Life

Don’t Touch My Hair

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My husband Sean & I, June 2020

If I had to say one feature of both Sean's and mine that gets commented on the most, it would be our hair. He generally has his worn in a 'fro of various lengths and while I wear my natural hair straight (frankly for no other reason besides I like the versatility of being able to go back and forth; I have not chemically straightened my hair since 2009, though), I love how it grows out of my head.

With every positive comment, though, there are always the ones that are harmful and are rooted in racism, white supremacy, and Eurocentric ideals of what hair is 'supposed; to look like. I feel as though a lot of people don't really stop to think about how when you are black, every day things like just how you choose to wear your hair somehow are fair game for people to comment on as if it is somehow their right at best, and completely discriminate against you at worst.

The title of this blog is inspired from a song that Sean wrote for his musical project, The Cocker Spaniels, called "Touch My Hair". Listening to the song with lyrics like "You can't touch my hair - not with those dirty hands! Maybe if you asked first, then I might understand, but even if you did, I'd probably say no, 'cause I'm not an exhibit, and this is just a 'fro." give you a clear idea into the experience that Sean has had in regard to his hair. I have witnessed so many people, complete strangers, reach up to touch his hair, as if that is somehow their right, as if somehow he isn't a real person with body autonomy, as if he is a cute animal that someone wants to pet. My husband is a lanky 6'1", so folks have to reach pretty high up to be able to do this.

His experience in the workforce has been fraught with hurtful and rude comments; such as when he applied for a job at a newspaper in Texas out of college. He was told that his resume was the best and he asked the best questions of any of the applicants, but his appearance and especially his hair, gave off the vibe that he was someone who had not "figured out his life yet". Or when we were both working at the same non-profit, and a young man who Sean worked with asked him about "that thing" on his head; it is also worth pointing out that this individual (a white passing POC) spoke other racist things, both subtle and blatant. When Sean spoke up about it to his supervisor, his concerns were dismissed and this person was instead promoted to a supervisor position.

Those are just two examples, but they are simply two of many.

As for myself, I have experienced years of microaggressions in regard to wearing my hair in its natural state. People feel the need to give me opinions I never asked for in regard to how they prefer I wear my hair, comparing it to wild animals, and of course touching my hair without my permission.

There there is one instance that always sticks out in my mind the most. Before I transitioned into full time blogging and being home with my kids, I worked for over ten years for that same non-profit that Sean also worked for. I worked my way up the ladder, and had many different hats during my time there. At one point I was in charge of all of the business operations for one of our branches. I spent a great deal of my time in my office since I was handling a lot of cash and checks. Different directors would be in and out of my office for things.

One morning, one of the senior directors came into my office to discuss a few things. I was sitting at my desk and she was standing next to me. Once we finished speaking, I fully expected her to leave.

Instead she got close to me, standing over me. She then grabbed a handful of my hair, which was down and curly, and said "Oh wow, my sister has nappy hair like this!".

She said it cheerfully, loudly, as if we were friends and having a conversation. As if she had the right to get in my personal space, when she was in a place of physical dominance as I was sitting down. As if this was something that should have been completely out of the ordinary.

She dropped the handful of my hair almost as fast as she picked it up, and then just walked out of my office.

For context, she was a white woman.

For further context, her white sister does not have 'nappy' hair.

At the time when this happened, in 2013, I truly felt completely demoralized and harmed. I knew it was wrong, I knew it felt wrong, I knew I really should say something to someone, anyone about it.

But I didn't. I couldn't.

I'd been down this road at my job with other racial microaggressions; I would be gaslit, I would be told she didn't mean anything by it, that it wasn't 'racially' motivated, be told over and over again that it really just wasn't that serious.

That instance haunted me the remainder of my time I worked there. Even after she left, after I moved onto a different position in a different building. Every time I would wear my hair natural and someone would exclaim loudly about how 'exotic' and 'wild' my hair was. As if I am an animal in a jungle and not a human being just trying to breathe and do my job.

The reason I am sharing these stories is because it IS that serious. Because it is incredibly important for people to know that it isn't 'just hair' when you are black. When we can't simply just wear our hair as it grows out of our head without being touched, poked, prodded, questioned, jeered at, not hired, judged, ridiculed. There are still people being discriminated against in the work place in regard to natural black hairstyles. It is not and never has been okay.

Racism isn't just people running around in white sheets and burning crosses in lawns, screaming the N word at people. It is also people feeling as though they have a right to make insensitive comments about your appearance, to touch you, to not respect you enough to just leave you alone. White supremacy isn't linear; there are many ways to give into racist ideals and this is one of them.

That is why I am speaking on this, starting this dialogue. There are so many things that come with living black in the United States, both beautiful and brutal. If you want to believe our lives matter? You need to hear about all aspects of those lives.

Sean and I will still rise, will still wear our hair as we choose. We have three beautiful curly haired children who we want to have pride in their crowns, and we will make sure that happens, no matter who tries to make it not so.

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