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“Why would you want to touch my hair?” I asked her in a tone of voice and with a look on my face that are both usually reserved for asking, “What is that stench I smell?” Of course, I was armed with the knowledge that there couldn’t possibly be a good answer to my question. Could she have an answer that would not translate to “I want to touch your hair because it is Negroid hair”?

“I have a fetish for certain things,” she said. “I have a fetish for bald heads, for long hair, and for funky hair.” She delivered this response with such a huge smile, a proud self-contained gladness at having deftly dodged a sticky racial situation, that I could imagine her giving herself a mental pat on the back.

“What is funky hair?” I simply had to know.

“Hair that’s not, like, blonde and straight and normal like mine.” The self-congratulatory look on her face was intensified with what she thought was a brilliant and illuminating response. She continued to stand there, waiting for me to turn around with my newly purchased drink and a newly open mind, ready to forgive and forget and let her play around in my afro. This was not to happen.

“That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard, and you need to think before you say things like that.” I said.

I kept my face completely straight as I also told her that she’d failed at this exchange, but next time she should keep her ridiculous thoughts to herself. I wasn’t even angry. She tried to interrupt and ask me questions about where I was coming from, but why should I explain myself? As she wandered away looking sullen, I forced away the inevitable pang of guilt and instead became angry with myself for putting my foot down before realizing again that none of this should be my burden.

Why have I been working through guilt at asking strangers not to touch me by telling them why it’s inappropriate and hoping that they will somehow reach a level of racial sensitivity or, at the very least, just accept it? I now realize that, until last night, guilt over what a bad representative I was being for black America had driven my reaction to so many hair-touching incidents in the past. I refuse to go back to that old way of thinking — no more schooling!

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  • derekyardon

    so i realize this thread is old…really old… but i am reading it for the first time. I am a white girl, with dark red, auburn hair. I have had this hair all of my life, and can i just tell you, if I had a nickle…. :) I am constantly being pet by little old ladies and strange men alike. I have accepted that my hair color is different, and when people ask me (as they always do) “is that your natural color?” and I say “yes” they just HAVE TO touch it. As if you could tell if I was lying by feel alone… hahahaha… But yes, it can really *&%$ a gal off, if you are in no frame of mind to be pet. (which I rarely am, as I am a 31year old mama who gets pet way too much) It is a matter of personal space, and being a victim of “space invaders” my whole life, the only thing I can do is not become one myself. I can honestly say I have NEVER pet a stranger in my life. Cause that is just weird. And now-a-days, they pet my daughter…. I am more strongly vocal in this case. My baby girl is black and apparently, her lil’ fro is even more magnetic than my red head. I have put up with the petting for 31years, but I’ll be damned if stangers are gonna touch my baby… and when they do sneak in there…. I am sure to let them know… not cool, she’s a baby, you ARE dirty and covered in germs, why do you think you need to touch her? GRRRR, I totally get it, MANNERS PEOPLE!!

  • Antwinette

    As long as they don’t touch without consent, it is okay. My sisters touch it because, well, they are my sisters. Even 2nd cousins do not get that privilege. My friend from China asked to touch my hair before and I let her. This was years ago and she said “Oh! It’s so soft!”. She said that she and other Chinese assumed that it felt scratchy like brillo. Another of her friends, also from China, just stared at my fro and he softly exclaimed “It is so beautiful!”. That was news to me because I’d had my fro for about 8 months and I kept hearing from my mom and my brother that it just didn’t look right. LOL