By the time I graduated from high school, most of the people around me had a general understanding of the rules about touching my hair. It was really just two: Ask before you touch, and respect whatever my answer to that question is. If I invite you to touch my hair, it’s different. But when someone asks, these were my go to.
One time during my senior year, a girl in the freshman class blindsided me while I was at my locker, her pale hand already outstretched to the puff perched on my head.
“Can I touch your hair?”
I leaned back instinctively.
“Um… No.” I said.
She looked insulted. “Why not?”
I made a face and asked her, “Can I touch your hair?”
I laughed. “Okay then… What makes my hair different from yours?”
She stared at me for a long time, contemplating my question before finally saying, “I mean, nothing... I guess?”
She looked dumbfounded as I nodded slowly, confirming that her answer was correct. She paused a beat after that, waiting as if my answer was going to change. When it didn’t, she just shuffled away awkwardly. You would have thought that I had just opened her third eye.
That sounds like a fake story, but I swear it was something that actually happened to me, and similar to those of you who have a hair texture like mine, I’ve had a lot of experiences like this.
Because I had braids when I first arrived at Emerson last semester, 99% of people on campus had never seen my natural hair. Considering the people of color to white ratio at this school, I expected that it was going to be a big deal when the braids came out, and with that a lot of prying fingers were bound to find their way to my curls unwarranted.
To my surprise, though, that wasn’t the reaction. Most people just complimented my new hairstyle from a respectful distance, and that was that.
I let my guard down too soon.
The inevitable came while I was eating lunch with my friends Noah and Claire in the dining hall. A few minutes into us eating, another one of my friends walked up to our table and asked if he could join us. We welcomed him with big smiles, inviting him into our conversation.
After a while of casual talking, that same friend stood, saying he had to head off to class. After we said our goodbyes and he began to leave, the question I had been anticipating all day fell from his lips.
“AZ, can I touch your hair?”
I opened my mouth to begin reciting my scripted decline when he reached out his hand and buried his fingers into my curls, catching me off guard. I tried to catch Noah or Claire’s eye as he was essentially petting me, looking for them to notice the situation I was currently in. But they were distracted in their own conversation and I was on my own.
After what seemed like an eternity, my friend retracted his fingers.
“I’m sorry, I had to.” He said, “It’s just your hair is so... fuzzy!”
And with those words, he left.
… Fuzzy? I thought.
I continued to think about it as Noah and Claire finished their conversation and turned to me.
“Yo, are you good?” Noah asked, the look on my face apparently sparking concern.
I watched their eyes widen in disbelief as I told them what I had just experienced.
“You need to tell him that’s not cool!” Claire said, astonished.
I sat there for a second, contemplating what I should do. I thought about telling him -- I really did -- but ultimately I decided to let it go. When they asked why, I simply stated that I didn’t want to make him feel bad for doing something he thought was completely normal, which was true.
Over time, I’ve just become used to the idea of instances like this happening to me -- normalizing it as most people I have talked to who also have this problem do. But is this something we should be normalizing? Should the fact that we were born with a curl pattern 3B and above grant the world permission to touch it as much as they please? Am I just supposed to sit by and let that happen? In my opinion, the answer to all of those questions is a very loud and passionate “NO.”
But now I’m left with the question: what am I supposed to do about it? Get angry with every person who asks to touch my hair? Shave it all off so I avoid those situations all together? I don’t think I could bring myself to do any of those things, at least for the time being.
For now, I don’t have an answer, and I don’t think I will anytime soon. I guess I’ll just continue to write ranty blog posts about it until I do.