Hair, hair, hair. It seems to be talked about a lot in the Black community and to some, it is a tired subject. Personally, I was not feeling inclined in posting a piece related to the topic since the Black blogosphere is full of information, opinions, images and tutorials about Black hair. But I believed I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share Un-ruly.com’s controversial short film regarding its “You can touch my hair” exhibit that took place this past summer. Both the exhibit and the film explore different perceptions of Black hair and the different reactions to the curiosity surrounding it.
I personally do not always entertain the (most of the time, invasive) requests to touch my fro. But I do believe in teachable moments and sometimes those moments involve allowing someone to touch the crown that I call my hair. I also believe that these moments must involve conversations in order to bridge understandings and experiences between people.
Earlier this month, The New York Times published a piece that questioned whether the afro has become “shorn of (the) militancy” that it had during the 1960s and 1970s by some of today’s Black youth and young adults in New York. Many of those quoted in the article echoed a more artistic sentiment rather than one of a political standing. I do not speak for all Black women, only myself, so personally for me, as one who grew up not feeling allowed to explore their Blackness and who is temporarily living in a suburban city where there is a small Black population, it still is an important form of political self-expression. And that is what I have started to share with folks about my hair; it is my political act of resistance to white supremacy’s beauty standards and above all, it is my personal act of self-acceptance & self-love.
So, don’t just go and grab my crown or any other Black woman’s for that matter. As stated in the short film, it’s alright to be curious, but it is just as crucial to be aware of where that curiosity comes from and what to do with it. So, if you ask and the circumstances are right, I may just talk with you about what I know about Black hair and, if your nails are clean, maybe even let you touch it. Or maybe not.
A few quotes that stood out…
“…because they were so young themselves, myself included, when their hairs were permed that they didn’t know what their hair looked like. So when they actually got exposed to it, (…) we actually had to learn our hair in our 20s and 30s, we had to figure out how to tend to our hair.”(part I, 2m48)
“Because the society doesn’t cater to kinky hair, it doesn’t cater to me being able to walk around with my own hair grade, it tells me that it’s not beautiful. It tells me that I’m not as beautiful as a woman of another race. It tells me to wear a weave. It tells me to wear braids. And it tells me when I do those things I immediately become more socially acceptable.” (part I, 3m19)
“(Saartjie ‘Sarah’ Baartman) was a curiosity, something strange. Fast-foward to today and yet again we have people curious about a physical difference. Yes, curiosity is the first step to enlightenment, but we have to question the nature of our curiosity. Is it innocent curiosity and even if it is, was it that same type of curiosity that led to Sarah being on display?” (part I, 7m39)
“It’s hard to be honestly ignorant. And ignorance just means you don’t know. So what we’re asking people to do is to bring their ignorance and bring their pain to a conversation. And that’s why it’s hard.” (part II, 6m38)
“The conversation that we ended up having (…) is a conversation that we as Black women have to have with ourselves at some point in our lives. Because our hair can mean so much and can symbolize so much, we have to decide how we feel about that.” (part II, 7m05)
For part II: http://un-ruly.com/you-can-touch-my-hair-a-short-film/#.UmbHWCSE5YU
“The Afro as a Natural Expression of Self”: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/fashion/the-afro-as-a-natural-expression-of-self.html?_r=0
***!!! updated on 31/october/2013