I am a black woman with natural hair. I usually wear it twisted, and let’s be honest, shrinkage is real. But today, today I decided to be brave.
I blowdried my hair out of sheer curiosity. It’s been about a year since I went natural and I wanted to do a length check. It was cute! And I figured since I’d spent almost three hours at my vanity table I should get at least a day out of it, right?
So, here I am at work, teaching the black babies, and as I sit, four people, including an adult, have touched my hair, without my permission. This is outside of the several comments I’ve received that include “I like your hair, Ms. Logan” from kids that on other days barely even speak and “You look so much younger and prettier” from a student that is natural herself.
What in the entire f***.
I understand the infatuation with black women and hair. It goes back beyond Shea Moisture, and Alicia Keys and her braids, and even Madame CJ Walker and the pressing comb. It goes back to enslaved black women having to cover their hair in the fields with wraps and wear wigs to match their owners’ hair in the house. It continues because of the intrigue behind lighter skinned black women and their curls being more accepted than darker women with their kinks. Black women have had to fight the hair war for so long that we’ve become numb to the idea that our hair is, well, ours, and no, you can’t touch it.
Cheryl Thompson puts it plainly when she says “While black hair might seem like fun to outsiders, given the plethora of styling options at a woman’s disposal, beneath each style there is a deeply personal hair story…and it’s complexity becomes clear.” She’s right. My “exotic” hair does not give you the right to examine it with your touch. Besides, its only exotic to the “outsiders” because its different from their norm, and their norm includes taking whatever they want and either claiming it for themselves or shunning it as not good enough.
in 2012 70–80% of black women chemically straightened their hair. And to raise the beauty bar even more, weave became a thing and made the norm not only straight, but very long. So, it does not surprise me that when I walk into a building with 100% African American students, and about 60% of girls with relaxed hair and/or weaves they see my usually curly fro turned straight and past my shoulders, it equals what they know to be “beautiful.” No, it doesn’t surprise me, but it does piss me off more than a little bit.
I’m mad because I know for a fact that every single black woman or girl has struggled with her hair. (Show me a black woman who loved her hair since day one and I’ll show you a liar.) Whether it’s a perm or getting your ends clipped, or worrying about those micros taking out your edges or whether the chlorine will mess up your curl pattern; whether it’s the day before picture day and momma “bumped” your ends a little too tightly, we’ve all struggled with loving ourselves and loving our hair.
I got my first relaxer when I was 5. My granny did it while my mom was at work; she came home irritated but the deed was already done. My story mirrors Noliwe Rooks’ and she writes in her book Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women: “[My grandmother] reasoned that because no one was ever going to mistake me for having anything other than African ancestry… straightening my hair would give me an advantage in the world. It was one less battle to be fought” (4). For Rooks, me, and other black girls hair has never been anything to play with. It sends messages, gives signs, and tells people how to treat you. Giving in to social norms is supposed to get us some kind of acceptance, but instead it adds more confusion about identity and self worth that take years of undoing.
My hair is mine. I don’t know anybody that likes being touched randomly and without giving consent. The same thing goes for my hair. It is mine, it is on my body, and for you to just walk up and run yo nasty hands through it, as if it is yours for the touching, violates my space and my blackness in a way that neglects to see my humanity for what it is. Black hair is ritual, it is sanctuary, it is protection, it is where a black woman’s sense of self lies. Touching my hair without my permission is like touching my soul; I had to relearn it, and in the process I relearned myself.
And learn, I did. So, do not get mad at me when I matrix to keep you from touching me. Do not roll your eyes when I say “please don’t touch my hair.” Do not go to HR when I show up tomorrow with a shirt that says the same thing. My hair is just an extension of this angry black woman that you fear more than you wish to admit.