Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A "Touchy" Subject

To quote the messenger from 300, “THIS IS MADNESS!”

Don’t kick me down an abyss y’all. This needs to be said. Or, at least, I need to get this off my chest. It disheartens, sickens, frustrates and angers me that in 2013, not only do a group of Black women feel the need to put themselves on display to satisfy the curiosity of others and to create a conversation about our differences, but that b/vloggers and other members of the “natural hair community” are co-signing this behavior like it’s revolutionary! Yeahhhh, no boo.  The revolution will not be in a “petting zoo.” #sorrynotsorry

Image from
Clearly, it is important to create more of a personal and a public dialogue about racial and ethnic differences. It is vital that we understand each other and celebrate the glorious variety of human appearance. That is not being debated here. What I am challenging is the method that was used in the case of the “You Can Touch My Hair” experiment in order to spark this dialogue. Given the history of people of African origin in the United States, I’m pretty sure that there are tons of better ways to create a multi-ethnic conversation around Black hair without conjuring up images of auction blocks, or the vicious exploitation of Sarah Baartman.Tracy Clayton wrote a great response on addressing this:

"...this exhibit bothers me because it does absolutely nothing to battle the dehumanizing fascination with black hair and black bodies that has persisted in this country since its inception. We were once science experiments, put on display for nonblacks to point and gawk at how different we are. Now it's not enough that the fascination with our hair and requests to touch it makes us feel like exhibits -- we are exhibits. Literally."

Frankly, I would have been really interested in an attempt to employ the opposite approach to that which was used in the “You Can Touch My Hair” experiment. What would have happened if a group of Black women had instead held up signs, or asked strangers on the street, “can I touch YOUR hair?” This is actually my tactic in real life. Like many women who sport a large afro, random strangers (of all races/ethnicities) approach me in public and sometimes ask first, other times just jam their (filthy? germy? unwelcome!) hands into my curls. When people do ask me first if they can touch my hair, I typically respond by asking them, “can I touch yours?” 99.9% of the time, they are taken aback and are forced to think about why they would even ask me such a question. It usually points them in the direction of their own lack of exposure. I have had quite a few really great conversations about racism, ignorance, prejudice and what it will take to create real race unity as a result of using this approach. I’m sure there other women out there who have also employed unique tactics in this kind of situation. Please share your stories in the comments! I’d love to hear about how you handle things.

Let’s address the elephant in the room, though. It’s 2013, yo. Why are there still SO many people (of all races/ethnicities) who look at naturally textured Black hair as if it were alien? It seems to me that the real problem is that despite all of the progress we have made since the days of auction blocks and public exhibitions of Black women’s bodies, people of different races and ethnicities don’t interact with each other enough in consistent and meaningful ways and Black people still need to unlearn a lot of old miseducation (our conditioning has been conditioned). This needs to be addressed. This is the conversation I am interested in sparking. There are also a whole host of issues we Black women need address amongst ourselves regarding our hair issues, but let’s save that discussion for another day. 


P.S. I my need to buy a pair of these as a security precaution. 
P.P.S. For the security of others, I mean. ;)


  1. I work right up the street from where this was done. The Union Square area draws all types of performance arts-esque displays, and exhibitions. The first thing that came to my mind was the auction block as you mentioned. I was so embarrassed. Why stop at the hair, will there be a 'Yes you can touch my booty' experiment. It was a terrible idea that puts us back hundreds of years.

  2. I personally was caught off guard when I heard about this experiment. I feel that other peoples ignorance should not be my burden...


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