Can I Touch Your Hair?

by Joy Harris-Bird
Joy Harris-Bird

During this time, I have found myself Netflix and chilling. One of the series that I could not wait to watch was Self Made, inspired by the life of Madam CJ Walker. I was so inspired by this story and amazed at all the different hairstyles and textures that were on display during this documentary. I was even more amazed at how tenacious Madam CJ Walker really was. She had a dream, and she didn’t let anything stop her from reaching it.

After watching the documentary, I really started to think about women, Black women in particular, and our hair.

A few weeks ago, I watched the short film Hair Love by Matthew Cherry and was utterly inspired. I really began to think about my experiences with my own hair. For so much of my life, I, like many other black women around the world, have been asked, “Can I touch your hair? I started to wonder why this question bothers so many other African American women around the world, including me. There must be more to the story, right?

Picture this, you’re at work minding your own business, and suddenly you feel the hand of someone you do not know slowly picking up one of your freshly done braids. This stranger is fascinated with the length and the texture; they are amazed at the amount of time you tell them it took to get your hair done. They’re curious as to how in the world you even styled your hair this way. A month or two later, your braids are gone, and you’re rocking either your natural hair or a wig. At this point, they are baffled and begin to question you as if you’re the prime suspect in an investigation. You find yourself defending and explaining who you are. It’s more than just hair; it is the way we express ourselves in a world that would rather we didn’t.

I think many people, especially from other cultures, don’t understand the role hair plays in Black women’s lives.

For centuries, our hair — from head wraps to finger waves and even wigs — has been under attack. While natural hair is embraced now, it was not always accepted. And to be honest, it is still not entirely accepted now. The treatment of Black hair in this country by the media, by workplaces and schools, by the curious stranger has always been an attempt to emphasize Eurocentric beauty. While most are fascinated with our hair, they still don’t believe it is professional for the workplace. We have been told to cover up our hair, which ultimately covers up who we really are.

The way I choose to style my hair doesn’t affect my value.

I am still an educated black woman, no matter what style I want to wear. I can rock a headwrap like my sister India Arie or braids like my girl Brandy. Like Lady of Rage, I can rock rough and stuff with my afro puffs, or I can do a short style like Halle. I can pull a wig out of my collection like Vivica Fox or pull it up in a bun (my current quarantine style). Whatever I decide, is MY choice! My hairstyle is my heritage, and it fuels my creativity to change the world.

So, long story short, can you touch a Black woman’s hair? Yes! Should you? Probably not! 🙂

“The things that make us different-those are our superpowers!” – Lena Waithe

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