Even with a growing number of Black women embracing their natural hair, there remains an immense fascination with it, this includes both other races and also some unfamiliar Blacks. It seems the ‘Puffy Hair Movement’ will take some getting used to.
For many who don’t know, the term “natural hair” for black women is defined as hair that is not processed and not chemically altered. Straightened hair is often viewed as easier to care for and more attractive, but for some, the dangers of a chemical straightener, like a relaxer, are too much. So, instead, they opt to wear their hair in its natural state. Natural hair can be described as curly, kinky, wavy etc. the list goes on.
Tamara Winfrey Harris recalls a story of being in a chain restaurant with her husband when their names were called for a table. Just as the couple rose to go, a middle-aged white woman standing nearby reached out swiftly to touch Winfrey Harris’s hair which at the time was styled in natural twists.
”She missed by mere seconds, she was actually going to grab my hair as I walked past her,” recalled Winfrey Harris who runs the blog What Tami Said: “I turned around and she said, ‘Oh, your hair is neat.’ It just floored me because who does that, just reaches out and touches strangers?”
Happenings such as the one Harris endured are not uncommon amongst women of color whose natural hair can ignite stares, curiosity, comments and the occasional stranger who desires to reach out and touch.
While the attention remains a sort of constant, the reaction to such active curiosity varies. It can range from flattery to outrage over the raid of personal space.
Blogger Los Angelista explained her response to a woman’s incredulous “Are you serious, I can’t touch your hair?” by writing that no she couldn’t, “Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors’ property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn’t want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you’d best move your hand away from me.”
Though many share the bloggers strong feelings, I must point out that non-blacks are not the only ones who have a problem keeping their hands to themselves. I can recall an incident in a local beauty store. A Black woman asked to touch my hair while simultaneously touching my hair. She didn’t even wait for my reply. She proceeded to finger her way to my scalp, I suppose in an attempt to see if it was all mine. My point is, while some argue that it is a racial issue and a blatant form of ignorance, I think the overall issue is respect. If the desire to touch another’s mane arises; permission needs to be asked first, it’s really pretty simple.
So why the continuing fascination with natural hair, given that so many women of color are now embracing the style and have been for years? Many think that despite the increasing appearance of it, it’s still considered unique.
Actress Issa Rae, star/creator of the web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” said she has been natural all of her life and says the touching doesn’t bother her as much as “when they ask stupid questions to make me feel like my hair is alien hair.”
“I had someone ask me if I wear my hair like this to honor my ancestors, and that was funny to me,” she said. “This is not for Kunta [Kinte].”
Rae notes that in the 1970s, there was an afro movement for a while, but it died down in the 1980s. There are quite a few layers when it comes to discussions about black hair, from length to texture, and hair is very much tied to the culture, she said.
“Hair is just a huge component of blackness, so it’s not going to go away,” she continued.
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