does someone think she can stroke my child without my consent?
During a separate incident an older man took a look at my daughter’s hair and proclaimed that it looked like his dog’s fur. Nothing about that statement impressed me. Needless to say, I didn’t respond to that comment. And in another incident my landlord, who had come around to fix something in the house thought it was great to touch my new-born’s head in greeting, saying “oh look at all that hair”. I groaned inside, why can’t people keep their hands to themselves?!
I also worked in a care home once and as I was helping this older lady to put on her socks she began to stroke my head! I stopped what I was doing and looked up at her in irritation, she said “oh its soft” in surprise; as if that was meant to be an apology.
It was whilst I was ruminating all this that I stumbled onto something on Facebook. A game developed by a black woman where the player slaps the hands of strangers who attempt to touch her hair.
In the comments section I found other comments that resonated with my experience about black hair: from rude and invasive comments about how my hair weave was sewed in; or bizarre comments likening my braids to horsehair or comments about feeling the cold when my hair was cut short to; questions about how I am currently maintaining my dreadlocks.
I have come to the conclusion that as a black person where our hair is concerned we can’t win. You will be met with curiosity and scrutiny, no matter how you style it. Whether your hair is natural, in an afro, in dreadlocks or cut short, or whether is relaxed, straightened or in a weave.
Black women’s hair has been politicised and used to oppress us and counter movements such as the natural hair movement have emerged to counteract this. It is a sad day when people have to ask themselves whether they can get a job because of their braids or attend certain schools because of their dreadlocks because our hair “lacks professionalism”. Clearly these various uniform, grooming and appearance policies are exclusive of hairstyles which have been associated with black people. It also says something about the acceptability of these hair styles in some corners of society which is discriminatory.
Clearly there are some people who remain curious about our hair, our skin colour and a myriad of other things, which included one person asking me what it felt like to be black. This is not necessarily malicious but I do see that it is born out of a lot of ignorance.
I only have one wish however: that everyone who touched a black person’s hair in an unwanted and unwarranted manner should also become black themselves, then they can touch themselves all day long…. (problem solved)
But something tells me that their reaction will be more like the reaction of that fella in the Missy Elliott: Work It video.
Peace and love x