Don’t Touch My Hair – A Reflection

donttouch2

imagine standing there

still. silent. naked.
imagine standing there
hands chained. eyes swelled. fear ridden.
imagine standing there
lips chapped. back blooded. ankles swollen.
imagine standing there
sized up. felt up. fed up.
imagine standing there
voiceless. powerless. worth less
than a human
yet auctioned. hands raised. you the prize.
(you know you’ve always been the prize.)
imagine now
hands still seeking to stroke
your black skin, your kinky hair, your heritage,
without permission
making you relive
your ancestors’ pastime—past pain—all over again.

— “Imagine” by Mel Chanté

Touching A Black Woman’s Hair

I was on break at work reading Between the World and Me, when a red-haired-middle-aged woman asked, “Did you do that to your hair yourself?” referring to my two braids. Before I could answer, her hand was already reaching to touch my hair, to absorb my essence.

I wish I could say I snapped my head back and slapped the back of her hand like mother would child—cutting my eyes like mother would too. (Pretty much like #HairNah.)

I wish I could say my great great grandmother’s spirit somehow resurrected through my flesh and chastised her pre-invasion and said don’t you dare touch my child.

I wish I could say I dodged the bullet of bare white hands attempting to pet my human head of hair, yet again.

But I didn’t. I sat there. Still. Silent. Stripped of words of refusal. Naked in a nonphysical way. I sat there. Processing what was happening while other coworkers watched the scene. Flashing back to a time my ancestors had no choice but to sit there, still, silent, stripped and naked in front of an audience and allow white hands to probe every inch of their bodies to see just how much money their blackness was worth this time.

All too often black women are left processing moments like these, in disbelief or shock or offense. Whether intentional or not, touching a black woman’s hair without permission can be viewed as a subtle form of microaggression. Usually after the touch occurs, the black woman becomes the center of attention, of curiosity, highlighting their difference or “otherness.”

Some may argue it has nothing to do with race, but there’s something to be said about invading the personal space of a black body without consent. And today, we actually have a choice to say don’t touch my hair if we feel that way, because there was a time we didn’t have that right. 

After digesting what happened, I realized my lack of response could be viewed as enabling, not only to the woman who touched me, but to the onlookers, and even to my own personal preferences.

So to my future self, and to those who may have a similar encounter, I hope the response is more direct:

  • stop someone before they touch your hair if you don’t want them to.
  • tell the person you don’t feel comfortable with them touching your hair.

In the meantime, honor your self and your crown, speak up when the time is right, journal your feelings when you need to and share your experiences with trusted ones.

Do you have a #donttouchmyhair story? If so, how did you respond? Let’s share and heal in the comments below. 💛

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