Can I Touch Your Hair

Students speak about how people who ask to touch their hair makes them feel like an “animal”


Type 3A hair

Tribal braids. Lemonade braids. Pixie crops. Dreadlocks. Box braids. Goddess braids. 

I know, I know, you’re probably wondering what exactly I just named off. For those who do not know, these are hairstyles that protect black girls’ hair from any type of heat damage or damage in general like natural elements. These kinds of hairstyles are also often worn for cultural reasons or even just for fun since they look incredibly gorgeous. 

In the 15th century hairstyles used to tell someone’s religion, age, marital status, wealth and ethnicity. African-American hairstyles have had a dramatic transformation over time, yet their origins still remain the same. Before Africa was divided through colonization, Africa was originally divided into kingdoms. During this time is when hairstyles were used to tell important information. For example, the Himba tribe of Northwestern Namibia used dreadlocks as a way to tell what stage of life they were in, marital status, and age.

In addition to the origin of these hairstyles, slavery also had a major affect on the development of the hairstyles. When slaves were brought to the Americas in the 1600s, their hair was shaved due to the owners wanting to eliminate the spread and carrying of diseases. Once their hair eventually grew back the slaves they began to braid it in the most efficient way. Some of the slave masters would also even give them Sundays to prepare themselves for the week ahead of them. They would then take that time to do each other’s hair. This is also where cornrows gained their name. The slaves gave this hairstyle that name because the style of the hair resembled the fields of corn where some of them would be working. A lot of other hairstyles were then made to resemble paths to avoid as well as guides to plantations. 

Inevitably, these hairstyles grew to be symbols of freedom. Of course, even after slavery black women were coming up with different hairstyles. During the New Negro Movement in 1925 is a great example of how black women were able to subsume the environment around them. Unfortunately for them, black women were heavily susceptible to Eurocentric beauty standards. Which means that since the media portrayed that having lighter skin and straight hair was what society found “beautiful,” other women fell in with what society was calling beautiful and began doing it to themselves.

When black girls get these hairstyles they are always bombarded with questions. The most notorious one is, “Can I touch your hair?” Not only is someone who asks this question exhibiting microaggressive and invasive behavior, it is also very offensive. Once black girls get their hair done there are always questions that are expected when the girls show up to school the next day. When asked,  “Do you ever get asked why you chose that length for your hairstyle or why you chose that hairstyle?” Dora Guy-Bey, a sophomore at Clayton High School, said, “Yes, all the time, they’re like ‘Oh my God that must’ve taken a long time’ or ‘Wow, I would never be able to sit that long,’ and when I hear those questions, I never really know what to say so I just awkwardly giggle.” Guy-Bey expressed that she often feels extremely uncomfortable after being asked that question due to the fact that the people who ask are unintentionally being discriminatory towards her for how she chose to wear her hair.

In addition to hearing different points of views about how people chose to style their hair, when asked, “How do you feel when you are asked ‘Can I touch your hair?,’ Brenton Jamison, a learning center intern at Clayton High School, said, “I definitely felt like I was treated as if I was beneath someone. When they asked, it felt like they were treating me like an animal to pet me which is really demeaning. That’s how I felt, but again, I would typically just brush it off because it was typically friends that would ask me. It was like they didn’t grow up around a lot of black people so that also was an issue too, but it’s also like they’re watching somebody in a petting zoo and they haven’t seen a lot of these things so they wonder how they will react.”

 A common factor is that people generally feel extremely uncomfortable when asked if someone could touch their hair. A question that was asked in all of the interviews was, “Have you ever had to deal with any type of microaggressions due to the style of your hair or simply your hair in general?” and the response from Gabriella Broussard, 2022 Class President at Clayton High School, had the most thought-provoking response.

“Yes, coming up through Clayton it was kind of different due to my peers and I not having the same texture of hair. So it was different when my classmates would comment on how many times I shampooed my hair, and being a black girl I only shampoo my hair once every 2 weeks. When I was in middle school I remember a comment from a girl and she said to me, ‘That’s so dirty! Why don’t you wash your hair more often?’ And you know in a cultural way that’s very normal for black girls not to wash their hair often since it strips our hair of natural oils. Another thing is like when I’m in school or out in a publicly less diverse setting people are like ‘Oh my gosh it’s so big, can I touch it?’ It’s just different because you’re not going to do that to another peer of mine who doesn’t have the same skin complexion as me so why would you do that to me as if I was some type of animal.”

When Broussard referred to feeling like some type of animal when others would attempt to touch her hair, she was inevitably making the same point Jamison was. There are so many different things that can be said about this topic, listed above are the ones barely scratching the surface.

No, you can not touch my hair and do not ask why.