Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo

Hair does not mean the same thing to white women as it does to black women.  Hair for us is a physical indicator of the ways in which we are different. It is no accident that the first black millionaire, Madame CJ Walker sold hair care products. Part of female beauty has always included long flowing locks, and for black women who have  gravity defying hair, that refuses to be tamed, this can be extremely problematic. To mess with our hair, is to mess with your safety; much of who we are is invested in our beautiful audacious locks.

Many of my childhood memories involve sitting at my mothers feet as she braided my hair for the week.  Every Saturday night I would unbraid my hair, and then my mother would wash it and braid it.   I would then put on my head tie,  and go to bed thinking of how pretty I would look in church the next day.  This is a ritual that most black women can relate to.

As a black girl growing in a mostly Greek and Italian neighbourhood, my hair often became the subject of conversation.  I was a curiosity.  People would  touch it, and ask questions about its care like my hair was some kind of pet dog.  That they were being racist, or treating me like some kind of exotic creature, never once occurred to them.

Today I am a grown woman with dreadlocks that reach to the middle of my image back.  I love them, and they are an expression of my racial pride.  What many white people often fail to realize is that wearing our hair natural is a political choice on the part of black women. In a culture that constantly teaches that anything black, or associated with blackness is negative, to publicly wear your hair natural is to embrace blackness as a positive.  More often than not, when the media chooses to portray black women as angry or revolutionary, our hair is altered to its natural state even if the woman in question has straightened hair. The most recent example of this, can be found on the heinous cover of the New Yorker, where Michelle was depicted with an Afro and a rifle.

Natural hair equals revolutionary because it says I do not covet whiteness.  It says I have decolonized my mind and no longer seek to embrace the qualities of my oppressor.  It flies in the face of beauty traditions that seek to create black women as unfeminine and thereby undesirable.  My natural hair is one of the truest expressions of the ways in which I love myself because I have made the conscious choice to say that I am beautiful, without artifice or device.  It further states that I will not be judged by the yardstick of white womanhood.  My beauty is a gift from my foremothers who knew on a more instinctual level than we know today, that ‘woman’ is as beautiful as she believes herself to be.

Today I have the confidence to loudly proclaim no you may not touch my hair.  I am not an animal at a petting zoo.  I will not be your path to the exotic. Even worse than the ones that ask, are those that assume that they have right to touch me without permission.  I believe that part of this urge stems from the fact that black women like so many other WOC, have historically been denied even the smallest forms of bodily autonomy.  While white women were covered in multiple layers; corsets, floor length dresses etc, no honour was given to our desire for modesty. The black female slave at anytime could be forced to disrobe for the pleasure of her owners.

Today white people still feel that they have the right to our bodies.  It can be a small act like touching our hair without permission, to a heinous act as serious as sexual assault.  In each case it is an assault, and an affront to our bodily integrity.  My blackness and your curiosity does not give you the right to touch me.  I don’t care if you smile while you do it, or whistle Dixie out of your ass.  My body deserves just as must respect as anyone else.  In answer to your question both verbalized and assumed, NO YOU MAY NOT TOUCH MY HAIR.

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94 comments for “Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo

  1. Gio
    September 10, 2008 at 10:13 am

    I grew up in the Caribbean and being the only white child in my school I often had requests form black children to touch my hair… I never thought they were being racist, I still don’t think they were being racist, only curious.

  2. September 10, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Great post. You know, as I’m so white I’m quite nearly clear, the closest I’ve ever had to such an experience were the seemingly never-ending impositions and invasions on my belly and my baby while I was pregnant and just after I had my son, while he was still “newborn” looking (once he started looking like the white boy he is, he got his inherent bodily autonomy gifted from the world and no longer had to deal with people feeling entitled to just grab at him). But I knew it was temporary. And obviously, many, many men think that my female body is theirs for the taking and unwanted touching, but it’s not as brazen, as open, because they always have the fear that some other white man (like, say, a police officer) will protect me. *g* The definition of my (white) body as sexualized and property is very different in kind and in scale from the definition of Your Body is sexualized and property.

    And I would be hard fucking pressed not to physically defend myself against someone who just up and started petting my fucking hair. Or even just asking. Can you imagine the outrage if some man came up to me and asked if he could touch my fucking (straight, brown, caucasian) hair? Or even a woman? That is fucking creepy. I don’t even like it when people stand too close to me in line.

    Natural hair equals revolutionary because it says I do not covet whiteness. It says I have decolonized my mind and no longer seek to embrace the qualities of my oppressor.

    This is exactly the (unacknowledged, obviously) fear I hear in other white women’s comments (at the hockey rink, the PTA, work, weird parties, other places where I am forced into contact with strangers) regarding any black woman who dares to wear natural hair in their presence. “Why can’t she just be normal?” The privilege and racism inherent in their insistence on defining themselves and those like them as normal is something they don’t even bother to acknowledge. The fact that they equate natural black characteristics with *danger* always seems to escape them, too. See, that’s another thing, right? You need to act and look as white as you can, because then we know you’re not dangerous. Like the other black people.

    I’m always struck that they are so oblivious to their racism that they’ll talk like that (they obviously think it’s okay to talk like that around me, because I’m *white*). Although, I guess if they’ll just walk up and *touch* you, I shouldn’t be surprised.

  3. September 10, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Oh wow, I didn’t realize how long that was until I posted it. sorry! I’m a thread-hog.

  4. Xay
    September 10, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This cannot be said enough.

  5. FashionablyEvil
    September 10, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Great post. I’ve read a number of posts about black women and their hair, but none that explained it as clearly or eloquently as you have here. Thanks.

    I especially love this bit, given how women are so frequently told that they must change to be beautiful.

    My natural hair is one of the truest expressions of the ways in which I love myself because I have made the conscious choice to say that I am beautiful, without artifice or device.

  6. Ali
    September 10, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Gio, I had similar experiences growing up (blonde child whose family spent a lot of time along the Texas-Mexico border… but you have to admit there’s a huge difference between what you describe as children asking permission to touch another child’s hair and adults touching a child’s, or another adult’s, hair without even asking.

    I absolutely hated having my hair touched (without my permission) as a child, but as I grew older people granted my body the respect it deserved (at least as far as hair was concerned). Renee did not and does not get that same respect, and yes, that is racist.

  7. September 10, 2008 at 11:15 am

    This is a fantastic post, thank you.

    I believe that part of this urge stems from the fact that black women like so many other WOC, have historically been denied even the smallest forms of bodily autonomy.

    Do you mean you believe the urge on behalf of the people doing the petting stems from a belief that WOC don’t have bodily authority, or that the repulsion on behalf of the woman being petted comes from the knowledge of this history?

    I ask because it often seems to me that people with white privilege (including myself) tend to act without this knowledge and understanding – presuming a right to touch another person is internalised, in a ‘this interests me so I will touch it’ way rather than a ‘this person has less right to her body than a white woman’ attitude. It’s still a violation, but in many cases maybe coming from ignorance rather than active entitlement.

    It also interests me because I’m a white woman with unusually long hair and do, on occasion, have to struggle with people (usually white, men and women) presuming a right to fondle it, though to nothing like the extent I understand black women have to deal with. I do know how terribly violating it feels and how ignorantly entitled people act when you call them on it.

    Or, by picking on that phrase am I showing my whiteness again? I apologise if it’s so.

  8. September 10, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Yes! Renee, you’ve hit on one of my soapbox topics.

    I transitioned to natural hair two years ago and never looked back. It is the most freeing decision I have made. Other friends who have gone natural agree. I never realized how much of life many black women give up in an effort to conform–no swimming, no sweat-causing activity, etc. In the book “Hair Story,” there is a heartbreaking passage about a black woman explaining how she has sex while keeping her partner from discovering her natural hair. Another black blogger once said to me “We are the only women who spend most of our lives not even knowing what our natural hair texture is, because the goal is to hide it–behind straightening combs, relaxers, weaves and wigs–from cradle to the grave.” It’s true. And very sad.

    Gio, I think the difference between your situation and the one Renee describes is that we are not accosted by children. Just the other day, a grown white woman started pulling on my twists because they looked “cool.” I imagine the other difference–and I cannot be sure, correct me if I’m wrong–is that the Caribbean society in which you grew up did not view hair like yours as inferior, strange, militant and ugly. If my experience with black children in the States is any indication, they covet long, straight, silky hair, because they are taught early that it is a marker of beauty. (“The Bluest Eye” anyone?) Certainly the adults I have met from the Caribbean have the same colonized beliefs about black hair as black Americans do.

  9. FashionablyEvil
    September 10, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Debi, I think the wording of Renee’s post makes it clear that she’s talking about people who feel entitled to touch black women’s hair:

    Even worse than the ones that ask, are those that assume that they have right to touch me without permission. I believe that part of this urge stems from the fact that black women like so many other WOC, have historically been denied even the smallest forms of bodily autonomy.

    “right to touch me without permission” being the antecedent of “this urge.”

    Also, I think the “ooh, this is interesting, let me touch” comes directly from an internalized feeling of superiority and lack of respect for WOC’s bodily autonomy, even if that’s not a conscious thought. It’s all part of privilege.

  10. Gio
    September 10, 2008 at 11:27 am

    I take no issue with the majority of the post, but my impression from the writer was that she was say that one child asking to touch another child’s hair if they belonged to different races was a racist act. I disagree. Maybe I mis-understand the author’s intent.
    I agree that things are different when you are dealing with adults.

  11. September 10, 2008 at 11:30 am

    @ Debi
    Do you mean you believe the urge on behalf of the people doing the petting stems from a belief that WOC don’t have bodily authority, or that the repulsion on behalf of the woman being petted comes from the knowledge of this history?

    Yes precisely. To reach out and touch someone with explicit permission or to assume that it is okay to view someone as exotic because they have non white features is indeed based on the history of who black womens bodies have been treated.

  12. September 10, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I think your hair is fantastic. Far be it from me to condemn the choices of black women–I don’t and never can fully understand the cultural pressures involved in those decisions–but it makes me very happy to see black women who don’t straighten their hair.

  13. amy
    September 10, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Can’t one event be two things? I mean to say, can’t wanting to touch a black lady’s hair be a racially offensive affront to her, and an act of curiosity on the part of the white person? Doesn’t mean that it’s ok for the white person to touch, and it doesn’t mean the black lady shouldn’t be offended, it just means the same event is two things. It is a racist thing and a thing born of curiosity both. Because it is the black lady’s hair, she gets to decide what the appropriate behavior is, and she gets to choose why it’s appropriate.

    Also, white people who are being touched are experiencing a different event- an affront to personal boundaries and an act of curiosity/expression of feeling. As the person being touched, the white person can frame the event however they want to. But again, the same event, (being touched) can mean different things based on who it is being touched. It is a racially tinged thing to touch a black woman’s hair and a personal boundary thing to touch a white woman’s hair.

    Am I making any sense? Sorry so long.

  14. September 10, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Thanks, Fashonablyevil and Renee. I think I needed the clarification because – as I said – I have to deal with people who think they have a right to my hair as well.

    Although likely not to the same extent.

  15. R
    September 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I have red, unruly, curly hair that, as a child, I wore down to my waist. The black girls at my school wanted to touch it, the old white ladies in the grocery store wanted to touch it, and, now that I’m an adult, people don’t ask to touch it anymore, but I get comments on it almost daily. People also comment on my fair skin and my green eyes, my obvious Irishness. I agree with Gio in that I think it’s mostly harmless curiosity, but I do think there’s a discomfort with the beauty standards of different types of people lurking underneath the surface. I know that there are ways in which comments about my appearance can make me extremely uncomfortable at times, but there are also polite ways in which one can inquire about how people with different hair choose to care for it. It’s probably best not to do it with total strangers, though. There’s almost no way that’s not going to cross a line.

  16. OTM
    September 10, 2008 at 11:54 am

    My best friend’s four year old daughter, N, is mixed race, and has amazing, beautiful, really soft, curly hair, the likes of which is apparently rarely seen in the Oklahoma suburb where my friend and N lived when N was about three. I was out visiting and we went out running errands together, one of which took us to visit a white woman with a white daughter who was around N’s age. The woman and her daughter came out to the car. N was in her car seat in the back, and my friend opened the back door to get something for the woman. The woman cooed to her daughter, “Oh honey! Look at her beautiful hair! Do you want to touch it?” My friend and I looked at each other like, “She did not just say that…” and before my friend could intervene, the little girl reached in and stroke N’s head.

    Now N was only three, but she shot that little white girl a look so hard and so fierce I thought death rays were going to shoot out of her eyes. The white woman was totally taken aback. “I guess she is just tired!” My friend said, “No, she just doesn’t like people to touch her hair like that.”

    Thankfully the friend and N got the hell out of OK and moved to Atlanta later that year.

  17. September 10, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Interesting comments to this post.

    Here’s a scenario to chew on. I am transitioning (growing out a relaxer). So, one day I debut my hair to work. Now, I will be the first to admit my hair is kind of curious looking. It isn’t exactly what I expected, as it crimps and curls on it’s own schedules. And these crimps and curls are fairly loose in parts, which means the Angela Davis ‘fro of my dreams probably isn’t going to happen for the kid.

    At any rate, I rocked my unprocessed hair to work. All day long I got compliments. One coworker even sang me a song. But no one even *asked* to touch it.

    I work in a predominantly PoC environment.

    Just saying.

  18. Ali
    September 10, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    @ Gio,
    I went back and reread the post and unless I’m just missing it (Renee, please correct me if I’m wrong), Renee never mentioned children specifically touching her hair. She mentioned her hair being touched while she was a child, but never specified the ages. In my own anecdotal experience, it was never other children who touched my hair when I was a child, only adults.
    I agree that when it’s among children, it can absolutely be just a curiousity issue and nothing more, but that’s not what I’m gathering this post is about.

  19. September 10, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    I wonder if there isn’t something about middle class protestant (white) values involved too… As in, hair must be CONTROLLED at all times. As a woman with unruly curly hair, I always feel sort of un-put-together when in the company of those with hair that hangs there all straight and well-behaved. As a white woman though, my experience is of course very different than yours, but I wonder if there’s some kind of relationship between hair that goes all willy-nilly and stereotypes about personality. Or maybe my kind of hair just isn’t in fashion any more since the perm craze.

  20. Ali
    September 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Also, this, repeated for emphasis:

    “My blackness and your curiosity does not give you the right to touch me…. My body deserves just as must respect as anyone else.”

  21. September 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    I am totally guilty of touching a black friend’s fro in my early high school days. His response: “Why don’t white people get that this is my real hair?” Oh. Right.

    As a child, I used to have long blond wavy hair that adults would routinely touch without permission (and I have a sensitive scalp; that shit hurt!). Yet somehow I still didn’t get that touching someone else’s hair without permission might be annoying.

    Yeah, my privilege was showing big time. I’m working on it.

  22. September 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    What do you think of the Glamour editor awhile back who admonished natural hairstyles as being too “political” for a professional environment?

  23. NicoleGW
    September 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Ugh, when I was in middle and high school I was totally That Guy. It never even crossed my mind that asking my black friends if I could touch their hair was othering, racist, and, I’m sure, incredibly irritating. I have no idea how they were able to be so patient with me. They were probably used to that sort of shit going to a predominantly white school. I had one friend who had processed hair that she got styled every week or two, and it was an endless source of stupid white person fascination for me.

    All it took for me to realize how awful I was being was spending like thirty seconds thinking about it from her point of view. The fact that I apparently couldn’t spare those thirty seconds of thought until I was 18 or so says a lot about my mind-set regarding racism and PoC back then.

  24. tomorrowshorizon
    September 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Great post. It is rude to touch strangers, especially without permission, and it is particularly obnoxious when the touching carries racial and sexist overtones. I admit that I am curious about black hair because the texture is so different, but I understand that any presumption to touch or even ask to touch it is totally out of place.

    I do have one question. In what contexts is it okay for a white woman to touch a black man or woman’s hair? Assuming you are friends, is it ever okay to play with it or to ask to play with it? Is it different if the hair you would like to touch belongs to a black man as opposed to a black woman? I ask because I do play around with my other white friends’ hair, and I would like to know if it is appropriate to ever do that with my black friends (understanding that the racial power differential can mean they are not equivalent situations even when I may think they are). Also, in the context of flirting, My guess is that it’s an individual comfort level thing, and that I should just ask my friends how they feel about it. Is this correct?

  25. tomorrowshorizon
    September 10, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Sorry, that last part should read: Also, does it change in the context of flirting? My guess is that it’s an individual comfort level thing, and that I should just ask my friends how they feel about it. Is this correct?

    Or is it one of those things you just shouldn’t do, period? (Which, fair if it is, I’m just trying to figure out what the boundaries generally are.)

  26. NancyP
    September 10, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I have to say that I would not dream of asking to touch an acquaintance’s hair, but I would ask about styling – eg, higher or lower maintenance than last style. I don’t want to judge anyone’s political correctness according to their hair, though – I don’t think someone is less evolved because they have straightened hair or very short hair. It’s their hair! I do think that they might be a tad less fashionable, but then again, so am I. ;)

  27. September 10, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Reading punkrockhockeymom’s coment at the top, I was struck by this part: This is exactly the (unacknowledged, obviously) fear I hear in other white women’s comments (at the hockey rink, the PTA, work, weird parties, other places where I am forced into contact with strangers) regarding any black woman who dares to wear natural hair in their presence. “Why can’t she just be normal?” Aside from being appalled (though I shouldn’t be) that there are still people who think like that, wouldn’t the answer to that question, if they thought about it for, oh, twelve seconds, be: “Um, it IS normal. It’s *her* normal, natural hair.” …Sorry, I was just struck by the total stupidity of that line of thought, and I’m sorry punkrockhockeymom has to deal with it. Normal, sheesh.

  28. Greek Girl
    September 10, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    As a Greek girl who grew up in a white neighborhood and spent 2 days per week in a black neighborhood (my aunt took care of me on weekends) my hair was pet and commented on too.
    My hair was black, long and straight.
    In the black neighborhood I was told I had “good hair” that many of the girls “just gotta touch!”.
    It was braided and brushed and loved.
    I learned American songs like “shortnin’ bread” as I was sung to while girls played with my hair.
    But, let’s face it, as good as it felt, I was also being treated like an exotic creature.
    In the white neighborhood, a MOTHERS response to daughter’s comment about how shiny my hair was:
    “Oh it’s shiny cause it’s greasy”
    That bitch called me a dirty Greek!
    Truth be known, my mother doesn’t like germs. Her children showered and we washed our hair DAILY.
    Our home smelled of Pine Sol, bleach or the gourmet creations she work for hours in the kitchen with.
    My hair was shiny because It had a product called “No More Tangles” in it.

    Every culture has it’s thing.
    Every type of person is an Alien somewhere.

    Is it rude to touch someone’s hair because it’s so unusual to you?
    Is it rude to call someone’s hair “good hair”?
    dismissing the fact that it too has it’s share of problems ie: stringy, flat, can’t hold a curl, has to be washed EVERYday, etc.

    Welcome to human nature.

  29. Kai
    September 10, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Dear lord. I would never dream of touching a stranger without their permission; those people who helped themselves to a grab of your hair were certainly being thoughtless and flashing their privilege around, but you can’t just dismiss it as “innocent curiosity.” I suspect those same people probably had a habit of invading the bodily autonomy of others regularly and are probably the same insufferable people who feel the need to put a hand on your shoulder or back after bumping into you, as though one unwanted touch will somehow make up for the other. Ugh. I can’t believe the rudeness of the act any more than I can believe the utter thoughtlessness and, for lack of a better term, self-absorbed whiteness that would lead someone to view someone else’s hair as a spectacle or rarity for them to comment on, as though they have the right to because you dare to go about like that in PUBLIC. Vomit.

    Of course, I’m guilty of some awful privilege myself. I grew up in White Suburbia and despite having some black friends (I’m not a nosy person by nature, so it had never even occurred to me to grill my friends on their haircare methods or choice of hairstyle), it wasn’t until college that I was actually introduced to black haircare through watching a roommate go through the weave cycle and being present when another (very nosy) roommate grilled her on the process and care. All I remember was feeling utter dismay and wondering why anyone would go through such a demanding process to hide their natural hair, when natural black hair is gorgeous. I hadn’t yet been introduced to feminism then, so it never occurred to me to consider the societal pressure that plays such a large part in that decision. I mean, I hardly ever feel like investing the effort in drying and straightening my hair (and I just have typical thick British pasty white person hair), but if I don’t feel like it I can just stick my hair in a ponytail and not worry about being judged for it or making any political statement. I can’t imagine feeling like I had to maintain any certain hairstyle or be condemned; I felt enough resentment working in a law office in NYC and feeling like I HAD to wear make-up every day. Bah, the whole thing sucks. It sucks not to be able to walk out the door clean and groomed and have that be ENOUGH.

    And obviously it’s not my place to judge, and you posted that picture to make a point and not ask for your appearance to be evaluated by total strangers, BUT: Your hair is beautiful. I am very impressed, I gave up maintaining hair that long during high school because I’m lazy. XD;

  30. AKK
    September 10, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Wow, your post makes me feel absolutely awful – last week my daughter, 4 years old, met a WOC (for the first time in her life)- a woman who has absolutely amazing beautiful long dreadlocks (similar to what you posted in your photo) — and spent about ten minutes lovingly caressing the woman’s hair. We were at a conference, and the woman (who afterward quickly became one of my friends) did not seem to mind … but I never thought of it as a racist act. To all the WOC that my daughter has eyed with wonder and now, occasionally touched, and on behalf of all other sheltered White women with White curious children: I’m sorry. :-( Really, I had no idea.

  31. September 10, 2008 at 2:28 pm


    I’m white/lesbian and I have a completely sensual reaction to natural kinky hair: I think it’s gorgeous and I love how it feels.

    Perhaps because of this – sexual awareness of another woman does, IME, lend itself to being able to see what this would be like from her perspective – I have never asked to touch a woman’s hair, any more than I have ever asked to touch another woman’s breasts. I mean, not in specifics: if we’re mutually making love/exploring each other’s bodies, I assume I have tacit permission to touch any part of her/she me, until either of us says “no” or makes clear I/she is not enjoying this. But I’d no more just reach out and cop a feel of a woman’s hair than I would of her breasts: inappropriate touching of strangers seems like a perfectly clear boundary to me.

  32. JFM
    September 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I think most of us recognize that children generally get a little bit more leeway in terms of rude or inappropriate behavior–after all, they’re still learning. (That is, actions they undertake on their own, rather than the above example of the mother encouraging her child to touch a stranger). This also means when a kid crosses a boundary like that, it’s a perfect time to let them know what the rules are!

    Adults… geez. It’s horrendous that you have had to deal with that. Every person has the right not to have their bodily autonomy violated! Thank you for drawing our attention to this issue, especially those of us who by accident of birth may not have encountered it in our own lives.

  33. CM
    September 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    I was close friends growing up with an african american family. I’d regularly go over to their house to stay the night. They’d spend hours brushing and playing with my hair (I’m white). I never really thought about that until now. Interesting.

  34. Carol
    September 10, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I do realize that this is a common experience for black women. I was guilty of it myself with one roommate in college before she gently corrected me. However, I think the privilege-to-touch goes beyond just black women, and is applied to women in general. As someone pointed out above, and as I have experienced myself, pregnant women are frequent targets of unwelcome, unpermitted, and unsolicited touching. I can’t tell you how many strangers thought they had permission to touch my big old pregnant belly. It made me want to hide, or walk around in a giant parka.

    And oddly enough, my other experience with unwelcome touching was also my hair. I’m white, and have straight brown hair. I was highschool/college age in the late ’80’s/early ’90’s, and my hair was a kind of punk-ish bowl-cut, where the line rested somewhere just above my ears, and my head was shaved from that point down. Again, there were dozens of instances where strangers (mostly men at or near my age) thought it was A-OK to run their fingers down the side or back of my head where it was shaved. Granted, this is all anecdotal, but I think that the experience really is cross-racial to a certain extent.

  35. September 10, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Lemur, thanks, but as a white woman, the only thing I have to deal with is listening to the ignorance spew. And then I get to ask them pointed questions to call them on their privilege and you know, there is a bit of fun in calling a person on their privilege and racism and watching them squirm, with the slow dawning of understanding on their faces that no, just because I am white doesn’t mean I collaborate with their shit.

    I don’t, however, have to deal with grown women trying to touch my damn hair. That would lead me to consider being violent, and I’m not violent at all.

    And also, don’t people have any damn manners? And don’t they raise their children to do so? Because we started teaching our son about other people’s rights to bodily autonomy (and his own rights in that regard, too) at a very, very young age. He would Never just up and touch someone like that.

  36. Mo
    September 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I agree with the above posters that there is a big difference between a child’s natural curiosity about someone different than themselves, and the rude presumptiveness of an adult either invading someone’s space/body themselves or encouraging a child to do that. If I’d been in the situation above with the parent who had her little girl “pet” the other’s hair, I’d have lit into that mother. I myself would NEVER presume to touch another person without there being some level of relationship already in which we could do that. I certainly can’t imagine doing that to a stranger.

    I’m white, but I grew up living off-base as a military brat in various Asian countries. In the 70’s, I got a lot (as a strawberry blonde) of adults touching me and my hair simply because they’d never seen a caucasian kid before. It made me very uncomfortable, and is probably part of why I don’t like being touched by strangers today. It’s probably also part of why I don’t do that to other people.

    To the original poster: Please tell me how I can learn about differences. I don’t WANT to ask questions that would be perceived as racially offensive, it bothers me to think I’d ever come across as that. How would you suggest that an adult white woman ask you how and why your hair care differs from what’s portrayed as the “norm” in our media? I’ll freely admit that while I know the genetics of what makes a person’s hair the shape and texture and color it is, I have no experience or information to tell me anything else about it. Let’s face it, the mainstream media isn’t out there showing WoC haircare techniques and products. (not that I watch a lot of tv) I’m curious but now I’m leery of asking anything.

  37. SMH
    September 10, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    It comes down to at least recently to people being more self absorbed and self centered and presuming the world revolves around them and therefore there are no boundaries. A substantial, Caribbean female prone wearing unique jewelry I have had individuals ask to touch a piece of jewelry or examine it more closely on occasion folks will forget themselves and get a reality check – if looks could kill or a very terse- step away from me. Most are curious and somewhat harmless.

    I have however had comments from passing strangers on what I am doing wearing etc. folks just seem to think they can say anything with impunity. They soon learn with me that rule does not apply. I am and have always been protective of my personal space and person. As a baby I would swat at people who tried to touch me if I did not want to be touched. I am just not a touch person. Except for the occasional baby sitting nearby who reached out to touch my hair because it was in reach – No one has ever had the temerity to ask to touch my hair much less actually touch it.

    I almost want to tell people – I respectfully reserve the right to not hear your opinion and to be left alone. The world does not revolve around you.

  38. Allison
    September 10, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I’m mixed race and adopted by white parents. When I was growing up, my parent’s white friends would touch my hair and they’d talk about it like I wasn’t in the room. I remember one conversation:
    Mom: you’d think it’d be really coarse and thick but it’s actually very delicate!
    Friend: OMG you’re right!
    Me: *thinks* why would they think it would be coarse????
    My mom (awesome as she was about most everything else) didn’t know a thing about how to care for my hair and we’d fight over it alot. It made me feel really bad about my hair, and in highschool I straightened it. I’ve only recently begun to really love the way it is naturally (mainly because I chopped half of it off in a fit of depression and it just didn’t look good straight!) It took me spending $20 a month on hair care products to find stuff that works with my hair, but now I’ve got stuff that works and I love my curlyfrizzycrazy hair! I can’t wait until it grows out. I used to love my big ‘fro but was too afraid to wear it all the time out of the house. Not anymore. :-D My white boyfriend loves it too, and I love him more for it. He’s the only person that I can stand touching it, that’s because I know he’s totally loving it and not just ‘curious.’

  39. AGM
    September 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    This is such an educational post. I never realized there were so many issues surrounding black women’s hair. I always thought many black women’s hairstyles looked very impressive and difficult to achieve. And I’ve occasionally wondered why anyone would go to that much trouble – I mean, after all, it’s just hair. I didn’t realize that natural black hair could be, of all things, revolutionary. It also wouldn’t occur to me to touch a black person’s hair. Or anyone else’s hair, for that matter. Holy crap, is that rude.

    Now, I do know people with less strict boundaries than mine. I personally wouldn’t touch anyone’s hair because I consider it rude, but I also have friends who grew up braiding other girls’ hair, or are just very touchy-feely in general. They wouldn’t think twice about touching someone else’s hair, and wouldn’t mind if you touched their hair, either. Do black children ever do the “Let’s braid each other’s hair!!!1!!11!” thing? If not, it might explain why some white people don’t see hair-touching as rude.

    That doesn’t mean they have the right to touch someone else’s hair – particularly if the person doesn’t want them to. It’s just that there really are some white people who would want to touch a black person’s hair out of sheer wonder, and are sheltered enough to not understand that there might be issues with that, and are so touchy-feely by nature that they might even do it without permission. I understand that this is very likely not the case with everyone who does it, though.

    I do have a question, for anyone who cares to answer. Pardon me if this is completely ignorant, but if white people are fascinated by black hair because they think it’s gorgeous, wouldn’t that constitute a shift toward inclusiveness in beauty standards?

  40. carol h
    September 10, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    When my daughter was a child she had long and very light blond hair. When we traveled to Asia her hair was always a source of great curioustiy to people. People, adults and children, would frequently touch it or seek to touch with or without permission. It was not uncommon for us to be riding on a subway and have a fellow rider fondling her hair. She was also frequently photography with or without permission.

    I did not and do not think it is racist but it was certainly rude. People were curious and did not think about their actions.

    I understand why Renee thinks touching the hair of black women in racist, but it is not always racist. It can also be thought and rude or simply curious and unthinking. Not good, but not always racist.

  41. Bagelsan
    September 10, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    I agree that the rejection of curly hair/etc is definitely related to how “white” straight hair looks (not that all white people have straight hair, of course!) and how “white” the individual feels pressured to look.

    This seems to go for groups who are “white-ish” as well, and I’m thinking in particular of a Jewish girl I went to camp with once named Nadia. She had what would have been perfectly lovely and very curly brown hair, if she didn’t torture it to death every morning with a good half-hour of straightening. The whole cabin smelled like scorched hair for hours, and bits of her fried hair literally *fell off* her head.

    (I’m using “white-ish” for Jews because that seems like the shortest way to express the huge range of experiences/perceptions/identies/etc. So, white-ish. Please let me know if that’s inappropriate, or suggest something better!)

    And even very, very white girls and women worry about how straight their hair is too; my sister has hair that’s straight as a plumbline, but she straightens it nearly daily. But this hair-straightening by white people might be more a current fashion thing than a racial one. Unless, I guess, even being 100% Caucasian and pasty as hell isn’t a guarantee that you’re “white” enough… :p

    So is it the same phenomenon in all three “groups” (white, white-ish, and WOC), or is it a different pressure that sometimes manifests in similar ways?

  42. September 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm


    Guess what, you do not get to tell me what is and isn’t racist. Racism is about how it impacts an individual feel and if I feel targeted then it is a racist act plain and simple. Of course as a white woman you may see it that way because you don’t have a history of having your body co opted to serve the needs of others.
    Though I chose to speak about hair this issue is much more immense. It has a lot to do with how the black female body over all is viewed. Hair is just one way amongst many others that we are stigmatized.

    As for children and their reactions it really depends on the age of a child in question. A three year old being curious is one thing but when this behaviour persists 9, 10, 11, 12 it is no longer cute and okay by me. This is a reflection of a failure on the part of parents to educate about boundaries and difference. It is harmful to the little black child that must constantly explain herself and it ensures that she will see herself as not only different but less than.

    Adolescence is so much about fitting in that constant questioning implying difference will cause the child to want to straighten their hair just to fit in. I know I have seen it and I lived it.

  43. Bagelsan
    September 10, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Erm, I don’t mean to turn it into a “let’s talk about white people!” thing. Just realized my post might have sounded like that…

  44. Cecca
    September 10, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Too much touching my hair = frizzfest = annoyed Cecca.

    I’m a black woman with virgin hair (never had any sort of perm or process) and wow, have I had hair issues. When I was in middle/high school I regularly got it pressed, both to conform to mainstream beauty standards and because it was just easier to run a comb through it once and put it in a ponytail than to spend a half-hour wetting, conditioning, combing and braiding. I started wearing my hair natural in my junior year of high school to prepare for going off to college and not being able to get it done all the time, and it took some getting used to. Not just the years it took to find out which products worked for my hair and what it was supposed to feel like when it was healthy, but also getting used to a new sort of beauty. I didn’t feel pretty for a long time because I didn’t have my long, straight hair anymore, I had this frizzy, curly mess that required a ton of Frizz-Ease products to make it to the end of the day. I’d frequently been told how pretty my long, straight hair was, but my natural hair got little recognition from my black family and my white friends just though it was cool because it was different. Five years later, I’m mostly at ease with my hair, but I still find myself wishing that my curls were a bit more relaxed, or picturing myself with the straight, silky locks I can only get with a $50 hairdressers appointment and a hot comb.

    I don’t really recall people touching my hair being an issue for me (though I’m sure it happened when I was little), mainly because the only people who would dare ask are the friends with whom physical closeness is a given. My friend D, for example, might touch my hair, but she’ll also fall across me in a cuddle pile. The friends with whom I don’t have that level of closeness have been taught not to mess with a black woman’s hair. After years of knowing me and hearing me rant, they just know not to, unless I give them permission.

  45. September 10, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    In what contexts is it okay for a white woman to touch a black man or woman’s hair?

    When the person is being paid to style it, or if that person is given explicit permission.

  46. September 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Renee: Madame CJ Walker was the first self-made woman millionaire, period. Black, white, or whatever.

  47. Carol
    September 10, 2008 at 7:05 pm


    In re-reading my post, I can see how you might have mistaken what I was saying. Although it was phrased a little inartfully, my intention wasn’t to imply that your experiences aren’t racist. Obviously, I am not you and am not allowed to interpret your experiences for you. All I meant was that the whole privilege-to-touch thing gets used in both racist and sexist ways.

  48. Carol
    September 10, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    …and one other thing. Just as I don’t get to speak the truth of your experiences, neither do you get to tell me whether I personally have a history of having my body co-opted to serve the needs of others. That’s an awfully presumptuous thing to assume about me, especially given the statistics on rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse.

  49. roses
    September 10, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Your hair is beautiful.

    And I just can’t imagine the amount of presumption it takes to invade another person’s personal space like that.

  50. September 10, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I take issue with a couple of points raised in the original essay. First of all, going natural is not an act of revolution for *all* black women. I had processed hair for most of my life – kept my butter whipped, y’all! But then I moved to Vancouver, Canada, where black people are 0.9% of the population and I couldn’t find a hairdresser. Going natural was an act of survival, not defiance.

    Also, context is everything. I usually get the ‘can I touch your hair’ comment from Chinese people here in Vancouver. Depending on how they ask and how they approach me, sometimes I say yes. I think of it this way – this person grew up in China. When did they ever encounter a black person in their lives before moving to Canada?

  51. cedarcrow
    September 10, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Carol – I think Renee might have been talking to carol h, who explicitly said she didn’t think it was racist. And while you and I maybe have had a history of having our bodies co-opted by others, *historically* speaking, it’s of a whole different kind than that experienced by women of colour.

    I find it really interesting that, on a feminist blog where most commenters would agree that any man trying to tell us what is/not sexist needs to STFU and do Feminism 101, white commenters are trying to tell Renee – a woman of colour – what is/not racist. Male privilege informs the first example; white privilege informs the second. White people don’t get to decide what is racist any more than men get to decide what is sexist.

  52. Bether
    September 10, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you for this. On the one hand, now I’m feeling horribly embarrassed about comments/behaviors I’ve made/exhibited around black friends. (I’m white.) On the other hand, now I understand a lot more. I recently moved to a neighborhood with a higher percentage of black families than most of the places I’ve lived before. It’s about 43% black and 35% white, as opposed to 80% white and 2% black. One of the differences I noticed is a proliferation of hair salons and hair product stores, which I thought was curious. I knew that black women spent a lot of time and money dealing with their hair, but I had never had it spelled out for me. Thank you.

  53. Heather
    September 10, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    I’m Asian and I’m used to people asking to pet the long black hair (or, you know, not asking). But even though I’m a racial minority, there’s still a huge difference between my situation and Renee’s.
    It’s the difference between people wanting to touch the hair because it fits with society’s standards of beauty, and people wanting to touch because they think it’s different or wierd.

  54. Broce
    September 10, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I once managed a hair salon in a downtown area. I was astounded at how often some of the WOC came in, and the amount of money they needed to spend to keep their hair matching the societal ideal. The investment of both time and money seemed crushing to me.

    I have stick straight hair, and I know I spent too much time trying to get it to curl back when perms were the fashion. I was really, really glad to give that up and recover for myself the amount of time and energy I’d been spending on my hair.

  55. September 10, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Why is it so hard for some of the folks commenting here to quit redirecting this conversation to their experiences, their hair? This post is about Black hair. Knock it off with the “oh I know how this feels because people used to touch my long, societally-approved hair!” and the “but not only Black women have their bodies touched without permission!” statements. You’ve missed the point.


  56. September 10, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    @Rachel….in a thread about co-opting black women, of course the natural response is to co-opt the thread. Privilege, privilege and more privilege.

  57. Heather
    September 10, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Reminds me of damali ayo’s work

    1)for a wear-able response, try “touch your own hair”

    2) or the more complete written response: (dear stranger: i refer to you as a stranger because i do not know you, yet you have just violated my personal boundaries. if you have received this note, it is because you have just touched, grabbed, commented on, or asked an ignorant question about my hair. no matter what your intention, you have treated me as an object to poke and prod, denying me basic human respect and ignoring common decency…)

    3)of course, there is also the billing option: and the how to guide:

  58. September 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    @Heather I loved the book rent a laughed my ass off and purposefully read it at work to make a symbolic statement about racism in the workplace.

  59. Peter
    September 10, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Wow, you have awesome hair – and I just mean that as a compliment, I’m not trying to be racist!

    Cool post, I had no idea there was so much politics and emotion invested in hair.

  60. Heather
    September 11, 2008 at 12:21 am

    @ renee
    nice. i’m hope your colleagues thought twice.
    ayo has a lot of performance/street art pieces (reparations day is just a month away) – there are a lot of places where just reading this book publicly would be an interesting statement/performance.

  61. Katie
    September 11, 2008 at 1:02 am

    Seriously, though – this thread is overrun with people trying to dilute, negate, or explain away the racist phenomenon of people touching black women’s hair without permission. Co-sign with Renee and Rachel.

  62. September 11, 2008 at 1:07 am

    “Today I have the confidence to loudly proclaim no you may not touch my hair. I am not an animal at a petting zoo. ” RIGHT ON!

    Great post!! By some of the comments, it looks like it might have actually expanded some people’s horizons. YAY!

  63. September 11, 2008 at 1:18 am

    Really, there’s no reason for the white people in this thread to start talking about having their hair touched by black children, as if recalling the experience helps them “relate” to Renee’s experience. It’s not the same thing, and it’s not the point. The point is not to find commonalties between white hair and black hair. Sometimes the relation is asymmetrical, and you have to realize that you have privileges that other people don’t, that it doesn’t always balance out in the end.

  64. September 11, 2008 at 1:29 am

    I would never think to touch someone’s hair without asking. Other than my wife’s, the only people who’s hair I have ever touched is a couple blond haired wrestlers with shaved heads. Hair any coarser than that (including my own) actually gets on my nerves. Point remains however.

    Your body, not mine.

    Your life, not mine.

    Your personal space, not mine.

    I don’t know how this is surprising or news.

  65. September 11, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Ack. Fail @ closing line, I’m sorry. It is intended to mean that it should not be surprising, nor should it be news that people have a right to bodily integrity. It makes me sad that it is.

  66. Kat
    September 11, 2008 at 2:16 am

    I can’t believe there are people out there who actually think it’s okay to ask strangers if they can touch them. I mean, I believe it, but I don’t understand why anyone would think that’s okay. I’m white and the idea to ask a perfect stranger if I can touch them is ridiculous to me.

  67. September 11, 2008 at 2:38 am

    Oh my god. I read the first two or three posts on this thread and then had to just stop.

    Dear white women. Don’t fucking touch my hair anymore. Stop petting me like you would a dog. Please.

    Is that so hard to understand?

    Thank you for this post Renee.

  68. September 11, 2008 at 9:50 am

    A word of warning (and a bit of humor):

    The People’s News: Black Woman’s Hair Touched One Too Many Times.

  69. literarycritic
    September 11, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Another co-signer to Renee’s and Rachel’s statements.

    When my best friend (black) and I (white) went on vacation together the summer after graduation from high school, her relaxed hair went natural from exposure to the pool and salt water. She complained about it, stating that she was not looking forward to the painful hours at the salon that would be required once we went home. It was the first time anyone had ever mentioned that specifically black experience to me. I was, like a typical white girl, shocked that she went to such lengths to straighten/relax her hair. “Why?” I said. “It looks so awesome as it is. You should leave it like that, it’s so cool. I’m jealous. I wish my hair could look like that.” She sighed and looked away.

    I was genuine in my admiration of her natural hair, but after reading this post I’m cringing at the memory of what I thought I could say to her about it. Who was I to question her choices, voice my approval (or disapproval, should I have disapproved) of her hair, whatever state she chose to put it in? It was her hair, and if I’d read this post before that moment, I would’ve left the entire topic alone. Thanks for the consciousness-raising lesson, Renee. I’ll be more careful from now on.

  70. Jess
    September 11, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Carol says:
    September 10th, 2008 at 7:29 pm – Edit

    …and one other thing. Just as I don’t get to speak the truth of your experiences, neither do you get to tell me whether I personally have a history of having my body co-opted to serve the needs of others. That’s an awfully presumptuous thing to assume about me, especially given the statistics on rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse.

    May I suggest reading _Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty_ by Dorothy Roberts. Renee isn’t being presumptuous at all.

  71. Katran
    September 11, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you for this post. I have no idea why it’s societally acceptable to touch anyone’s hair. This reminds me of an office sexual harrassment training I went to, in which it was declared, “Shoes and hair are the only ok things to comment on.” And hair is the only ok thing to touch, apparently. Everyone should have the right to their personal space, their body, and I came out of that training fuming about “acceptable exceptions.”

    This post has given me the courage to take back my hair from the public sphere. I don’t presume to understand the experience of a black woman, but I can sympathize with wanting one’s whole body–hair included–to be off the table as something to be touched, commented on, like it was anyone else’s business. On top of that, the hair styling industry is insidious. I wish I could say I was exempt from that, but even having a “fuck you, beauty products, I’m wearing my textured hair natural and short, and don’t fucking ask me again if I’ve ever considered straightening it” style doesn’t make one immune from wondering if it would be better with different hair.

    So again, thanks for the post.

  72. Alexandra Lynch
    September 12, 2008 at 12:04 am

    Now I feel horrible. I have a few things I do with my hair that take a lot of time, and I always appreciate it when I get compliments. So if someone is wearing their hair in a way that looks good on them, I tend to compliment them. I’ll stop complimenting those of a different race than mine, now that I know that’s racist of me. (sigh)

  73. Albanya
    September 12, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Once, when I was a college freshman, I hugged a little black girl during a class-related activity. When I looked down at my shirt afterwards, there were oily imprints of the child’s braids on my white tee. I said, “Oh no, something in her hair stained my shirt!” and a classmate of mine, who was mixed race, just looked at me and said, half playfully half scornfully, “You dumbass, did you not know about hair oil?”

    Well, no, I did not know about it until just then. Sometimes people are just ignorant, but not racist or hateful.

  74. Albanya
    September 12, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Now that I think about it, I probably squeezed that child a bit too tightly, or else I suspect she wouldn’t have gotten hair oil on me. I was super awkward back then.

  75. Canada
    September 12, 2008 at 6:46 am

    I have a 2 year old that is half black and half indian. I’m Indian and my hubby is black. I didn’t realize till yesterday when a little boy (who was 6) was chasing my daughter to touch her hair and my daughter was running away from him that she probably is sick of white people touching her hair. Now as a mom I have to stand up for her and I think I amnot going to care whether the parents are there or not I am just going to tell the child she does not like her hair being touched because it beautifully brushed out so “DONT TOUCH” I didn’t realize what impact this could have on my daughter till yesterday. Since I am a very light skinned Indian I have not yet experienced racism because people automatically assume I am white now that my daughters are bi-racial I am experiencing things in a very different way. I would never want my kids to feel any less and because I am so upset at why it took me a whole night to figure out why my little 2 year old was running away from that boy I am fuming and you’d better be damn sure that I will be watching like hawk at the next blonde kid that feels thats its ok to touch my dauhgter’s hair with her mom on tow saying look how beautiful her hair is? is that oil? while my poor 2 year old gets fondled. Yeah “oil” let me touch you boob and ask you if you wearing a bra and get back to me about touching my daughter’s hair again…..

  76. Greek Girl Says
    September 12, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Relating my experience does not ignore the inherent racism in the situations noted the post. It adds to the list “ethnic” and “othering”. I wrote it because i did not grow up in a predominantly Greek or Italian neighborhood as Renee did.
    I was “other” in every neighborhood I lived in. In a country whose language my parents were not yet fluent in. Being pet and called a dirty greasy Greek (as well as Kike, Spic, Wet back, N’ger lips, prune face, towel head, camel jockey) was not the same as experiencing African American racism- of course not, but, they are part of the same, bigger problem we face in out ethnically diverse country.

    No one should pet another person from the “Oh my god! You’re so different from me” POV.
    It’s rude when it’s done to anyone.

    We live in an ethnically diverse country with more minority groups than any other.
    No discrimination is acceptable. No one has the right to touch another without permission.
    No one is in the right when they are being insulting and rude.

  77. kodachrome
    September 12, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I just want to say that, as a red head, EVERYBODY touches my hair and I’ve always suspected there was something disrespectful as well as just creepy about it. This post articulates that very well, and I love the points about natural black hair. Excellent, excellent.

  78. Zee
    September 13, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Alexandra Lynch… I think youve missed the point of the piece. As a Black woman with a large nappy/kinky/coily fro this type of treatment occurs daily. It’s annoying. You can compliment me to high heaven if youd like but please keep your hands the fuck off my person. And yes. Hair was and is really that deep of an issue to many (not all ) Black women. It’s a jumbled mix of assimilating, style, and just doing whats always been done! I was 20 years old when I first questioned the logic of straightening my new growth every 6-8 weeks. 15 years of having something done and doing something to my body without even asking “why?” College-educated but realizing for the first time that I actually had a CHOICE blew me the hell away. Thats a damn shame. So I chopped my hair off and let my kinks grow. Like Renee, I’m sending a very clear message. Black hair is normal. And beautiful. Even frizzy! But thats OK. Lol ;)

  79. Zee
    September 13, 2008 at 6:02 am

    Renee your hair is gorgeous BTW. I’m going to start locing eventually…

  80. September 14, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Every since I was little white people wanted touch my hair, even my teachers. I’m 22 years old and still get asked “Can I touch Your Hair” sometimes I don’t even get asked. people just take it upon themselves to put their hands in my hair and I HATE it!

  81. Priscilla
    September 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    I have locs now before I use to relax my hair. I had a co-worker come up to me and just start feeling my hair. When I told him not to do it and why. His comment “was oh quit being an angry black woman (abw).” Before I was just disagreeing like any other woman, now I’m an abw. Now every time I don’t go along with what someone is doing or saying do I’m become an abw? I have worked with these people for 10 years and nothing about me have changed but my hair style.

  82. Annie
    September 15, 2008 at 3:02 am

    I understand what you feel but I think it also depends on the culture in which you are living. I was born in South America where people tends to be more “physical”. We kiss strangers while here in the US that is regarded as rude.
    That was quite a cultural shock when I came to live here where every touch is regarded as an invasion of privacy and even a child can be accused of sexual harassment for giving a kiss to a school mate. Unbelievable!
    When I was a child adults and kids alike would kiss me and touch my hair and that was totally natural, because it is part of the culture. If you didn’t kiss someone you recently met that was considered not polite. So, I guess it all depends on the culture in which you were raised.
    BTW I’m white and I’ve never touched a stranger’s hair without permission in America but I confess I too feel curious about black hair but it has nothing to do with racism. And just because I’m white that doesn’t mean that I’m guilty of what other people with my same skin color have done.
    And I prefer physical people to cold and distant ones, most of the time a touch is just that or sometimes a manifestation of affection.

  83. Canada
    September 15, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Now that I have calmed down a bit…my hubby seems to think that it is natural for white people to be curious. Well, put it this way if I think my daughter is uncomfortable with what is going on I am going to immediately step up and say”don’t touch” When she gets older and is able to decide for herself what she is comfortable with that is when I will stop. Or I have an even better idea the next time someone goes to touch your hair why don’t you touch theirs…tit for tat…any opinions…

  84. Toni
    September 16, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I’m a black reporter in a majority white community, and I have natural hair. I have had people touch my hair more times than I care to remember when they first meet me. Once I reached out to shake someone’s hand and she started touching my hair instead. It gets a little annoying. This never happened when I had relaxed hair, and I just chalk it up to curiosity. But I really am ready to start wearing a hands off sign.

  85. Nia
    September 21, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I’m a white person in a 99% white environment; I think I have been close enough to touch (not that I did!!) three black women in my whole life. But the ideas in this post about why you are letting your hair be natural are almost exactly the reasons why I refuse to dye my hair.

    Everyone here dyes it. It’s somehow wrong to have the usual very dark brown, typically Spanish hair. Young women dye it in red or red highlights, older women try on shades of blonde. I refuse to pretend to have blonde streaks on my hair. And I refuse to waste my time in hiding white hairs, I have better things to do!

  86. Nia
    September 21, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    After reading most of the comments, I see that my comment says one half of what I intended.

    Spanish women dye their hair for two reasons: one is because they want to look younger. The other one is because they don’t want to look stereotypically Spanish, or sometimes even what they call “looking gypsy”. Gypsies are the only ethnic minority that has always been here; black people are always assumed to be foreign. So, good part of the necessity of dyeing here comes from a very twisted, internalised racism. I think it’s amazing and very sad that it happens even in such a racially homogeneous country.

  87. Jennifer
    September 22, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    I have a question for all the women of color on the board: Black, hispanic, Asian, etc. (I’m white, in case I should put that). I know it’s rude for white adults to go around touching the hair of someone of a different race, but what if a little kid did that? I’m talking age five and younger. Would that be racist or just regular curiosity little kids have?
    The only time I would even ask to touch the hair of someone of a different race is if we are close friends and we are close enough to play with each other’s hair. My brother’s lady friend is half Cherokee and has the silky black hair of a Native American. I asked her once if I could brush it and she didn’t mind. And we are close. I don’t see her or her hair as exotic or other. I just asked to brush her hair because I thought it was pretty, same as I would do with my white friends.

  88. Jennifer
    September 22, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Sorry, I meant if a little white kid touched the hair of an adult of a different race, not the hair of other children.

  89. LovetoLive
    September 28, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Wow I’m a 14 year old girl and was trying to find out ways to grow my hair. Ihave always wore my hair in braid or twists and was just about to to perm my hair. Like in 3 weeks to 2 months now,the rason i want to perm is because yes i’m use to the pain and tears it take to get your hair pined to your head in french braids but you get tired of it i’m proud of my natural hair but i also envy how easy it is to take care of straight hair This article really made me think about it tho thanks.

  90. lili
    September 28, 2008 at 2:54 am

    I am African and i dont speak english very well…. i’ve been in the united states for 5 months, and i live in a white neighbourhood.
    I think its really rude when strangers ask u to touch your hair…i really dont like it.
    Every where i go white people ask me if they can touch my hair…..i dont like it.
    They are always saying ” oh my gosh….it is so pretty…how do u braid it….can i touch it?……i dont think its racist…but i think its really annoying and rude.

  91. Ashley
    October 2, 2008 at 12:53 am

    I am mixed. (white father, black mother..if it matters) I look mostley like my mother brown eyes, darker skin. But, I have more of white peoples hair, and my whole life I have had people touch my hair and say rude things to me like wow I can’t believe you’re hair is so soft it’s just like white people hair. And I have even had a few people this encludes black people ask me if I wash my hair everyday! And white people say it looks like black hair when I have it pulled up so my white friends laugh at me . and when I have it down my black friends say stuff alike oh you playin white girl today so , I think it’s just a very annoying thing, why can’t we just be who we are an wear our hair how god intended it to be and not have to put up with crap about it. This goes for black and white women/men! lucky me I get crap from both races!

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