Don’t Touch My Hair

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1999

“Don’t Touch My Hair”
I said to the Bangladeshi child who had grabbed a clump of my luscious afro and yanked back jarring me out of my daydream and into the realities of being a black face in a brown space.

“Don’t Touch My Hair”
I repeated turning around, swatting the little boy’s hand away as he ran away with a sheepish grin, his knuckles protruding from his skin as he fiercely clutched his:
treasure- my curls
his:
foreign object – my curls
his:
conquest – my curls

“Don’t Touch My Hair”
I repeated to myself. The boy was long gone, but the feeling of otherness, the feeling of not belonging, the feeling of exoticism, those feelings lingered.

Kampala, Uganda, 2006

“Don’t Touch My Hair”

Never had I ever expected to be using those four words in Uganda of all places, yet here I was, in the same exact situation I had been in countless times before, throughout my life growing up in Asia.  The adjustment to living in Uganda for the first time in my life was incredibly difficult for a variety of reasons , but I was in a country where the majority had hair like mine, I did not expect this.

“Don’t Touch My Hair”

I repeated ignoring claims and hollow justifications as to the unique texture/bounciness/volume of my hair. Why do you act before asking for permission? Why do you act like I don’t have the right to determine how, when, where and why my body should be touched? Why are all of your hollow excuses and empty justifications focused on my differences? Why am I still different and exotic even though I am a black face in a black space?

“Don’t Touch My Hair”

I exasperatedly sigh as they switch tactics and try to act like:
being touched without consent is a compliment
act like:
I should be grateful and flattered for them touching me without my consent
act like:
I don’t know or appreciate the true beauty of my own hair but they do and can teach me just how special I am

Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.A, 2010

“Don’t Touch My Hair”

I say without looking back as I feel the hand press into my just combed afro and continue to sink in despite my protests. The splayed hand plunges all the way until it rests on my scalp and yanks back as I turn around.
“I…I….I’ve never really had a black friend before and so I never touched a black persons hair before and I just wanted to know how it felt. It feels soooo cool, it’s like a sponge!”
Single White Female exclaims as I give her hella side eye

“Don’t Touch My Hair”
I repeat, as I think upon the travesty of somebody who has lived for their entire life in:
a nation built on the backs of black people,
a nation where most African-Americans can trace their lineage back farther than Single White Female can,
a nation whose people of colour have fought so long and so hard for justice and integration,

yet Single White Female is 20 years old and has never been exposed to black people.

“Don’t Touch My Hair”
“Why?”
No answer will ever satisfy one who does not understand, is not willing to understand, or is not willing to empathize with marginalization/oppression.

“Don’t Touch My Hair
When it’s the feelings I wear
Don’t touch my soul
When it’s the rhythm I know
Don’t touch my crown
They say the vision I’ve found
Don’t touch what’s there
When it’s the feelings I wear

They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know
They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know

You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine
You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine”
-Solange Knowles

An allegory in solidarity with all survivors of sexual assault, particularly queer people of colour. 

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