I’m hard to miss, and I don‘t mean that in a conceited way. I’m a black girl with ruby-red lipstick and hip length braids in a predominantly white neighborhood. I basically look like a beached black mermaid about 95% of the time.
Without fail, almost every day, I have someone come up to me and exclaim, “I love your hair!” as they help themselves to handfuls of my locks. Whether I’m wearing a weave, braids, or a natural bun, someone always makes it a point to put their hands in my hair.
Consider this the field guide for “What Not to Do to Black People 101”.
I get it: black hair can be fascinating. It’s a different texture than most people are accustomed to seeing or feeling. It can do so many things. One day, I’ll rock a cute top knot, the next day some Bantu knots, and a week later some waist length cornrows. My hair is an expression of myself and my heritage. My hair often speaks volumes before I’ve even opened my mouth.
Black hair is a political statement.
We’ve seen this come into play with the recent protests at Pretoria, a girls’ school in South Africa. School officials had put forth a racist school dress code that essentially banned black hairstyles like cornrows, afros, and braids. Little do people realize that most styles worn by black women are not just for fashion, they’re known as “protective styling”. Weaves, box braids, cornrows, and twists etc are used to protect our hair from breakage, as well as seal in moisture and promote growth… Those “boxer braids” (*internal groaning intensifies*) aren’t just cute girl, they’re functional too.
When I wear my natural hair, in all it’s 4C glory, I’m often perceived as radical, wild, exotic (*more groans internally*), pro-black, and powerful. When I’ve got a bone straight weave, I’m calm, put-together, and non-threatening. How black men and women wear our hair changes other’s perceptions of us. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it can be very bad. From my own personal experience, I was once called a “wild animal” and an “ape” by a customer at my job while I had my natural hair. A few days later when I was wearing a wavy weave, that same customer came in and complimented me on my hair and asked what ethnicity I was.
However, no matter what style I’m slaying, you are not invited to touch my hair without permission. While consent has always been an important issue, we’ve failed to link racial identity with body autonomy. If you can understand that it’s wrong to grope a woman in a tennis skirt, you can understand that it’s also wrong to touch my Senegalese twists.
This isn’t a petting zoo, nor is this up for debate. You can watch me get in formation with these baby hairs and afro while your hands are firmly at your sides (PS: don’t ask if it’s real. I noticed your flea market knock off Coach belt and remained silent). The bottom line is that consent is not only limited to the realm of sexuality. When in doubt, a simple “Hey, your hair looks very nice!” will suffice.
Featured Image Via Black Girls Travel Too