Please don’t touch my kids’ hair. Please tell your children that touching Black people’s hair is not ok. So, you are probably wondering why I’m writing about this, and why this is an issue. I’m sure the average white person has never thought about it, never considered it, because it doesn’t affect them. But it’s never OK to touch a Black person’s hair, and even if you ask, it’s still not ok (although at least a bit more polite). So here’s the story.
For the last week of school, my daughter decided to wear her hair down at school. She almost always wears it in a high ponytail. But that day, she wanted to try something new. I asked her what everyone said to her about her hair, and she told me they liked it and told her she looked so different.
The next morning, when I asked her how she wanted me to style her hair, she told me she wanted her hair back up in a ponytail. I asked her why. She said, “my hair is too poofy, and everyone kept touching it. I don’t like when people touch my hair.” We continued the conversation as we walked to school. That’s when my son chimed in, “people always touch my hair too. It’s annoying.”
My jaw dropped. First, I had no idea that random kids at school would go up to my kids and touch their hair. Second, I didn’t know my kids were being bothered like that. Third, I realized this required a pretty serious conversation about personal space and their Blackness.
As their mom, who happens to be white, it’s not always the easiest for me to navigate these conversations. I’ve studied a lot about and witnessed a lot about the African American experience, but I’ve never lived it. Although I can sympathize, I don’t have first-hand experience in these situations. So, all I can do is listen and learn. I think a lot of people know that touching Black women’s hair is problematic, but I’m not sure they know why.
After I dropped them off for school, I spoke with their dad about the situation. It bothered me because I know that, in this situation, my kids are made to feel like an ‘other,’ ‘different’ than their classmates, almost like they are on display for their white counterpart’s pleasure. Now, I know that is NOT what these little kids are thinking. I know they don’t realize that touching Black people’s hair is inherently racist and a microaggression. I know these little white kids are just simply fascinated with something that they’ve never witnessed or felt before. Yet, it is their parents’ job to explain why you don’t touch other people’s hair and especially why it is not ok touching Black people’s hair.
So what was the solution their dad and I came up with? Well, we told our kids that they do not ever need to allow anyone to touch them or their hair. That they have the power to speak up and to firmly tell their friends and classmates to keep their hands to themselves. That it is always ok to maintain their independence and personal space. That is not something they have to apologize for. We also told them that their hair is special and unique and that is why their friends and classmates are intrigued. We chose not to go down the confusing rabbit hole of white privilege, microaggressions, and the inherent racism involved in this scenario because they are young and this is quite a complex conversation.
Nonetheless, I took this opportunity to remind my kids just how beautiful their hair is and how special their curls are. They will receive plenty more messages, like strangers touching their hair, to make them feel different or less than. This was my chance to instill that self-love that is so important in all kids. But it is especially Black kids growing up as one of the only.
If this story is confusing to you, or you don’t understand why this is a big deal, I would urge you to read more about microaggressions, Black hair, and the reasons why touching Black people’s hair is offensive. And if you have more questions, you can ask me. But please don’t leave this to your Black friends to explain or to answer for you.