Please, Don't Touch My Hair

By Clarke Prophete
African-American hair has long been political. It’s time for acceptance.
How often do you think about your hair? How much does your personal style lie in your hair? As an African American girl with tight, curly hair, I would admit that hair means a lot to me. My hair is different from a lot of the people I am around, and I have found that my peers don’t always understand what it means to have hair like mine and the “rules” that come with it.

On November 19, 2002, at 1:19 AM, I was born in Kansas City, Kansas with a head full of hair. My mom tells me the nurses fought over who got to comb it first as the doctors vaccinated me. I remember being 6 years old when I felt a tugging on the back of my head. A friend of mine was petting my hair. I was then questioned on how I did “that” to my hair. Although I felt flattered, I also felt a bit like an animal at the zoo. The intentions of my friend were clear; they were trying to compliment my hair. The compliment, however, felt degrading. A simple “I like your hair” would’ve been perfect, but petting me makes me feel like a dog.

Despite some compliments, as a child, I very rarely came to school with my hair curly for fear of the attention it drew. Some gave me strange looks; others admired the volume and tight curls that flowed from my scalp. I remember having my first crush in third grade and fearing that he wouldn’t like me back because my hair didn’t look like everyone else’s. Instead of embracing my magical hair, I tried to conceal it from anyone who meant anything to me. Still, in 2018, I am being treated the same.

In case you don’t understand the many wonders of African-American hair, allow me to explain it to you. I get my hair to look like this with water. That’s it. My hair is not naturally straight, so if you ask me at any given moment how I “get my hair like that,” you should probably ask when it’s straight. I don’t have to wash my hair every day, but it’s not gross. It is damaging for me to wash my hair every day because I would be stripping the hair follicles of their natural oils. I didn’t cut my hair, either; my hair shrinks into tight tendrils when it’s wet, making it appear shorter than when it’s straight.

Black women can have long, healthy hair without using extensions. A common misconception made about a melanin woman’s hair is that it has to be curly, so it can’t be long and healthy without extensions. We have so much more hair than you think. Curly hair comes in different textures, and we don’t all have the same curls. In fact, our hair is incredibly unique, which is why we take so much pride in it. Our hair can be so tight that the curl patterns barely show, or so loose that they almost look like “beachy waves.”

Now that the facts are clear, please respect our hair. My natural hair is not unprofessional or unkempt, period. The sleek, pin straight hair look should not be the standard of professionalism. Many women have been asked by their bosses to straighten or put up their natural hair, which is possibly the most unprofessional part of the issue. Even young girls in school are being told to straighten their hair because it is too distracting. Although historically, black Americans have had to use hair as a protest, that’s not the only reason we wear our hair naturally. We want to. Black women do things for themselves. Embracing who we are and what we love about ourselves is not for anyone else’s enjoyment.

More attention is being drawn to this issue than ever before to prevent younger girls from growing up the way I did. We aren’t animals. We aren’t here for other’s amusement. Normalizing afros, curls, and every hairstyle that the creative minds of black women have created is a step that should’ve been taken a long time ago. Black hair is beautiful, we know, but please don’t touch it.
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