“Yes, I have curly black hair, and no, you can’t touch it.”
That’s what I should have told my curious friends when I was a little girl.
I am biracial. I’m black and Puerto Rican, and I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m biracial. I also happen to have curly black hair, and strangers always love to touch it. It doesn’t even matter how I wear it. Whether I choose braids, ponytails, or natural and down, I can never stop people from wanting to touch my hair.
This was especially the case in high school. Even school officials always came up to me in the hall and touched my hair. Those interactions almost always included a comment like, “I want your hair!” or a mention of how pretty it is. One Halloween, I went to school as a hippie, I wore my hair in an afro, and students made comments like, “OMG, is that your real hair?” as they touched my hair without my permission.
This Ted Talk perfectly explains why it’s never appropriate to touch someone’s “black” hair. When people touch our hair without permission, it makes us feel uncomfortable, like we’re on display. In those moments, though, we don’t draw people’s attention because of our accomplishments or talents. We receive attention just because of our skin and hair color, and that’s not OK.
No one has the right to touch anyone else anywhere without their permission. Our bodies belong to us and only us, so we have every right to feel angry or get upset when people try to touch our hair without thinking or asking. When people touch my hair without asking, it feels like they’re trying to claim me and my culture, but now, I’m fighting back.
If you’re black or multi-racial and have had people touch your hair without asking permission, I’m so sorry you’ve had to experience this unique discomfort. I’m sorry that strangers feel the need to touch black hair because it seems “so different” from theirs.
And if you’re one of those people who touch strangers’ hair, you’re trying to exercise a right you don’t have. You kill people who look like me just because of the color of their skin then reach out to pet us like we’re animals. So next time you think a stranger’s hair is “so exotic” or “so beautiful” just because it’s “black,” think before you act. Then, just don’t do anything. Treat my hair the way it should be treated – just like anyone else’s hair.