Hi there, white people who like to touch my hair,
I know, I know, my hair is pretty fabulous. Groups of hairdressers gather around and look at it in almost tearful wonder. I strongly suspect that it consumes small objects, and there’s a whispered tale that it grants wishes. I know you spent many a 1980s afternoon trying to achieve the same effect in vain, but it is impossible to replicate the magic. That’s most unfortunate for you. However, this does not give you the right to touch my hair.
Perhaps it would help to think of my hair as a shiny bauble. Shiny things are pretty, it is true. One is gripped by the urge to touch the shiny, to possess the shiny for oneself. If you are at the stage of development where you must reach out and touch the shiny, I do not mind it if you touch my hair! If you are not a very tiny child, however, I suspect that in other situations you do not touch shiny things when you are presented with them. Funny, then, that you have better self-restraint when it comes to not touching inanimate objects than you do when it comes to touching my hair. I am – I know it’s hard to believe, but stay with me – not myself an object. I am, in fact, more worthy of respect than one.
For, you see, my hair might be an object of the shiny to you. It is, however, a part of my body. It is not like a piece of clothing that I put on everyday – not that you’d be likely to reach out and feel my clothes. It is actually attached to my head. Much in the way that I don’t walk up to you and grab your knees without permission, I would like if you gave my hair the same respect. It is just as bizarre for someone to come up to me and grab me by the hair as it would be if someone grabbed me by the kneecaps. (Well, at this stage, I’ve got such an ingrained negative reaction to having my hair touched that having my knees grabbed might be less unpleasant.) This is why I stay there in shock and smile nervously rather than berate you. Because it’s just too weird to react in time to yell, and, if someone has that little respect for my body already, I get kind of scared about what else they might do if I complain.
I’m not a dog for you to pat. I’m not even a silky piece of fabric. If you run your fingers through my hair, it gets messed up. It doesn’t spring back into its former shape. Even if it did, that doesn’t give you the right to play with it, much like I don’t pull at your lips or earlobes. Running fingers through my hair is the kind of thing I like to keep for people I’m on intimate terms with, or my hairdresser, who tend to ask permission first. Assuming these intimacies robs me of my boundaries.
I don’t like it from friends, so I especially don’t like it from strangers. Particularly if those strangers haven’t introduced themselves first. And I really, really can’t stand it if you grab my hair from behind. The worst, however, on top of all that, is when male strangers do it. Because that kind of entitlement to women’s bodies, the total lack of awareness of the power dynamics at play, is terrifying.
The most infuriating part is that it’s just plain racist. Having a physical feature that says “not white” doesn’t give you the right to gawk at me like a zoo animal (my eyes are down here, people), much less touch me. You shouldn’t feel entitled to ask where I got it, or comment on how wild it is, or poke at me like I’m an exotic foreigner in a nineteenth century London exhibit. I’m not an example of elsewhere. I’m a human being. In theory, I should have bodily autonomy.
I shouldn’t have to cover it up or straighten it to escape your clutches. I’m proud of my hair, and I should be able to walk down the street without associating it with flinching. You’re not my hairdresser, my family member, my very close friend, or my lover, so kindly leave me quite alone.
With absolute sincerity,