Keep Your Hands Off the Hair

Today on Michel Martin’s program, Tell Me More,  host Allison Keys had a program entitled “Keep Your Hands Off the Hair“.  It centered on the fact that now that’s she wearing her hair natural, strangers feel free to come up to her and touch her hair.

Back in the late seventies when I first began wearing braids and beads, people would often come up and attempt to touch my hair and the hair of others who wore braids and beads.  And this phenomena got worse after the movie “10” came out.  At that time we were ready and often saw them coming forward and we would step back from them and let them know,  they could not touch our hair.

It was just a few weeks ago that I was at my printer’s  and at the end of our consultation, he just reached up and said, “Let me see how this feels”, and touched my hair.  Now if it weren’t the fact that this Italian man has been my printer for over 20 years and is one of the sweetest people I know, he really would gotten a piece of my mind. To my own surprise I just let it go…

Wearing my hair in the A-Nu ‘Fro style garnered a lot of compliments and I often felt  people wanted to touch it.  But Black people know better (cultural difference) and others hadn’t been close enough to me to make that move to actually touch my hair.

Aside from the fact that our hair uniquely different than the hair of non-African people in terms of its look, texture and feel; I must admit there is something very magnetic about our hair in its natural state.  That still doesn’t give anyone a pass to touch a stranger’s hair without permission.

Have you been in this situation where strangers have touched your hair?  If so, how did it make you feel and how did you respond to the culprit?

16 responses to this post.

  1. We live in a predominantly white area and people feel it’s almost their right to touch mine, my son or my daughter’s hair. My 15 year old son got into a fight because some kid would not listen when my son told him to stop. My son got into trouble and I had to educate the school that my son experienced unwanted touching. Would a girl get in trouble for decking a boy who groped her? But I digress. We let people know it’s our hair and we get to choose if you touch it. My 4 year old daughter has long nappy coils (beautiful!) If anyone even so much as reaches for her, I physically touch their arm non-agressively to stop them. At the same time, I have to choose my battles; if I worried about this everytime we went out the door, I would go crazy.


    • Dear Joede,
      Wow, I don’t have any children, so I forgot about that aspect of the matter. Oh my goodness, strangers touching your children’s hair is just creepy. I wonder what they would say or do if you reached out and put your hands in their hair when they attempted to touch yours. That might get their attention. Not that you would really want to touch their hair… It’s totally amazing and we must attempt to educate in a loving manner so that we don’t loose our minds or our balance. Continue to be firm but gently.


  2. Posted by Maya on March 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    My son goes away to college in a predominantly White state. While travelling through, we made a pit stop to use the rest rooom get snacks, etc. I was in the bathroom washing my hands when an older white woman came out of the stall. She had her hands up and out and was going right for my hair! she stated “O I just have to touch it”. (Let’s not even discuss the fact that she was just out of the stall and had not washed her hands eww). I said to her “please don’t” and quickly ran out of the bathroom.
    I have long Locs and frequently get asked by people if they can touch them. I usually don’t mind, but when it comes to our hair the issue of personal space is often overlooked…I wonder why??


  3. Posted by Shay on March 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    I for the life of me don’t understand why ppl (white) folks forget that they are a COMPLETE stranger and that this is another person’s body here and if they want to touch on someone else’s body that they need to ASK first. Not just with my hair but with anything. You need to ask first! Also even if they are not a stranger and just an acquaintance or neighbor or something you still need to to ask because this is MY body. Hellooo! I wouldn’t even walk up to my mother and just touch her hair without asking first and she’s my mama lol.

    Thankfully this has never happened to me (I wear MY hair in braids so I guess they know what the deal is lol plus its not long so) But once I start wearing my hair out in a fro. I will be on the look out for incoming hands.


    • Posted by ladydai on June 9, 2010 at 10:31 am

      What’s the big deal? White people touch each others hair all of the time; especially when they like the style or there is something different about it. They aren’t subconsciouly insinuating that you are not your own person, when they do this. They are just like that. Why make a big deal?


      • Dear Ladydai,
        It’s really not a big deal, it’s a matter of choice. It doesn’t matter to me what color people are, I personally don’t want to be touched by strangers without my permission. I would never go up to someone and put my hands in their hair without permission, regardless of what color they are. That’s just me. To each her own. If you don’t mind having strangers touch you, then that, of course, is your prerogative.


  4. Posted by Stephenie on March 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I am so glad that you posted this; I have been having this problem as well. I even recently posted this question on facebook. I have been wearing my hair natural for a little over a year now. Usually, black women and men reach out to touch my hair. Mind you these are strangers and they don’t ask first. It’s the oddest thing; I never experienced this when my hair was straight. I guess they like what they see and they are curious as to what it feels like. I should take it as a compliment, but continuous touching ruins the integrity of my curls. I have not figured out how to keep people from putting their hands in my hair without being offensive. When you figure it out, please let me know.


    • Hi Stephanie,
      I know you don’t want to be offensive and it’s certainly not necessary to be that way. On the other hand, people should have enough decorum to know better. If you’re able to, I would say try to graciously dodge their approaching hand, step back and give them that “Please don’t touch” look. If you do so with a understanding and a smile, I think they should get it and understand themselves, that they are out of place.

      Like I said, I think natural hair has magnetism that’s a bit irresistible. But folks should control themselves the way they do when other parts of the body seem irresistible…


  5. Posted by Gwen on March 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I have encounered this problem since the 1970’s when I wore my hair in Afro puffs since my mother would not let me wear my hair in any other state but natural. The kids (mostly white) would get the urge to squeeze my puffs liike a car horn. In fact they would actually say “honk” for every squeeze. I hated that and eventually cut my hair into a short afro. Now I wear my hair in locs and I love my locs they are really becoming on me and very easy to care for since I am not very good with rellaxed hair (too much work) When people decide to touch the hair I find it very annoying. Can I reach out and touch your hair. I don’t think so. I found that I had to educate the people around me about my locs because I am married to a Italian man with a big family. So whenever there is a change in the way I decided to wear my hair they feel a need to touch. I have taught my son and my daughter that no one should touch anything that’s theirs without their permission be it their hair or anything else. It can be annoying but in my own small way I am educating the people around me about how to treat things that are different than you are used to. ASK FIRST!!!!!!


  6. Posted by Valois Mickens on March 31, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Right after the war in the former Yugoslavia I was performing with LaMaMa Experimental Theater. In Belgrad I was asked to be interviewed on T.V. I think it was because of the dread locks I had at the time. Surely enough I got asked about my hair. I felt like an educator at that moment and didn’t mind explaining how it was done. When we traveled to Korea I had old ladies in the street actually come up to me and yank my hair to see if it was real. That, I did not like!!
    Now the dread locks are gone, but I still wear my hair natural. I work in a classroom with special needs children and they constantly touch my hair. Sometimes they say it looks funny and yet they want to play with it. Last but not least I have caught some of my white male friends catch themselves as they greet me in a friendly way. Men are tactile by nature, so I guess there is an unconscious move to want to touch the hair. I find it funny. There is so much “to do” about “good hair” and “bad hair” and yet people remain fascinated by the “kinky” hair. Black people aren’t the only ones on this planet with kinky hair and it’s nice to see it become acceptable and fashionable.


    • Valois, what fascinating journeys you’ve had. Thank you for sharing them. And yes, we are not the only ones on the planet gifted with kinky hair. Thanks again.


  7. Posted by Den on April 25, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Wow! I know folks who want to touch our hair do not have malicious intent (I have locs) but I would no more expect anyone to touch my hair whether they ask or not anymore than i would expect anyone to touch my boobs or butt whether they asked or not. Personally I am not worried about offending people when they try to touch my hair, I tell them not to or I swing my head away, black folks are not pets or cats waiting to have their fur stroked. Maybe we should wear t shirts or badges with ‘ My hair is a no go area’ or something.


  8. Posted by Hannah on May 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I’m Mexican and white, not black, but people touch my hair too. I don’t really mind, but that’s probably because people on the street don’t just come up and grab it. I can’t believe people are so bold. And everybody knows too that nobody wants a stranger coming up and touching their hair, especially if you just styled it. I didn’t even know this happens to so many people.


    • Hannah, I think overall, beautiful hair regardless of texture and ethnicity is just magnetic and it is a natural response for people to want to touch. But they’re not children and they should have learned as children not to touch others without permission.


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