My Thoughts on Hair Touching

Maybe you read Los Angelista’s first post from 2009, titled No You Can’t Touch My Hair. Maybe you read the CNN article which highlighted the issue, bringing much thunderous outrage to Los Angelista, What Tami Said, and Womanist Musings.

hair touching, natural hair, don't touch

Thanks to my husband and my mom-in-law for the photos!

I loved the original posts on Los Angelista, What Tami Said, and Womanist Musings – but I hated the nasty comments I saw on that CNN piece. For sharing their personal perspectives and experiences, those bloggers got quite a few hateful reactions. I felt compelled to write something, so I did! For Jane Pratt’s new site, xoJane.com! Click here to read my take on hair touching, titled Please Don’t Pet Me.

If you’re not immediately familiar with Jane Pratt, a quick overview and explanation of what this means to me as a writer. Jane founded Sassy Magazine. When I was a teenager growing up in Trinidad, Sassy pretty much changed my life. It wasn’t available for sale in Trinidad, so a school friend’s cousin would send her copies in the mail — along with awesome mixtapes of like, Bjork and Radiohead and obscure bands that would never get airplay on the radio in the Caribbean. And she would in turn pass them along to me. Through those tattered, handed-around pages I saw a window into a world that didn’t exist for me. It was a world where you could write in pretty much the same voice you spoke in, where you could share opinions that were silly or controversial or just outside of the mainstream. Reading Sassy helped me to realize that I, too could be a writer. And that was back in like, ’93, ’94.

Then Jane went on to found Jane magazine (which I also loved) and now here we are – xoJane.com. I’m going to be contributing natural hair articles over there and it feels like such a wonderful full circle moment. Also, I love that my cat Max is stealing all the limelight on my bio page.

Back to hair touching – I’m getting some really interesting feedback on xoJane and I realize that often the people who reach out to touch natural hair really don’t even realize how it comes across. How it makes someone feel. I’m happy to share a teachable moment, and I’m happy it’s online – away from outstretched hands and sweaty fingers.

Would love to hear your thoughts, bellas! Have you ever had your natural hair touched by a stranger? How did you deal with it?

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Comments

  1. My hair has been touched by strangers my entire life. “wow, such a cut curly afro (touch)(2yrs old)” “oh, you straightened your hair (touch) wow, it’s so soft (14yrs old)” “I LOOOVE your hair (touch)(40yrs old at EVERY event I attend) When I worked in the salon, clients would walk in and for whatever reason touch my hair before I worked on them. Honestly it has never bothered me. I often wonder if it is because it started at such a young age. My mom was a great at diverting or correcting anyone that crossed a boundary. I find that I react more now because I can sense the weird “touchers” LOL. I really enjoyed your piece and I appreciate how you provoke positive thinking. xoxo

  2. miss mango-moods says:

    if there was one, single sense that i couldnt live without, it would be touch. im addicted to feeling. obviously, i prefer the warmer, and more comforting touches, but still, im reverent to pain. i’ve always had “soft” hair even as a child in primary school when i might come home and get scolded for letting people “play in my hair.” my mother wasnt an advocate of other people’s hand in my head, but i thoroughly enjoyed having my school friends run there fingers through my parts (especially when i had a whole head braided in “rope”). sometimes if it was a long day and the teacher wanted us to settle down, i’d sit between 2 of my best girlfriends on those long and rickety shared wooden desks, who would put me to sleep just by “re-twigging my singles”….. suffice to say, to this day, i still LOVE IT when a man strokes my head, caresses my straight blow out, or squeezes and tugs at my curls, or glides over my brushed in waves, with both hands. No sensitive scalp here, just a huge soft spot: my head :)

    • Brittany says:

      Yes! Same here! My mother would get furious with me when I let people play in my hair: “DON’T LET THEM PUT THEY DUTTY HAND IN YA HEAD!!!!” LOL. But I love their reactions after they played with my braids or my twist-outs. I know a lot of women see it as a racial thing, like “Oh, I’m not some object to be fondled with!!”, but come on. Natural hair is unique, and with something that special people are going to be curious, so lighten up. Though I will say that common courtesy must be followed. If you don’t know them personally, ask. AND MAKE SURE YOUR HANDS ARE CLEAN. Don’t ask after you just used the toilet, and then expect them to say “Okay!” WASH YOUR PISSY HANDS. Ok, end rant. :D

  3. I’ve also dealt with strangers touching my hair my whole life, typically without even asking.

    I. Hate. It.

    Aside from not wanting some rando’s filthy hands in my ‘fro, it’s a basic invasion of space. It would absolutely never occur to me to reach out and touch a stranger, or even an acquaintance, and it would never occur to me that it is okay to do so. I am not a puppy. We are not in a petting zoo. I don’t think people realize how demeaning it is to think that it’s okay to “pet” us.

  4. KARA JOHNSON says:

    I read about this and personally I can understand why some would feel like their space is being violated. I was always taught from a child if it does not belong to you ask first. I think the same could apply hear with natural hair. Howerver I really do not see the racial connection with hair touching, even after reading the CNN artical I could not make that same conclusion I just think its rude plain and simple.

    • lunalovegoodlover says:

      In a normal situation I really don’t think that hair touching is racist, but if you read Los Angelista’s original article, than in her case it was definitely racist. The CNN article kind of took what she said and twisted it around to make it seem like the situation was up for debate, which it wasn’t. That women who’d asked to touch her hair was a racist.

      Personally, I don’t mind hair touching. I actually like it; I like the feel of other people’s hands in my hair (as long as it’s not some super sneak attack and they’re gentle) If it’s someone I know and/or if it’s a stranger and they ask nicely I’m fine with it. I like to think I’m educating them since they otherwise wouldn’t know what healthy kinky-curly hair feels like. Also, generally when people ask to touch my hair it is preceded by a compliment, or a neutral comment( for example: a Costa-Rican guy w/ straight hair asked to touch my and then said that my hair was funny (he didn’t mean any harm btw)) so that might contribute to me thinking it’s okay. In my opinion, people of other races touching black people’s hair is not inherently racist

      • I agree, people are just curious they don’t mean anything bad. I’m puertorican and have thick curly long hair and I date mostly white men. They love our thick hair texture.

        • I am with you. Frankly, until I started to relax my Hair with Dr.Miracle’s no one could even get their hands through my hair. I do not think they mean anything bad by it and nothing wrong with a little curiosity. They do love the texture even if my hair is treated.

  5. You hear about this a lot with people who have big, beautiful ‘fros, but I wear my hair short and I still get random people wanting to touch it. To me it’s like when people reach out to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, being totally oblivious to how much of an invasion it is. Just because a head of hair, or a round belly, may intrigue you, they are not public domain.

  6. I’m formal. I’m a hand-shaker, a user of honorifics, a believer in closed-toed shoes and navy suits. There is nothing about my persona that says “I’m open to intimacy with strangers”. I also do not have beautiful, touchable-looking hair: my (rapidly thinning with age) natural is short and pulled back with a headband. And crazy people still ask to touch it like it’s a pet.

    Pam Greer in “Coffey” really impressed me as a child, with those razor blades in her hair. I keep mine under my tongue instead. So when some moron asks to touch my hair, I enthusiastically reply “Sure, but it will cost you 20 bucks.” Or, in situations where I’m unlikely to see the perpetrator ever again: “Sure If I can squeeze your boobs.” Extreme? Perhaps. But my reply is no more insane than their request. And, in 2011, they know that can’t repeat the story bitterly to their friends: everybody knows it’s racist to try to pet the black people.

    Yeah, it’s true: a few decades of hiding those razor blades under my tongue have made me bitter.

    • When someone asks to touch my fro or reaches out to touch it, I just reach out and touch their hair back and give my 100% honest assessment of what it feels like: thick, thin, stringy, heavy, light, dry, etc….whatever I feel I say. Unfortunately 99% of them do not have perfect hair so they aren’t always happy at what I say. :-)

  7. I have dreadlocks, and it happens to me ALL of the time! You would think I would be used to it by now or something, but I honestly have to catch myself from popping their hand as it reaches for my hair (I am very reflexive lol). I usually grin and bear, because if I respond in the moment, it would be very offensive.

    My mom taught me to respect people’s personal space, and reaching out to touch someone’s hair is rather disrespectful, whether they have natural hair or not.

    In the CNN comments there was a lot of talk about the racial implications of people touching a woman’s natural hair without permission. To be honest, I have more black people touch my hair without permission than other races/ethnicities, but I get shock, intrigue, and questioned about my hair by all races/ethnicities.

    I don’t mind being asked about my hair by complete strangers (aside from being asked if it’s weave, as I can’t grow my own thick hair), but touching without permission is very disrespectful in my book.

    Sorry for rambling; I can go on for days about this kind of stuff, lol.

  8. First, What’s up TriniMassive!! LOL

    Second, I’ve never had strangers touching my hair, but as a teacher, my colleagues and students often do. I’ve been natural just over a year now, and my hair fascinates many women of different persuasions that feel compelled to either: touch it, pull it, or blatantly ask if it’s real. I only get upset with the is it real comments, and slightly miffed at the touching (only because I’m one of those women that can’t keep my hands off a pregnant belly so I feel the hair touching is karma).

  9. 1st of all – love the pic!

    I used to wear braids, which people would tug and say “you look like Brandy!”

  10. crystal g. says:

    A few of my aunts and ladies at my church have a problem with ruffling my hair when its down. That sometimes annoys me, but I think they want to feel for tracks :D . The only time I went home with a problem is when a older caucasian man at a grocery store kept his eyes on me from the minute i walked into the store- he eventually went up to me and told me my hair was beautiful like Diana Ross while touching my hair. I forgot my physical reactions- but i went ballistic in my mind.

    • i get it crystal, but what does it matter if he was àn older “caucsian” man versus an older “african-american” man versus an older “native” man etc etc. the whole ties between hair touching and racism really made me think about this reply.. your reply.. and would it have been any different if he was a black man who said and did that?

      • crystal g. says:

        To answer your question bluntly ,no it wouldn’t have mattered on his race. I believe it was the way he went about it. Yet to be honest he threw me for a loop as being an older caucasian man- he just did. For example- could you imagine a man coming up to you and telling you your skin is so beautiful like _____, then stroking your arm up and down in amazement? Wouldn’t it startle you that an older man in this day and time felt compelled to touch something that seemed foreign to him which happened to be a part of your body? And maybe im wrong for feeling this way- but given the history of African Americans in this country and the ‘major’ age gap between him and myself there was silent tension coming from my end. I didn’t make a scene in the grocery store (im not the type to) and i think i even smiled while easing a way from him- but my uncomfort level was high. Now on the contrary, I get the same disgust feeling when an African American man tells me my hair isn’t attractive, or i could get more attention with a straighter style. It simply all boils down to respect. But i have not ‘yet’ experienced too many man reaching out to touch my hair. The ones’ who do, ask first and touch with caution :D . As for the ladies… i can make a book on reactions from my hair.

  11. lol i hate when people touch my hair, because of hygiene reasons. I dont know where their hands have been. I think that Los Angelista girl was over reacting though, a lot of people are intrigued by the hair of other races. Asian people have very interesting hair, that you just want to reach out and touch too. (i wouldnt do it though)

    Why did she have to call out the woman as a racist?

    I am black and i am so glad that i did not grow up in america, because black americans seem to make their race be the center of every situation, unnecessarily.

    • i agree.. black individuals in north america seem to make their race the core issue that begun everything. white people dont walk around going “its cuz im white” right?

      i also agree that i hate randoms touching my hair for the SAME REASON AS YOU JUST SAID-that shiz dirty! and it makes my hair greasy when fingers touch it.

    • In the original article (that CNN did not print in its entirety) Los Angelista did not over react. The woman that wanted to touch her hair was a racist. She said very racist things when Los told her no.

      As for making race the center of every situation, sometimes you don’t get a choice.

      Example; Back when I was in the 8th grade, I walked to a store less than half a mile from my apartment. I was minding my own business when truck goes by just slow enough to holler out the N word to me by two laughing white guys. It shocked and hurt me. My race had nothing to do with me walking to the store until those two guys made it about race.

    • Ms. rae,

      I don’t know what part of the world you are from, and yes it seems that North American blacks do make an issue of race all the time. I can only assume, like a lot people throughout the world, including the USA, that you are ignorant of the history of black people in the Americas. If you truly knew the real history of American blacks, not just the gloss-over BS that has been taught in schools worldwide about Afro-American history, then I would presume you wouldn’t make such comments.

      Might I suggest you read/study the following to get a bit of perspective:

      Any slave narrative (there are several)
      ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’
      ‘On The Dark Side of Street’
      ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’
      ‘Slavery By Another Name’

      In regards to hair touching, walking around with a sense of confident, regal elegance will stop people from invading your space.

      • Thank you and THANK YOU. I’m AA myself and while I sometimes think we can blow things out of proportion (sorry, I couldn’t get upset over the Nivea and Vogue ads) MOST of the time we have a real reason for challenging people’s perceptions of us. I really need non-AAs to get educated before talking about something they know nothing about…

        Re hair touching: My first couple of years of being natural I had people touch my hair all the time and i didn’t really mind it because hell — I was up in it all the time! I had serious hand-in-fro disease. My hair WAS cool…I totally understood why people liked it!

        Nowadays I think the way I carry myself has a lot to do with people not touching my hair randomly. That said, I honestly don’t mind it so long as people ask first.

    • She didn’t over react. That dialogue ran though her head only. Has nobody read the original article? I don’t know if the lady who wanted to touch her hair was racist, but I can definitely tell that she was entitled.

  12. warrior11209 says:

    Strangers touching my hair is a big ” no-no”. I just cut off about 12 inches of locs and have a kinky salt ‘n pepper twa.The first day that I was sporting my new ‘do I could just see the people at work( I am the only African American person working there) wanting to touch my hair, but I think my history with these folks( do not touch me, no unsolicited hugging, no random grabbing)has defined that I am not touchy feely with those that are not family.
    I think that African Americans of a certain age(50+) remember how white men would love to rub the heads of young African American men in the 50′s and 60′s, for good luck. My father (who was a police officer)once threw a man off a NYC train when the very same man tried to rub my brother’s head.

  13. Kimberly G. says:

    I guess I must be mean muggin the entire time I am out ’cause nobody and I mean nobody as ever ever ever touched my hair with out aksing first. I have been asked about my hair lots and lots of times, but having some just touch it……oh hell naw! :0/ No…..but, just the other day a sista/co-worker asked if she could touch my hair (she thought I was wearing a wig) and I told her yes….she stuck her fingers all the way in to my scalp! I was like what the what! That was a first for me.

  14. I don’t like people touching my hair at all…only really close friends and family. I feel like an animal in a zoo. I don’t care about people’s curiosity; it makes me very uncomfortable when people touch my hair. The same goes for my body, depending on the place, it’s only for boyfriends, close family and friends. I like my personal space clear of certain people.

  15. Great article Patrice! I’ve never given it much thought before. I’ve had my hair touched a couple of times by strangers, but I honestly think it was out of admiration. I would have preferred them asking before touching though. I can see where this may seem degrading (depending on the situation) as if you were from another planet or something.

    Yeah, I don’t see why total strangers feel the need to touch other people’s hair. And if they just can’t help themselves, they should get the hair owner’s permission. For some of us that may just be too close for comfort.

  16. While I understand WHY a lot of people do it, both black and white, it’s annoying and I don’t like it.

    I find that black people like to touch your hair when they see someone with a style that they think is “unnatainable” for black hair. White people just like it because let’s be realistic, compared to every other race, our hair IS the most unique so I can understand the fascination. it’s still not ok to touch though lol

  17. Well let me tell you this, I don’t like it. It is an invasion of my personal space, three feet please…would you just walk up to someone and begin touching their body, our hair is a part of our bodies. I had a co-worker white walk up to me and before I could say respect the Fro she had her hands all up in my wash and go. Oh she said how soft it was and how cute it looked, but lady you are touching all up in my hair and I don’t even like you like that. Needless to say this hair journey has been a good one for me, I get all kinds of reactions, most people ask to touch my hair, others just stare at it like they can’t believe what they are seeing. Either way it’s about respect.

    Peace

  18. My experience with strangers touching my hair was honestly not ever that often. I think that is because I don’t exude a friendly demeanor, plus I’m from NYC and I believe the consensus amongst all real New Yorkers is stay the eff out of my personal space (except during rush hour on the train). I can understand how “petting” someone is offensive; out I’ve never been petted. When someone has played themselves and reached out to touch my hair, its always been a black person and someone that I know. For me those occasions have been the most upsetting. From the look on their face when they feel my hair and to them not being able to stop looking at anything but my hair, for me has been THE most offensive points in my life. And believe me, Ive been the target of blatant racial attacks in high school and in the work place (when my hair was relaxed, long thick and ‘healthy’, for a lack of a better word.) Those instances for me don’t even faze how i felt when family members and people that I’ve known for years reacted to me when i first went natural. Those experiences are what made me give in and relax my hair again. But, please believe, it didn’t even take me a year to realize, I felt a whole hell of a lot beautiful looking the way God intended me to look, then conforming to bumb ass black american’s perceptions of beauty. And I say this because, the truly genuine compliments that i received on my appearance and beauty was from people of other ethnicity’s and the only black men who supported my journey were Rastas. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? I still can’t. I’m back to natural and I’ve never felt more confident. I prefer the Rasta men shouting “Empress!” and “Queen!” as I walk down the street, to the asses on the corner saying far less flattering things and then cursing me out when I wont acknowledge their existence.

  19. It’s really interesting to see everyone’s different stories and approaches.

    From my angle, I really can’t see a reason why an adult would touch/ ask to touch another adult’s hair, unless they were planning to style it for them. As for putting your hands on someone’s head without permission–you’d better be their aunt or their best friend, or I don’t know what you’re doing.

  20. I hate my hair being touched randomly. Its like my privacy is invaded. Ugh!

  21. I am a young black West Indian woman with natural hair. While I have never had the experience of some stranger reaching out to touch my hair without asking, I have had strangers touch my hair after offering, especially while traveling abroad. I actually enjoyed these opportunities because I knew that I was the first black person many of these people were seeing in person, let alone with natural hair. I felt I became an ambassador for natural black beauty.
    Back here in the states, unfortunately many people, even black women, have no idea what natural black hair feels like or even looks like up close. It’s still a mystery and the wearing of it still denotes a very political attitude or even radical social message. (I actually got started because I was broke college student and wanted to try swimming regularly) Interestingly I have had the opposite experience with many people now here in states, especially black women, they are almost afraid to touch my hair now. The flipside to this is that when it was long and straight it was open playtime time. People could never stop touching it with and without my permission.
    I think that many people who want to touch are just curious and ultimately are just human in wanting to understand something outside of them. Our job as beautiful, strong, intelligent women is to help them understand why this is such a sensitive subject and to make sure they are educated after encountering us, about our hair and ultimately our history as well.

  22. I really believe it depends on how a person is asking and why they are asking to touch my hair. It’s the context that makes it offensive. Even though 99% of the time, my answer is a swift “no”. I was in a black hair care store (of course only Asian women worked there) and I brought my items to the counter. I had my hair in a huge very kinky/coily afro puff. The Asian lady at the counter said “That’s a nice hair piece” and I said no, it’s my hair. She gave me the side eye, like girl you know there’s 10 afro puffs hanging up on the wall behind the counter. She said can I touch your hair, I said yes and then I even surprised myself when I pulled it up a bit so she could see the stocking that was holding it together. The lady’s eyes lit up and just said “beautiful”. Now how could I be mad at that. But just to run up on me and touch my hair, no way. The offender would be greeted with a very strategic karate chop.

  23. People touch my braids from time to time, and as long as their hands aren’t dirty and they aren’t pulling them, I don’t care. I get asked about my hair a lot, and if it looks like they want to touch a braid, I let them. I live in an area where it is less than 2% black, so whatever I do is magnified a thousand times and it ends up being what “they all” do. So to speak. So I try to be a goodwill ambassador for my ethnic group. At the place I work, I am happy to say that another person has been hired and has braids (different location, same company), and hopefully I will see more black faces in the future in my neighborhood and out and about. Should people be touching my hair and asking hundreds of questions about is it really mine, can/do I wash it, etc.? Of course not. But when it is time for me to go off on someone because of work related issues, insensitive political/stereotypical, bullsh…., I feel absolutely entitled to do so. When I get tired of the hair stuff, skin stuff, etc. I just flip the script and ask them about their skin, their hair, etc. Then all of a sudden, they don’t want to talk about hair, skin, etc. and they go away. No big deal to me. Life is too short.

  24. I’ve had bad experience and good with the touching of my fro! Good is around friends and family or when i have a boyfriend who likes the softness of my hair. But the other times have been some random person sneaking behind me and just invading my afro. I nearly slapped the woman’s hand and all she could say was ” it looks so clean”. What, should it look like a dusty rag! it mostly likely cleaner then her relaxed hair since i wash it every week.

  25. People used to touch my hair all the time when I lived back in Indiana. Now that I’m in Phoenix with more diverse culture, I’m no longer exotic.

  26. Hi Bella,

    I actually don’t have a problem with people wanting to touch my hair. As long as they are bringing a great energy around me… I truly don’t mind it. But if there face is all screwed up then NO WAY JOSE lol. That’s my take on hair touching.

    Anya

  27. Although I wear a twelve-inch afro (twists and puffs sometimes) I don’t deal with random strangers touching my hair or other part of my body. It doesn’t come up as an issue. People on the street instinctively know who they can “handle” and who will flip the f–k out and handle them back. I’m willing and able and most of all, ready, to handle back. I do receive questions, comments, and observations and I don’t mind those at all. Look, but don’t touch (unless you’re ready to deal).

  28. People are always reching out to touch my hair, I don’t like it and I have blocked many many touchers, it is an invasion of my personal space, I never reached out to touch anyone’s head, I don’t care if people get offend by me saying “NO”!, it’s rude, extremely unhealthy,& unsafe for me, “WHY??? Touch your own hair”, that’s always my response, “Look but Don’t Touch”

  29. I know that it is a no no to touch someone’s hair. And I would never ever… unless invited or unless I ask first to touch anyone’s head or mane *pause*

    So unless you are giving out head massages *pause again* keep your mitts to yourself!

  30. When I first went natural and twisted my hair, it was the first time in my twenty one years of straightening that I got complimented multiple times a day…mostly by whites. At that time, the natural craze hadn’t really caught on and I still contend that I single-handedly started the twist hairstyle in the Washington DC/Maryland area. Then came the touching. It was mostly done by friends though, but it still made me slightly uncomfortable. Especially when they didn’t ask and since I had neck length twists, it wasn’t petting so much as gentle tugging followed by a “boingy-boingy” sound effect.

    My discomfort I think mostly had to do with the sudden attention I garnered with the hair alone, when people see someone petting or pulling you hair in public I sort of wanted to hide. Also, I think our ancestry is ingrained in us so much so that for strange white people to treat us as their property to touch and then not understand why we get bent out of shape about it, outrages us.

    I had one person say “It looks soft, like a sheep,” to which I replied, “I’m not a sheep. I am a human being.” You don’t get to touch a stranger because something on their body looks appealing. Most heterosexual men know that, because if that was okay they’d go around groping women’s breasts.

    This natural hair thing is fairly new not only to white people but the our black community as well. I honestly think a lot of the hair touching is ignorance. As with any issue bread by ignorance, education is key, not attitude unless you want to continue another stereotype about black women.

  31. Also…Sorry to be on a rant. What I find more annoying then a stranger being curious about my hair and having a momentary lapse in social niceties is how other black women react to natural hair. While natural hair is more prevalent now, my most embarrassing and annoying hair story happened in a black hair salon.

    I was natural at the time and I wanted a blow out. Perhaps it was naive of me to think black women knew what to do with natural black hair. After trying to comb out my thick hair(with ONE hand), having the comb fly across the room, and dealing with every woman in that salon staring at me with a smirk, my stylist told me in a quite fed up tone that she couldn’t do anything with my hair unless I had a relaxer. I’ve had my natural hair blown out before, but I left the salon feeling ashamed like there was something wrong with me(again this was before the natural hair trend came back)and a few weeks later gave in and relaxed my hair again. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy.

  32. A stranger, no. Maybe we’re more polite here in Toronto :)
    But for sure friends, acquaintances, family, with permission for the most part. Doesn’t bug me, cause I know it’s coming from a place for true curiosity and ignorance. But I don’t let them touch if it’s gonna mess up my style! :D

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