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Why Asking to Touch Someone's Hair Can Be Offensive

News Flash: It Isn't Cool to Touch Someone's Hair

Is it OK to touch someone's hair without permission? What about with permission? CNN explores the question in a report on natural hair today. In the article, multiple African-American women share how wearing their hair natural (that is, without relaxer) has led to unsought commentary and questions — not to mention the occasional touchy-feely rogue who goes on a hair-stroking spree. It's pretty much a must-read article if you have natural hair, know someone who does, or want to understand why "Can I touch your hair?" is such a heavy question. And below, Atlantan Keneesha Hudson, who owns Urbanbella salon in Atlanta, discusses what she loves about her natural hair.

Join The Conversation
Elle-Rogers Elle-Rogers 5 years
Black women aren't the only ones who experience hair petting. I know some Asian women who have been approached by the curious. I have had people who ask me if they can touch my hair & I usually have a positive reaction from them. These have been children I have worked with & some new friends. I DO NOT like anyone, especially a male, touching me without my consent, & I will tell them so. IMO, how are people suppose to overcome their ignorance if we turn EVERYTHING into a racial issue? I'm sure there may have been some negative experiences for some, of any "race" but I look at this as an opportunity to educate rather than let people assume.
onlysourcherry onlysourcherry 5 years
The first time that I got to know someone who had natural hair was in high school I thought it was so cool and unique, and I'll admit that I asked her if i could touch it. It wasn't until college that I found out what a racially-charged topic touching someone's hair is, and I felt totally embarrassed about the episode and wouldn't ask someone that again. That said, even back in the day, I wasn't thinking "oh freaky look at that black hair!" I was thinking "woah, tiffany's hair is cool, i wonder what it feels like?" So while I agree that once you're aware of the issue you should be sensitive to how annoying it would be if you got asked that question all the time, but if your fortunate enough to have said "cool" hair, don't assume it comes from a place of racial division. I don't blame anyone with natural hair for being irritated by being asked about it a million times though!
GummiBears GummiBears 5 years
Personally touching hair that is growing out of another person's scalp is an invasion of personal space. What I don't get is some people that still touch or pull on another person's hair after asked and denied. For that, you deserve a fist to the chops.
Community-Manager Community-Manager 5 years
Hey everyone, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, just no personal attacks against one another. Thanks!
mcvvcm mcvvcm 5 years
As a black woman with natural hair, I must say, that when reading about Los Angelista's experiences, I was a bit taken aback by her hostility. I too get requests from people to touch my hair a lot (at least once a week). It doesn't really bother me as long as hands are clean and my hairstyle du jour won't be too messed up. Anyhoo, that is my story. For those of you criticizing Los Angelista's comments (as I originally was)...a quick jaunt to her blog and a read of the entire post may bring some clarity to her thoughts. Honestly, CNN took her comments out of context, I think to provide some unnecessary controversy. Here is a link to the entire blog post: along with the response she posted today:
Burkina Burkina 5 years
Are you kidding me? You are surprised I'm angry to be called racist? Racists are the lowest of the low. Scum of the earth. Am I supposed to jump in joy that I'm being accused of racism? I just love your logic. Because I don't agree with Los Angelista claiming all whites want to touch her hair because they want to own her, that means I think and do the same things.
DyaniRae DyaniRae 5 years
I never mentioned your race or hair, so I'm not sure where you think my assumptions come in. Maybe you should try reading what is said instead of violently attacking strawmen. At no point did Tami assume anything about every white person. It is specifically about people who have felt like they could touch her hair. I have to wonder why you're so defensive about things that were never said, especially since calling you racist is just so very stupid of me. No, not every white person has owned slaves. But we all (and that's all people) grew up with the same message over and over, that black hair is foreign and wrong, and that only smooth hair is good hair. We grew up with messages of black women as sexualized but not sexy, of black men as violent. And I'm not just talking about the US and Europe...I'm talking all the way over here in the Middle East, where the messages are the same. So no, touching white hair will NEVER be the same, because there isn't the same history. When someone reacts with outrage at the suggestion that some members of a certain group have a negative quality, I have to wonder why that is. I have a sneaking suspicion it's because they don't like admitting to feeling/saying/thinking/doing the same things.
prencesschris prencesschris 5 years
Oh Lord I've been asked this question & I just look at the person like 0_o no you may not, it seems like it only peaks someones curiosity when Blacks have their hair natural. Like really do i look like an animal to be petted, I sometimes get offended.
Burkina Burkina 5 years
Annie thank you for your response and I agree with you. It should not be a taboo topic but it also should not be treated like something weird and there for decoration.
Burkina Burkina 5 years
Approaching somebody with a compliment towards their hair is fine. Asking a close friend to touch their hair is also fine. Grabing somebdy's hair or legs or bum is all innappropriate. Annie thank you for your response and I agree with you completely. DyaniRae: When have I ever compared her situation to an incomparable one? I'm actually really offended by you saying my reaction is racist. Really offended. You have no idea what I look like, my hair, my background, what experiences I have had. How arrogant of you to assume I have never had people touch my hair without permission or that I don't understand what Tami is talking about. You assume I'm white because I disagree with the article. I have never disclosed my race and I won't, as it is nobody's business. You can spot racist behavior and racist motivations, but you can never be 100% sure what the motive is unless it is disclosed. To assume all white people want to touch black hair because they feel ownership towards the race is horrible. Not every white person has owned slaves. A second generation European or new immigrant to America most likely had nothing to do with slavery. Does this take away from the horrible history of slavery? No it does not. Again your comment " No, people of all races do not experience it to the same degree, and they don't have the same history behind it". Why do you think you can make huge generalizations like that? African Americans no doubt as a race experience 10x the hair touching, but when you look at individuals, an Asian or Caucasian or Hispanic can recieve just as much discrimination or unwanted touching that a black can face. You also have to take into consideration where the person is living. A Caucasian visiting or living in Central, West, Sounth and Southeastern Africa will get a lot of comments about their hair. It is most likely extreme curiosity when you have never seen that type of hair before be it straight or wavy or blonde or brunette. People are curious. Touching a Caucasian's hair in Africa without permission is still inapropriate. The woman in the article from the blog "What Tami Says" wrote this: "I turned around and she said, 'Oh, your hair is neat.' It just floored me because who does that, just reaches out and touches strangers?" Now I agree that touching somebody without permission is unacceptable and if it were me I would tell them not to do that ever again, but this woman did not seem to be coming from a racist place. She seemed curious about Tami's hair and while I would never touch another person's hair that way, I can understand her curiosity. The compliment would have been enough, and she could have felt the hair of a friend with a similar texture. Blogger Los Angelista explained her response to a woman's incredulous "Are you serious, I can't touch your hair?" by writing that no she couldn't, "Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors' property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn't want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you'd best move your hand away from me." 1. She is assuming that woman's family owned slaves without any proof or knowlege of that woman's background. That is the issue I have with the CNN article. The women with natural hair chosen to be featured in the article were wrong choices. Natural hair is beautiful, I love seeing it in magazines and here on this blog. I can't believe I just took the time to repond to someone who has accused me of having a racist reaction, but hey, I'm nicer than most.
DyaniRae DyaniRae 5 years
Cocoriss, you have every right to tell someone to back off and keep their hands to themselves. They are being incredibly rude. Touching your hair is the same as touching any other part of you without permission. Simply unacceptable.
DyaniRae DyaniRae 5 years
Burkina, you have basically dismissed her experience as irrelevant and compared her situation to an incomparable one (the hair touching is not the same). When you act like someone else's hair is some weird curious thing that you should get to examine, it is offensive. No, people of all races do not experience it to the same degree, and they don't have the same history behind it. Those people you claim aren't racists? If they've had the same reaction as you, they pretty much are. Racism isn't always the blatant kind.
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 5 years
Burkina, I also thought the one comment about ownership was heated, but I think a lot of it is about different perspectives. I'm guessing most white people don't intend to be racist when they ask to touch a Black woman's hair. But it's still something that highlights the "otherness" and doesn't really make people feel like they're being treated as, well, people as much as things. And the truth is that this country does have a horrible, ugly history of slavery — of ownership — and we as a nation are still feeling its aftereffects. As a white woman, I know I can't understand what it's like to be a black woman, but I *can* listen when someone explains her thoughts or experiences. Which is why I'm glad there's more dialogue about natural Black hair. So here is what I think. It's nice to tell a woman — any woman, any race — that her hair is pretty. It *isn't* flattering in the slightest to treat someone's hair as some oddball subject of wonderment, or to pat someone on the head like a pet. Coupled with the political history of Black hair, I can understand why some people might feel rage when asked for the umpteenth time, "Can I touch your hair?" Heck, I can understand why people would be angry upon hearing that question for the first time. Cocoriss, I think the best way to ask people to stop would be to be direct. "Please don't pull my ponytail" seems like a reasonable request. Not rude at all.
neonbee neonbee 5 years
Cocoriss, I've had the same problem because of my super straight hair. I usually tell people my scalp's very sensitive or some other lame excuse. It worked! Now they think I'm the girl no one can touch. I'm not sure this will help you though.
cocoriss cocoriss 5 years
OMG - ppl at work touch my hair or twirl it when I have in a ponytail b/c it's so long...I cringe when they do it. They always sneak up and do it or give it a tug. Any ideas w/out being rude to tell them to stop?
Burkina Burkina 5 years
I read the article on CNN and that woman is ridiculous. I don't doubt her horrible experiences with racism in the past but she is taking it out on people who have no shown any racist behaviors. She took it too far. Accusing people of wanting to touch her hair because they feel ownership towards black people? Crazy, The comments are also really disgusting and very racist towards African Americans. Horrible all around.
Burkina Burkina 5 years
People do really act weird towards that hair type. However people with all hair types have experienced unwanted hair petting.
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