So what I’m about to write isn’t new, in the sense that countless black people have written about this issue before, but I’m going to add my two pennies worth to the conversation anyway. Perhaps my contribution won’t be as articulate as others, and perhaps I won’t bring anything new to light but I’m willing to join the chorus of other people talking and writing about this issue until people get the message and change their behaviour accordingly.
Growing up, I remember countless women lamenting about how awful it was to have random strangers accost them in the street and, with no permission, start rubbing their pregnant tummies. The women spoke and wrote about how intrusive and rude it was to be felt up by someone they didn’t know. They spoke about pregnancy being uncomfortable enough without having their personal space invaded by some creepy nutter with no manners.
I think, for the most part, society now realises that it is absolutely not okay to stroke a stranger just because they happen to be pregnant. This isn’t a community bump, there to be fondled by passers-by who happen to like babies. It’s someone’s baby encased in HER body which, unless she has said otherwise, is not to be touched.
So why doesn’t the same apply to black people and our hair?
Reader, I can’t begin to explain how infuriating it is when someone thinks they have the God-given right to plunge their dirty hands in to my hair. If we’re not biologically related, close friends, sleeping together or I haven’t paid you to be in my hair then what the fuck are you doing?
I appreciate that sometimes my hair looks amazing (!) and I also appreciate that seeing someone with albinism rocking locs might be rare to you but, if I see someone wearing a really nice pair of trousers is it okay for me to start stroking their legs? If I see a random person on the street and think that they’re good looking is it cool for me to attempt to stroke his or her face?
When people approach me to tell me that they like my hair I’m always really flattered, it’s always nice to receive a compliment, I have no problem with that, but touching me – or any part of me – is a no-no. There’s a line. Use your words not your hands!
The irony is that I’m actually a very tactile and affectionate person. If I know and like you I might hug you death but I also know a few people who don’t like to receive hugs or any kind of physical engagement at all and although that seems strange to me, I respect their space and refrain from interacting with them in that way. Sometimes I forget but when I catch myself I apologise and sometimes, with close friends, I’ll attempt to give them a massive hug on occasions just to wind them up, but we’re close, we can do that kind of stuff.
The problem is when I don’t know a person or if I know them in a capacity outside of friendship. I have in no way indicated that it’s okay for you to touch me so why would you? Twice this week, at work two colleagues – one of whom I had never even met before – complemented my hair before launching in to cop a feel. This is not okay. Think about it, if I had run up to each of these women and given them a massive hug at work I think we would all agree that this wouldn’t be very professional but somehow it’s perfectly fine to molest my hair?
As tactile as I am, I don’t like to be touched by people I don’t know, which I think is fair. Touching is an intimate thing and if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t know what kind of energy you have. Aside from the fact that it’s creepy to be touched by random people, I’m quite a spiritual person and as such am weary of the kind of energy I am exposed to. Just as I don’t socialise or engage with toxic people because their toxicity can affect my mood and energy levels, and just as I am very weary of who I let in to my home for the same reasons, I am also selective about the people I am intimate with – sexually or otherwise. It’s dangerous to underestimate the power of negative energy so I don’t feel I’m being unreasonable when I pull away from strangers who feel that their need to touch my hair is more important than my right to personal space.
As I’ve said previously, I appreciate that albinism is rare and as such some people are floored when they see me but, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, that’s your issue, not mine. You being excited, shocked, in awe or whatever when you see someone ‘different’ does not give you the right to dehumanise me, and let me be very clear, when you attempt to touch my hair without permission, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
I am not a puppy to be stroked at your will nor am I a rare exhibit to be poked and prodded. I am a human being like you who has the right not to be interfered with, so when you launch at me, understand that despite your intentions, your action is rude and disrespectful and I am angered not flattered.
Right at the beginning I mentioned that this is an issue that countless black people have tackled. This is because for years, black people – men and women alike, have been the victims of hair molestation by curious white people. ‘Ooh can I touch it?’ ‘Oh it’s so fluffy’. ‘Is that your real hair?’ ‘How often do you wash it?’ And on, and on with the questions and the touching.
As a group of people who have literally had everything taken away from us at one point or another; who have literally had children ripped out of our bodies; who have been raped in order to create more ‘slaves’; who have suffered forced state sponsored sterilisations; who were legally described as not fully human; and who today are the victims of state sponsored murders at the hands of the police; whose continued victimisation is reduced to ‘playing the race card’; who are subjected to longer prison sentences than their white counterparts for identical crimes; and who are still regarded as ‘other’ in society, you can understand why being poked and prodded whilst going about our everyday business is going to piss us off.
For centuries we have been at the mercy of everyone else so while touching our hair may seem like a little thing to you, for us it is one more thing to add the devastatingly long list of indignities we face as black people in this society.
So, once again, for the people at the back: WE ARE NOT YOUR PROPERTY. YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO TOUCH US SIMPLY TO SATISFY YOUR OWN CURIOSITY.
Goddammit, it’s 2017, if black hair is still a mystery to you, you need to get out more.