Picture this: you are relaxing somewhere in public, maybe scrolling through your Instagram feed, when footsteps approach you. You look up and the person says, “Wow! I love your hair. It’s so exotic!” And then they proceed to touch your hair. Without your consent. How would you feel?
I’ll tell you how I feel: disrespected and dehumanized. I’ve stood by and watched people ask for permission to pet someone’s dog before touching it. Am I, a human being, not allowed the same courtesy? I’ve only been alive for sixteen years, yet I have found myself in this situation way too many times. Let’s break this down piece by piece and discuss exactly what this person did wrong.
There was nothing wrong with their initial approach: it is acceptable and flattering to approach someone and compliment them on their hairstyle. Their first mistake, however, was calling your traditionally Black hairstyle “exotic”. That word is not a compliment, but rather a slap to the face. There is nothing exotic about a hairstyle that Black people, all over the world, have been wearing for centuries. This word displays a fetishization of Black hair and Black culture; please stop using it to describe things that lie outside of the Eurocentric norm.
Now, let’s talk about the fact that this person touched your hair without your consent. You are a human being, not an exhibit in the “Please Touch Museum”. People need to receive consent before they touch any part of your body, including your hair. Some people have asked me if they could touch my hair as they were touching my hair! If I have not said yes, you do not have my permission: I am not a petting zoo. But it can feel like that when people violate your space and your body without a second thought.
It is difficult enough wearing traditionally Black hairstyles in this country: we face suspension, exclusion, and unemployment simply for wearing our hair in its natural state. Please do not add fetishization to that list. There is a way to appreciate Black hair without disrespecting Black people: don’t touch my hair.