No, You May Not Touch My Hair

Clutch magazine
Clutch magazine

In piece for Clutch magazine, Thembi Ford writes that she's tired of strangers who find her hair exotic and think it's OK to treat her "like a stuffed animal."


Last night, while I was trying to catch the bartender’s attention just a few minutes after last call had been announced, a girl I didn’t know wedged herself between me and the next partygoer and said, “I just love your hair!” I smiled, thanked her, and kept my eyes on the prize. Just then she asked:

“Can I touch it?”

Here’s the thing: anyone who’s had more than a few inches of afro-textured hair growing out of his or her scalp has probably had someone try to touch it. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the request is made by another black person considering “going natural,” but more often than not it’s made by a non-black person who wants to treat you like a stuffed animal. It’s rude and weird and frustrating. Either way, dirty sweaty hands on my carefully sculpted naps is not a good idea, and more than anything, I have no desire to be pawed at by a stranger who thinks that what naturally grows out of my head is “cool.” It’s just not happening. So, I flatly told her no.

The funny thing is, this person was not at all interested in waiting for the answer to her own question. Her humid little hand was already only a few inches away from my hair by the time I even had the chance to respond, so the tail end of my “no” was punctuated by a head-to-toe bodyroll of hair-touch dodging. It was as if she had no intention of waiting for my permission — permission that she was certain she would get. And when she did not get that permission and noticed that my catlike reflexes kept her from getting what she wanted, she responded with a gasp followed by a “hmph.” Here was a perfect stranger who asked if she could touch my hair and got offended when I told her no.

Read Thembi Ford's entire piece at Clutch magazine.