“Always wear your afro with confidence and pride. It is a valuable gift that many cannot have. ” Anonymous
What exactly defines personal space? What makes someone human? Can human beings ever be truly equal? These are some of the questions I ask myself on an almost weekly basis. They tend to pop into my head whenever I come into contact with someone who looks at me with bright eyes, then stretches their hand forward to touch me. Why you gotta do that, son? Why you gotta be all in this? As soon as I see the “look,” I begin to back away or I duck. It has almost become second nature.
Let me just state that there is absolutely no problem with you giving me a compliment. In fact, I welcome those compliments; bring them on! My questions are, why do you insist on rubbing my skin to see if it will come off, or touching my hair because you think it’s so soft? Why? Why? Why? The simplest response is because we are all different. While that is very true, the majority of these encounters happens with black men and women. I would say people of colour, but then again, this happens in Japan, and the bulk of persons residing in Japan are people of colour.
The fascination with black hair and black skin is not a new concept. In the times of slavery, many black women would have their hair forcely cut because it was deemed a threat, or deemed confusing to the white males. As silly as this might seem, this belief that black hair is so different, and so fascinating continues to this day. I distinctly remember my friend and I walking through the streets of Tokyo last December and an old man ran up to us and rubbed her skin, then said “chocolate!” with the biggest smile on his face. I would have loved to have seen his reaction if one of us were to do the same to him.
Last year, if a student asked me if they could touch my hair, I’d let them. I thought it a compliment of sorts and welcomed the chance to “impress” them. After an event that took place later that same year, I have forever banned the practice. A student of mine, one who loved touching my hair, was visibly struggling with a cornrow she had been attempting to do. Being the big helper that I am, I offered to do it for her. The terror in her eyes as she pulled away said it all. She told me I was scary, both verbally and otherwise. I was hurt.
I recalled the many times in my mind when she and her friends had touched my hair, and for the love of all that is good, I couldn’t figure out why she had reacted that way. Then it dawned on me, to her and her friends I was something to pet; a side show attraction. Touching her would be a violation of personal space, but I was different.
Black hair and black skin is something to be treasured and embraced. They are not to be gawked at and fetishsized. I used to feel bad when people would ask to touch my hair and I’d turn them down. It felt like I was being a bad person and they had the right to touch my hair; but they don’t. Noone has the right to treat another human being the same way they would treat a pet dog. Noone has the right to touch another person. We, as black people, as people of colour, need to stop the madness. It’s already bad enough when our features are seen on us as being ghetto and unprofessional, but seen on others as being exotic and edgy (but that’s a topic for another time). Stand up for yourself. Let them know that it is not okay. If someone asks to touch me, or reaches out to touch my hair, I touch their hair and watch “the reaction” or I ask for a touch exchange. You can touch my hair if I can touch yours. No ifs. No ands. No buts.
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