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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Don’t touch my hair


A black girl’s experience with hair

“Don’t touch my hair when it’s the feelings I wear… Don’t touch my crown, they say the vision I’ve found. Don’t touch what’s there, when it’s the feelings I wear. They don’t understand what it means to me, where we chose to go, where we’ve been to know.”

This poetry might be the lyrics to Solange Knowles’ song “Don’t Touch My Hair” from her breakout album “A Seat at the Table,” but to me these words are a manifesto.

Hair to black women has always been political, whether we like it or not. I am vexed that wearing my hair the way it grows forth from my scalp could be a political action, but it is one nonetheless. Unsurprisingly, this is something that stems all the way back to slavery.

In 18th century Louisiana, there was an increase of free black people in New Orleans due to an increase in economic opportunity, and black people were able to buy their freedom. The free black women were known to wear their hair in ornate elaborate styles that included jewels and feathers. This of course, attracted the gaze of many, including those of white men.

Because this threatened the social order of white society, the Tignon laws were put into place. Black and creole women were forced to cover their hair in order to be identifiable as a slave caste even if they were free.

Even currently, places like California had to enact laws that ban racial discrimination against people for wearing their natural hair, which disproportionately affects black women’s ability to wear natural hairstyles to work or school. The military and many schools consider things like box braids, dreadlocks, cornrows, Afro puffs and other natural black hairstyles to be unkempt or unprofessional. However, I am here to say this is a load of malarkey.

Afro hairstyles are considered a political statement because it signifies nonconformity. When you see black women on news stations, their hair is never natural. That is because it’s difficult to get hired and be taken seriously if our hair is not straight. When we wear our hair natural it says, “I am fully comfortable in the skin I am in,” and that makes some white people uncomfortable.

Thus, many black women are forced to subject their strands to harsh perming chemicals or experience heat damage from excessive straightening and then are forced to cut all of their hair off, which can be emotionally scarring. All of this, just to be able to go to school and work without fear of retribution; for example, there has even been a report of a little black girl having her braids cut off at school.

ILLUSTRATION: Kaitlyn Patterson ’20

This is why black women get upset when white people, namely white women, appropriate these hairstyles. When I wear these hairstyles it is considered “ghetto” or “unprofessional” even though these hairstyles come from my people. However when white women or non-black women wear them they are “edgy,” “urban,” “earthy” or “innovative.” With this, it is easy to see why we feel the way we do.

Hairstyles like braids have always had a deeper meaning to black women for several reasons. For example, many African women would braid rice in their hair before the journey of the middle passage into enslavement. This technique was also used on the children of these women before they were sent to different plantations to ensure they could eat.

Yet, after all the scrutiny black women go through with their hair, random people love to stick their questionably clean fingers into it. You see, “Don’t Touch My Hair” is a double entendre. It means don’t touch my hair as in please respect my customs, but it also means please do not physically touch my hair.

Black women are already made out to be a spectacle for simply existing. It gets even worse when strangers and even sometimes people we know touch our hair without permission. We are not petting zoos. If you want to touch someone’s hair, or just a person in general, you should ask for consent.

Who would have thought that something so trivial as hair could be the source of so many issues and pain. Black women are constantly analyzed and put down simply for being us.

So the next time you find yourself saying, “It’s just hair,” remember my words and that it might be just hair to you because your strands are not policed as heavy as mine.

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