Race, Racism, The Politics of Black Hair & the Twilight Zone Between Black& White

Photo Dreads by Lord Ashbury
Photo Dreads by Lord Ashbury

When Chimamanda Adichie said black hair was political I didn’t pay attention. In Africa hair is hair. Then I came across this. Some American chick held an event in New York called ‘You Can Touch My Hair’ “An interactive public art exhibit…where strangers from all walks of life will have the welcomed opportunity to touch various textures of black hair”. I found the reactions fascinating; some people think the exhibit reinforces white privilege and entitlement over the bodies of black people, others think it puts black bodies on display for the entertainment of white people, some went as far as to liken the exhibit to the degrading treatment of Saartjie Bartman.

I’m mixed race and I’ve lived in Nigeria since I was ten years old, till today black people, sometimes complete strangers have been touching and commenting on my hair as if it was their property not mine. When they’re not touching it they’re telling me exactly what they think I should do with it. My opinion is not required. Sure when I was a kid in America white girls sometimes wanted to touch my hair too but why am I supposed to take it as racist when white people do it and not racist when black people do it? Because of the historical context of race?

I’m trying real hard to understand the nuances between cultural exchange, cultural appropriation, power, privilege, oppression, racism and prejudice and on an intellectual level I get it but on another level its really difficult to reconcile with my personal experience. Now before someone tells me that black girls covet my hair because they have been taught to hate themselves because of racism while white girls don’t wait up and hear how I feel about it. I felt violated, dehumanized, objectified and resentful just like so many of the black commentators described feeling whether it was white or black people involved.

Call it the twilight zone perspective.




6 thoughts on “Race, Racism, The Politics of Black Hair & the Twilight Zone Between Black& White

  1. Nice post. I’m actually Nigerian too. It’s interesting to think about the question outside of an American context… America’s history makes “Can I touch your hair?” a loaded question. In other countries it may/or may not have the same weight.

    You might be interested in seeing the film we just released on Youtube of the exhibit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJn_i6LYFSE&feature=share&list=PLS8WdLXXvNVYLsr07Q-PD2_WFWjC0gDeO

  2. I go back and forth on that. I’ve been quite removed from my hair since it didn’t mean much to me until I came to America. But that was 18 years ago.

    I now live in France and because of my experience being earnestly ignorant in this country I’m now more inclined to suffer other people’s ignorance. As long as it’s approached with respect.

  3. I love this blog. But who is the woman in the picture. I see her on the train and I really want to know her name.

  4. i think the “can i touch your hair ” question is so loaded because at the end of the day no matter what skin color or angle its coming from , its actually a really inappropriate question , its like a stranger coming up to you and asking “can i touch your hand ” or “can i touch your boob ” if its someone else’s body anything attached to it is there business not someone else’s , im full white Irish and because of heath issues i have very very thin hair , as such i have to tease it a lot to get volume and style it the way i like , people have asked me this same question many times in public “wow your hairs so big can i touch it ?” and all i could think in my head is

    *i just spent an hour on this , why in the world wound i want that ?*

    my guess is many woman of color who also spend time on there hair if its harder to manage may feel the same way . they spend all this TLC on there hair why would they want your fingers in it ? but mostly for me personly , its what i sais before , at its core its a rude and inappropriate question .

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