It happens to me...oh maybe once every two weeks. Usually it's at an event where people are drinking and being social. Slowly someone will approach me, often with a broad and familiar smile on their face. "Your hair is awesome," they say. "Can I touch it?"
In my early days of natural hair, I definitely felt some kinda way about being approached with outstretched hands and curiosity about my hair texture. But because it happens so often, my attitude towards that loaded phrase has evolved over time.
I've officially been natural for eight years now, and I've had every kind of ignorance brought my way. I've had white folks ask me "do you wash your hair?" I've had my own people look at me scornfully and ask, "can you even comb that?" as their eyes shoot daggers at my tresses. I've had to learn how to deflect negativity, and how to separate that from genuine wonder. Because even though this is the way our hair grows, natural, Afro-textured hair can evoke confusion and curiosity from even those who should understand it and know what it feels like. Over time I've learned to control the initial anger that ignites when I'm asked an ignorant question about my hair. Over time, I've noticed that I don't get that angry anymore. Life is too short for me to walk around pissed off all the time.
If I get a truly ignorant response, I just pity the fools. The only time I really get upset by curious hair touchers is when they're rude about it. What would possess you to think you can just walk up to someone and touch their hair without asking? Where does this sense of privilege and entitlement come from? Where do you find cojones in that size, and can I get a pair? Do you think the world is your petting zoo and you can just walk around touching people at will? It's something I can't quite understand.
Make no mistake -- I am nobody's pet and nobody's fool. If someone just straight up touches my hair without asking, I respond sharply. Because that is rude and unacceptable. If someone whose attitude I don't care for approaches me and asks to touch my hair, I have no qualms telling them "no," or if I'm being nice, "I'd rather you didn't." If there's an opportunity to let them know how I really feel about it -- that I find their request to be odd and intrusive, and would never occur to me if the shoe was on the other foot -- I take it. But in my experience, part of the online identity I've given myself, and part of wearing my hair in this style, has been about dealing with assumptions and questions. My attitude has mellowed to the point where I'm more or less fine with being a natural hair ambassador. I wind up playing the part for people of all races, even my own.
Surprisingly enough, I enjoy when kids -- especially little girls -- smile when they see my hair, or when babies reach out to touch it. Sometimes when I see children gawking at me at the grocery store, I give them a warm smile. And if they ask to touch it, I'm fine with that, because that's where the appreciation for a variety of hair textures begins. By realizing this hair is soft, touchable, and beautiful. I hope by satisfying their curiosity, I'm teaching them about the beauty of black hair in its variety of wonderful textures.
Two weeks ago, I was approached by someone who asked to touch my hair. The aspiring hair toucher in question was a black guy, who was with a sista with long, straight hair. "I'm sorry, I just have to ask...can I touch your hair?" I was with my husband at the time, and his lady seemed cool with it, so I gave him the go-ahead. He touched my hair very reverently and lightly. "Wow, it's so fluffy!" he said afterward. His lady gave me a tightlipped smile as they strolled off into the crowd.
This past weekend, I was at the supermarket when someone approached me at the grocery store. It was a beautiful, older black woman who wore her hair short but relaxed. "I love your hair! How do you get it to do that?" As she asked, she moved her hands in the universal sign for "I want to touch it." I just let it do what it does," I said. "Can I...?" she asked. "Sure." She ruffled my hair and seemed amazed by the texture. "I'd love to rock a style like that, but my hair won't grow that way," she explained. "How do you know?" I asked her.
I don't know if she even remembers our conversation, but I hope she does. And I hope somewhere, it stuck with her.
Do you get this question often? Does it make you angry? How do you deal with it? What are your thoughts and experiences on people touching your hair?