I have been in Sweden for a bit over 4 months now, and something that keeps happening (although admittedly much less often than I would have expected) is white people attempting to touch my hair. This happens several times a week, sometimes several times a day, and is not exclusive to any particular hairstyle. I have changed my hair about 4 times since getting to Sweden (the intricacies of black hair maintenance is definitely a post for another time) and still, no matter what my hair looks like, without fail, someone somewhere feels the need to stick their hands in it. Most people ask first, to which I can respond “No, I would prefer you didn’t.” This is initially very shocking, as they are usually pretty assured of my acquiescence, their hands halfway to my head before the question has even fully left their mouths. But every now and then I meet the person who doesn’t ask, who just shoots their hand out, mid-sentence, often with very little notice. “Your hair is SO cool/pretty/interesting,” and there is the hand, sailing toward my head with both speed and direction (velocity – hah, look I made a funny).
At this point I, like many black girls, morph into a full-fledged ninja. I swerve left, swerve right, dodging hands from people that just don’t seem to get the memo. Eventually I have to flat out tell them “Please don’t touch my hair.” Most people get it right away, and are immediately contrite “Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it, it’s just so pretty!” But occassionaly I meet people that are a bit more persistent, who really want to ignore the words I’ve just spoken, and take their chances with my wrath. They twitch, put their hands in their pockets, eye my hair repeatedly. A few ask why, which is a valid question, although the fact that they feel comfortable enough to ask it is precisely the problem.
I think it’s important to note here, that black people are not here to entertain you (@ white people). We do not exist to show off your tolerance and inclusiveness to your other white friends. We do not exist to be appropriated. We do not exist to be belittled. We’re just here, like any other human beings, trying to navigate day-to-day. The issue then becomes partially about privilege, and partially about entitlement. It is a privilege to have a hair type and texture that is perceived as “normal.” The fact that you are not accosted daily with questions about whether or not you have to wash your hair and how often, about whether or not your hair actually belongs to you, or about whether or not your hair can be touched, are privileges. Privileges that people of color, specifically black people, do not have. To promote Eurocentric standards of beauty as normal automatically makes any other forms of beauty “other.” This isn’t a problem in itself, but as I’ve stated in previous posts, otherness is often met with curiosity, superiority, fear, dismissiveness, ridicule, and even hatred (see: the entirety of American history).
And so now we get to the second point: entitlement. One of the potential reactions to otherness, or difference, that I mentioned above is curiosity. And there is literally nothing wrong with curiosity. Anyone who knows me knows that I have absolutely no problem explaining my hair to people. But I explain to people who ask, to people who have a genuine interest in understanding an aspect of my culture that is important to me. What I do have a problem with is justifying myself to people who make blanket assumptions, or who give “compliments” that are actually thinly veiled insults meant to increase their own sense of superiority. I, as a person, and fellow human-being, am valid. And the idea that I have to convince anyone of my validity, or prove my right to be exactly the way God made me, is ridiculous. Following, the idea that as a fellow human being it is ok for someone to stick their hands in my hair, demonstrates a sense of detachment, entitlement, and even ownership, that should not extend to other human beings. We are not animals. We are not pets. Therefore:
DO. NOT. PET. US.