I’ve decided to draft up a manifesto of proper Black girl hair etiquette. Because apparently, the theme of February 2016 was “How Many Black People’s Hair Can You Touch Without Consent?” and everyone lost their damn minds. Now, this isn’t my first rodeo with non-Black people and their need to touch my hair without asking, As some Black people can attest to, many people think our hair is a magical unicorn of promise of hope and youth, and they try to touch our hair like it’s a good luck charm. I’ve literally had a guy reach up, touch my natural hair, and say it wasn’t as “great-feeling” as “normal” hair (but that’s another microagressional tale for another time), But my God, this month. Since I braided my hair in February, the number of people who have reached up and grabbed (yes, grabbed) onto my locks have tripled. My theory is that people are drawn to my braids even more than ever because the ombre blue calls to them like the sea calls to a privileged dolphin. I understand, my braids look cool. This month, I’m serving mermaid realness, and you want to bask in my pretty glow.
But whatever the reason, I don’t really care. It bothers me so much that many people (mainly White women) have felt the need to pull on my hair like it’s the secret key to everlasting youth. As someone whose least favorite love language is physical touch, this has been a nightmare. And as a Black woman, this has been insulting.
When you touch my braids (and my afros, curls, or weaves), when you randomly ask if you can feel my hair, you’re sending me a signal that you think my hair is out of the norm. I feel, in a sense, othered. Because while you’re trying to tell me that you think my hair is cool, you’re also saying “Wow. I’ve never felt hair like this. This is so…weird.” My braids are not “normal” to you. They are strange, my hair regime is strange, my non-Eurocentric beauty is foreign to you. Because think about it: we rarely grab onto White hair. Or if it happens, there is a mutual understanding of only asking close friends. But often times, people even bypass the step of asking and just reach out grab my hair. Actions like this make me feel more like an object than a person, and make me think of the history of colonization and ownership of Black bodies. Why do people automatically assume they have the authority to touch me? Even check yourself right now. If you feel yourself getting irritated with this post, that you’re “just touching to be nice and to learn about different hair textures, GOD!” ask yourself: why do you feel you have the right to touch my hair, even though your intent is tell me I look good or you want to learn about how I do my hair. Why don’t you just tell me I look good and allow me to talk about the process if I feel like talking about it?
If you’re a White person who thinks this isn’t a big deal, that you wouldn’t mind if someone, a stranger or otherwise, touched your hair, please know it’s completely different. To me, my hair is more than just a fashion statement. It’s political, my own way of rebelling against that “normal” standard of beauty. It speaks of a long journey of personal acceptance towards the way I carry myself. It stands as a “so what” to society’s claims that Black hair is dirty/unprofessional/ugly/”not as great feeling.” Please know: I am not an advocate of randomly touching anyone’s hair. But please also know: you touching my braids holds different weight.
Obviously, there are exceptions. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t let ANYONE touch my hair. However, the list* of acceptable people is very specific:
- If you’re in any way related to the Taiwo+Adesida brand. This includes many Nigerians, and my two partnered queer friends who lovingly refer to me as their daughter. If you haven’t raised me in any literal or metaphorical way, keep your phalanges out of my follicles.
- If you’re anyone who’s ever been involved in my hair journey for over 5+ years, a.k.a. we know each other like that. If you haven’t logged over 8 hours of natural vs. relaxed conversations with me and/or held me as I’ve sobbed into various pillows, you don’t have permission to touch me. What’s funny is that the people who I consider good friends typically always ask before feeling my braids.
- If we’re having a good, productive discussion about the softness/thickness of my hair, and I offer you my glorious locks to touch. Case in point: my boss and I had a fake argument about who’s hair was the heaviest. I ended up braiding, and then allowing my boss to touch in order to demonstrate how my two braids could whip someone out. Not only was it awesome, it was consensual, and she double checked to make sure it was okay.
- If you’re another Black girl and we’re talking hair and we need to compare notes about thickness/color/style. Fun fact: I never touch random Black women’s hair without asking, and Black women who don’t know me also always ask. This is because we respect the general human code called personal space.
*this list is Tolu-Taiwo-specific, and may apply differently with different Black people, because we are all individual people and I don’t speak for the entirety of Black people. I don’t even speak for the entirety of 25-year-old American-born Nigerians.
White people and non-Black folk, please get your friends. Yes, obviously I need to stand up for myself. And I do–I’m starting to figure out when it’s safe to have conversations about hair touching, and when I need to smile politely in the moment and rant later (i.e. this blog post). But it really helps to have awesome pals in your corner, like how one of my friend-dads went to BAT for me last month and called out everyone who grabbed my hair, or how I can always count on one of my best friends from college to jump in when strangers touch me without permission. I don’t want to speak for every Black woman, but I personally need some assistance. I’m tired of the awkward shuffle of calling your acquaintances out and then looking like the crazy one in the group. I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to call people out without seeming like the angry Black girl, or fearing passive aggressive actions from my coworkers/superiors. It would be great if you could gently tell your besties to kindly get their fingers out of braids, or remind them, when they get that “I Just Wanna Feel Tolu’s Craaaaazy Textured Hair” look in their eye that I’m not a petting zoo. Show your friends this article and have a discussion circle, I don’t care. Just please help me out.
Honestly, between you and me, I’m kind of tired of talking about people touching my hair. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it. There have been a thousand glorious think pieces and videos already written and created about this. I’m sure I’m not the only Black person who has articulated this to you in some form or fashion. This is nothing new. But as long as strangers, coworkers, students, and other people continue to put their fingers in my braids, I’m going to continue to talk about it. So don’t discredit this post as ramblings, and don’t be mad because I’m calling this behavior out. Don’t even feel shamed if you think you’ve touched my hair in the past. Just know that my aquamarine hair is here to stay for another month. The likelihood of getting more braids in the future are high. And it would be a lot more fun to whip my hair back and forth if I could do it sans hands near my scalp.