You’re sat on the tube, your bountiful hair bobbing along to your music, when like a bat out of hell, you see a stranger’s hand emerging from an undisclosed area of their outerwear, stealthily steering it’s way to bury itself into your hair.
My question to you: how would you feel if a complete stranger were to assault your personal space in such a flagrant manner? What do you do? How do you react?
When I have posed this question to my non-afro-yielding friends, the reply is generally a somewhat infuriating :
‘But your hair is so cool, it’s different- that’s why people want to touch it.’
All I hear is, ‘it’s different’. When I hear that, this is what it signifies to me:
– Said person still views me as other
– Said person is exotified perception of my identity
– I am not organic to my society
When I have said this in response to my pal’s ‘it’s-so-cool-because-it’s-different’ mantra, the reaction is normally a cacophony of ‘no, you’re reading too much into it, it’s just curiosity’ or ‘no, but some people may have never seen your type of hair before, it’s just ignorance.’ The problem with this response is the automated action of trying to pacify me (the minority) to not only tolerate, but, placate the ignorant ruling majority.
It is true, ignorance can simply be a state of not knowing. However, in some cases, when you think about the reasons for one’s lack of knowledge (reasons pertaining to an entrenched framework of prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion), it’s not an endearing moment curiosity, it’s a sinister example of inherited prejudice.
Columnist Emma Dabiri provided an astute analogy in an article published earlier this year (The Politics of Black Hair) that explains my point:
“Allow me to reverse the situation for a moment. Imagine we live in a world that is dominated by Black Africans. Imagine your great great-grandparents were colonised and enslaved by ours. Imagine that while those sorry times have passed, and it’s all post-racial bonhomie now, the transmission of wealth and power never really shifted. Both are still largely concentrated in black hands. Imagine we dominate the media and beauty industries. Imagine that in order for the beauty of black women to be truly appreciated there must be an ugly, and inferior other, with whom she is compared. This other is the white woman. Her hair is vastly different to the dominant beauty standard. It is thin, lank, stringy and greasy.
All the successful women in society have full resplendent, Afro hair, even the minority white ones.
Their hair is beautiful, it is huge, it makes them taller.”
Essentially, the long-standing all encumbering ‘white narrative’ on what is beautiful has bestowed a legacy in which, for many of African decent, wearing your hair in its natural state has become a problematic and politicised act of defying the norm. The
Afro is an exotic and exhibitionist style of hair, flouting the standardised template of British Identity.
To explain my point- in 2014, I cannot go into any hairdresser and get my barnett taken care of, the reason predominantly being ‘no one is trained to handle Afro hair’. My question is: if you are trained to style hair, then surely you should be trained on all types of hair? Even more importantly, given that I am part of society, I too should be able to benefit from the services provided by said society.
Alas, that is not the case. I am not represented, in fact, I am matter-of-factly omitted from services provided to everyone else in society because my hair is other, and because my identity is other.
So you see, when someone approaches me asking if they can touch my hair- yes it pisses me off, but it also deeply saddens me because it reminds me that I am not viewed as organic to my society. I am still a novelty and I am still other.