By: Diana Darkoaa
“Wow I wish I had your hair” usually comes right before they aggressively wipe their hands off on their thighs. That “I wish I had your hair” has never felt like a compliment to me personally. It’s almost always a pity compliment, more of a “well I probably shouldn’t have touched your hair without your permission but since I’m already here, here are some nice words”- type of thing. I’m used to the empty compliments, but it’s the hand wipe that still drives me slightly insane. It’s the fact that someone feels like they have so much authority over me that they can walk up to me and pet me whenever they want as if I’m a dog or some interesting creature in a cage with a big red button that reads “touch me please!!”. I usually smile and nod, because protecting my race against a stereotype (being the angry black woman) is more important to me than the instant satisfaction of telling someone to stop touching my f-ing hair. I mean, for Christ sake, I don’t think I have any more eye rolls left in me for another “do you wash “it” question. I could go on and on but instead I’ll give some tips on how to touch a black person’s hair RESPECTFULLY without permission.
Step 1 : Don’t
There you have it. Just don’t. There is no way to respectfully do anything without the consent of the other person. Honestly, don’t even ask because you’ll most likely get a “sure” that isn’t genuine (remember protecting the race against a stereotype?). Black hair isn’t a playground, and, for centuries, black women like me have never had authority over their own bodies. My hair is “nappy” and “untamed,” it’s “unprofessional” and “coarse,” in certain countries my hair is literally named “bad hair” and it’s even been adopted by the black community. Hair isn’t just hair for black women. For most of us our hair was our first identity crisis. We had to actually learn to love our own hair, and that’s not something most people of other races experience.
On July 3rd, 2019, California became the first place to prohibit natural hair discrimination in the entire world. Read that date again. This wasn’t in the 1950s or 60s, this was less than 5 months ago. In the age of self-driving cars, Beyoncé, and phones that open with face detection, I needed a law in order to go to work with the hair that grows from my very own scalp. Last year in one of my African American studies classes I did a comparison on the Google searches “professional hair for women” and “unprofessional hair for women”. The first search lead me to thousands of photos of white women with maybe a handful of black women and, even then, those black women had bone straight hair. The second search had thousands of photos of black women and their natural hair styles. When presenting this I was told by my professor that I should have skipped that part because it wasn’t that important. I understood though because her hair fell under the first Google search; it wasn’t of her concern. Once again this is something us black women face every single day.
So all I ask, in the presence of this current natural hair movement, is that as we [black women] learn to love our hair, accept our hair and learn more about our hair in a society that taught us to do otherwise, please refrain from using your privilege for a second and keep your hands to yourself and away from our heads. Respect our authority over our bodies and pay attention to our discomfort. I promise a simple compliment works just fine. And yes… I wash my hair.