Let’s talk about hair.
Hair can be an expression of one’s personality, an exclamation mark on a living, breathing canvas. Our sense of self can be connected to our hair. For many women, especially Black women, it is representative of “something” different. Something bigger, deeper, and more personal.
When someone touches my hair without my permission, it is a violation of my privacy. I’ve had many conversations with other Black women and the conversation of hair comes up quite a bit. Mainly, this conversation revolves around people, mostly White women, touching our hair with or without permission. One of my friends uses the phrase, “I am not a pet so please don’t touch my hair.”
The truth is, walking up to someone and touching their hair without their permission is equivalent to a man walking up to a woman AND touching her boobs! This would be a complete violation and the woman would 1) beat the man down 2) call the police to report harassment 3) both 1 and 2. If you wouldn’t like someone doing that to you, then don’t walk up to someone and touch their hair.
Let me be clear, as I mentioned earlier: this is not just about a violation towards Black people, although that is most prevalent, it is about this type of behavior towards anyone that someone views as different than they are. It can be directed towards someone with red hair, curly hair, freckles, a disability, etc.
Holding Humanity in High Regard
At the farmer’s market the other day there was a man who was screaming things at the top of his lungs that made my daughter feel afraid and confused. As we were leaving she asked, “why did he do that?” My response to her could have gone several ways but I wanted her to understand that the world is made up of several types of people. I could also clearly see that he was mentally unstable. My response to her was simple. I explained to her that some people don’t have the capacity to understand what they are doing AND in his mind, he thinks he is doing the right thing. There was no judgment in her question and no judgment in my response. It is my hope that the next time she encounters someone like that, she would respond in a non-judgmental way that holds the person’s humanity in high regard.
Children must be trained. If we want our children to sit still in a restaurant, we must expose them to that setting. If we want them to make up their beds, we must teach them how. If we want them to treat people with respect, we must show them how. Behavior is learned and that responsibility falls mostly upon us — their parents/guardians.
The problem we see time and time again is that we treat those who are different from us in a way that denigrates them.
So, what can we do to be more aware of our own behavior and teach our children to respond accordingly?
1) We must lead by example. If your children are like mine, their listening skills AREN’T the greatest. I must repeat the same thing three or four times for them to do what I’m asking/telling them to do. However, when they see me making my bed, without me saying anything, they go to their rooms to make their beds.
2) Expose them to diversity. Diversity in its simplest definition means differences. With that, I’m not just talking about diversity of race BUT diversity of gender, thought, ethnicity, religion, etc. When you think about it, there is diversity within your own family. Instead of pretending the differences don’t exist, highlight what makes each of them unique.
3) Celebrate the differences. All of us are unique. That’s what makes us beautiful! Think about it, when you see someone who is completely different than you don’t you sometimes want to stare at them and admire them? I know I do. If I’m feeling courageous, I’ll walk up to them and let them know. As a matter of fact, my kids tease me when they see someone different, they’ll ask, “are you going to say something to them, mommy?” Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
At the end of the day, we are all gloriously different. Some of us are short, some of us are tall. Some of us are skinny, some of us are curvy. Some of us are White, some of us are Black. Some of us have straight hair, some of us have curly hair. Whatever our differences are, we are all human. So, the next time you see me please don’t touch my hair.