It's Ok, You Can Touch My Hair
Turns Out, I Don't Mind It
IT’S OK, YOU CAN TOUCH MY HAIR
Turns Out, I Don’t Mind It
“Walk Away” stories appear frequently in my social media. These are stories of the formerly “woke,” who once fancied themselves countercultural revolutionaries, but eventually awakened to the fact that wokism is largely just a conformism of the cultural elite. In these stories, they laugh at their former selves and resolve to seek illumination wherever it may be found, on the left, right, or somewhere in between. This story is not my story, despite the fact that I’m a college-educated black woman, who lives in the home state of CHAZ/CHOP, and once sported blue hair. I like to say I came out of the womb because I wanted to be free, and that has never changed. I’ve never cared what my peers or the culture at large pressed me to believe and value. I was a free-thinking woman, immune to the social pressure of woke conformity.
Alas, however, despite my vow to avoid culturally transmitted infections, a silly woke idea eventually got past my brain’s immune defenses. I’m talking about the claim that it’s somehow wildly offensive when someone touches my curly, kinky, frizzy hair without first acquiring direct consent. Hell, even asking is supposed to be a “problematic” microaggression. I bought into this idea so hard that I actually wrote publicly about my annoyance with people touching my hair back in my student journalism days. Reflecting on it now…it was all nonsense.
Don’t get it twisted, a stranger walking up and petting my head without saying a word would be quite uncomfortable. This, however, has never happened to me. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of people who touch my hair are females. It’s never a creepy guy approaching me and treating me like his pet Maltese. And although my hair can be quite the attention grabber, let’s not pretend women don’t enjoy playing with all kinds of hair, not just black hair.
My hair is my most complimented physical feature and it has thus been touched by others a lot. Girls just can’t seem to help themselves. I am not particularly girly but that doesn’t mean I only want male friends and girly girls to flock to my hair like bees to honey. My hair helped me connect with other females, something I desperately needed help with when I was growing up. Women like pretty things and they like making things pretty. When girls touch my hair, it is in awe and admiration, never in malice and never because they see me as some sort of exotic object. Intent does matter. I never really had any interest in doing hair and make-up myself, but I was happy to be the hair model at the slumber party. Like 90% of all social touching, letting people touch my hair didn’t hurt me, but rather connected me to them. Despite never having lost a wink of sleep due to someone touching my hair, I convinced myself I needed to express outrage over it in order to win social credit with other ethnic minorities voicing similar complaints.
Now, at this point, a disclaimer is in order: I’m not trying to represent the views of all black people here. Some will have had quite different experiences. Much less am I giving anyone of any stripe permission to touch the hair of strangers. Nor am I inviting you to pet my head if you happen to run into me on the street. I am describing my own experience and my own position in a generalized, nuanced way. For the love of God don’t make this weird.
The funny thing about getting up in arms over hair-touching is that we don’t apply this standard to any other form of touch. Is it racist to slap a black person on the back as a fond “hello”? Is it offensive when someone goes in for a hug without explicit verbal permission? Today, I touched a woman whom I had met just five minutes before on the shoulder as we shared a laugh. Was I wrong to do so? In such scenarios, the answer is generally no. Physical touch is a nuanced phenomenon, but if you’re so fragile you can’t handle platonic touching without getting offended, then I think you may have larger problems that need addressing.
Playfully touching someone’s hair without asking is not inherently rude and it doesn’t imply racism. Physical touch is ranked last on my love-language list (behind acts of service and quality time) but I worry for a society in which we are conditioned to rely solely on verbal consent instead of the full array of available expressive forms. Humans are social creatures; physical touch is a large part of our sociality and communicative repertoire. The hug, the encouraging pat on the knee, the excited grasping of hands, and, yes, even the cheek pinch all communicate wonderful things that make the human experience richer. So, it’s ok, you can touch my hair…please just wash your hands first.
Connie Morgan is a Christian, wife, and mother living in Washington state. She started her professional life in the craft-beer industry and is now transitioning out of the Armed Forces, where she served as a military intelligence officer. Her first post-military civilian job is with Free Black Thought, where she is currently researching and writing about homeschooling and other education issues. An avid runner, reader, and thrift shopper, Connie has vowed never to have blue hair again. Follow her on Twitter.