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.