Like so many black women in the natural hair movement, I used to hate the can I touch your hair? request. It irked me to no end. I don’t remember ever saying no, but I remember sizzling up inside. I remember an acute feeling of discomfort. Why did they want to touch my hair? couldn’t they just ignore it? pretend as if it wasn’t there? why did they have to make comments about my hair, to enquire – how do you do it? and how long does it take? and how long can you keep it? and did you get a haircut? Why so much interest in my hair when I was trying to keep it in the down low, to control and tame it, make it inconspicuous?
That’s the thing with our hair: it’s very conspicuous. You can’t walk in a room with an afro and go unnoticed. No undercover operation can be successful with our kind of hair unless it is nicely braided into submission or tamed in some other way. The hair is wild and alive and wants to be seen and noticed, be a part of things. It’s like a rebellious child who refuses to be controlled, refuses to be taught what her parents believe are good manners, refuses for her spirit to be broken into submission. I like that in a child. Did not like it in my hair. It was the thing about being noticed all the time that bothered me, not so much the hair itself. I always kind of liked the hair. I just wished others would treat it as just that: hair.
But our hair is no ordinary thing, it can’t just sit there quietly, legs crossed, proper. I’ve accepted that now. These days I say thank you when I’m praised, hmm when criticized and gladly answer questions when asked. I’ve noticed that now that I’ve accepted my hair as it is, it doesn’t bother me anymore when people ask if they can touch it. Now that I’ve made my peace with it, it no longer bothers me when someone asks me to touch my hair. I remember being asked often when I was younger and traveling, and it didn’t bother me then. Why did it become a problem later? I realize now that that animosity was self-hate. Because I was unhappy and frustrated with my own hair, because I felt insecure about it, I projected that onto others. And I’m not saying anything about anybody else here, I’m speaking about my own experience with this issue. It doesn’t mean that it’s the same for everyone.