My hair is wild, furiously spiraled, gravity-defying, spring loaded hair. It’s big, confident, room-commanding specfuckingtacular hair. It’s difficult, contradictory, rebellious. Once I got to know my hair in its nappy state, I didn’t have any problems with it. It sits there and grows, and I try not to fuck it up. The one thing about it I find really annoying is detangling.

BUT, more annoying than detangling is how some people react to my hair.

I’m going to give you some advice right now: the best way to get on my good side is NOT to touch my hair without asking. Actually, don’t ask. Just don’t do it. It’s not a plant. It’s not fabric. It definitely doesn’t have a little hole in its packaging inviting you to feel the flocking. The main reason this particular reaction annoys me is because of the way people touch it when they do. Yes, I’ve let white people touch my hair. I’ll admit it. In the beginning when this was all new to me I didn’t much care because at least people wanted to feel what was on my head, previously it was usually fried dyed and laid to the side and you didn’t have to touch it to realize it could sub for hay. But after a couple impromptu petting zoo encounters I noticed the look on their face and what they were doing with their hand and basically, I realized this wasn’t like “your hair is so beautiful”. It was like, “your hair is alien to me, let me treat it like a curiosity”, which I just can’t abide. It’s kind of like “educating”, only with visual aids. So I decided to close the nappytown chamber of commerce and just stick to uh, not being a prop.

People asking me “how did you get your hair like that” are met with a blunt “it grows out of my head like this”. I mean, I don’t know anyone but black people who are dying to have OUR hair. So it’s not like they want tips on how to achieve this look. They think it’s novelty hair. If I pull on it to show how long it is, 9 times out of 10 a squeal escapes from their lips when I let go and it springs back. Again, it’s a curiosity, and I don’t pull out that little magic trick anymore either.

There’s also a bunch of foolish people who think it’s a) funny, b) clever, or most puzzling, c) appropriate to do some crap like give me the “black power” fist or call me Angela or say “rock on soul sistah”, etc. You’d be surprised, but I’ve found there’s virtually no limit to the variations on that theme. It doesn’t have to make sense or even be accurate. This theme ties in with some white people’s love for afro wigs. Because “black power” is funny to them. That whole movement is just part of their kitschy pop culture memories and is not taken seriously. Black people in general are a novelty to this type. So when I’m talking to one of these people and I get heated, they think it’s OK to cop a blaccent and call me “girlfriend”. It’s just tiring and racist. Seriously. RACIST.

The only group of people I will suffer gladly are other black women, especially black women with relaxed hair. I will stand there and detail the products I use and where you can buy them, give tips on styling, write down links to message boards that talk about natural hair, and give words of encouragement and assurance that their natural hair is beautiful, too. Most white people don’t realize how hard it is for a black woman to wear her hair naturally. Not only because of the jokers mentioned above, but because of intense societal conditioning that our hair is something that needs fixing. It comes at you from the black community, and it comes at you from everyone else too. So if a black woman is even contemplating letting her new growth last a bit longer than 4 weeks, I’m her cheerleader. Because if we don’t tell each other our hair is beautiful you can bet no one else will.

34 thoughts on “Love and nappiness

  1. As a white woman with short not straight enough to be straight but not curly enough to be curly hair, I am SEVERELY jealous of black women with glorious "wild, furiously spiraled, gravity-defying, spring loaded hair".

    I WISH I could have awesome curly stand-out hair like that (and I have tried… I have the bad perm pictures to prove it).

    I think it's beautiful. And… I LOVE seeing a woman rock an awesome afro, or kinky curls, or any other un-processed do that says "I am who I am – social conditioning be damned"

    But if I like someone's hair, I'm going to say something like. "Wow, I really like your hairdo" . More often – I am not going to say anything at all – because, well, I don't really find it appropriate to comment on random stranger's hair. But that's just me.

    • I don't mind if people are like "I love your hair", that's cool. And believe me, I bet I've spent more time and money trying to get my hair to look like a bad imitation of yours than you have on bad perms!

    • For the record, I will totally comment if I think someone has awesome hair, but only if they seem open to receiving comments from strangers. Same goes for good shoes. Just a simple, "Dude, your shoes are rad…"

  2. I've always thought black hair was beautiful, always. The bigger the more radiant. I've also always been a little envious of it too: it can do things my fine and stringy white hair can't. I also associate natural hair with strength and confidence and fierceness–qualities I lack. But I am not a black woman, and I know I have no idea what it is like to be a black woman living with hair laden with so much history and symbolism. So I make an effort not to be pushy or presumptuous. I hope I haven't failed too often. I've only recently begun to recognize my privledges, and reading posts like this are valuable to me.

    As a deaf person, I agree that people treating your hair as a curiousity or novelty is rude and presumptive. I've had people quiz me, and be so bold as to "test" the capacities of my hearing without my permission–and even had they asked, I would not grant it–for I am a human being, not a circus freak! No one is obligated to service other people's entitlements. Humph!

    Ahem. Great post. šŸ™‚

    • Well I'm glad you appreciate nappy hair. But I wouldn't generalize that every woman with natural hair is strong confident and fierce — I mean, I know I am but I'm sure there's some timid nappy heads out there. lulz!

  3. Bronxgirl1 says:

    OMG! I can so relate to this post. I have worn my hair in braids for 13 or more years and I am so tired of being the public service speaker on black hair. I have had many white people demand that I bring them along to my hair appointments just so they can watch how my hair is being done. If you are so curious why can't you book an appointment and go by yourself. Why must I be your escort? Naturally I never gave in to such silly requests. I actually dread when it is time to get a new hairstyle because I know that I will automatically be inundated with requests to see, smell, and feel my hair. Along with the how long did it take, how much does it costs,does it hurt, how do you sleep, can you wash it questions.

    I especially hated when Chris Rock came out with that stupid documentary, which was more of a mockumentary in my opionion. It seemed as if every white person on the planet wanted to know my opinion on the movie and how I felt it related to my hair. I am also sick and tired of white people asking me about how much I spend on my hair. It is none of your business… you aren't the one paying for it.Plus I don't think it should matter what a person spends on their hair. It is only natural that if you care about your appearance that you are going to invest some money in it. I don't care if it hair, shoes, clothes, nail, etc…if it matters to you than naturally you will spend money on it.

    Also, I know what you mean about white people suddenly shifting into ebonics and peppering their conversation with "girlfriend" when they speak to you. I actually had an incident at work with a co-worker many years ago who I ended up reporting to HR for this. He felt there was nothing wrong with it and since he was married to a mulatto (his terminology not mine) that made it okay. It is one thing if I already speak to you in this manner then you can pretty much assume that I would be okay with it. But I have never in my life called any woman of any race girlfriend, and I think it is rude for someone to approach me and use that term especially if they don't even know me just because I am African American. It is not as if we were hanging out in the club last night.This behavior is just crass and ignorant.

    Another thing that is equally irritating is when White people seek out your opinion of things that are deemed offensive to blacks. I once had a person ask me if it was offensive if they said that the office trash disposal was ghetto. First of all why would you ask me that. Second, I didn't grow up in the ghetto, so how the hell should I know. Third, not that I am by any means an authority on ghetto living, but I would take a wild guess that having a trash disposal is not a ghetto amenity.

    It is really hard to defend yourself against this type of ignorance. Especially in the workplace, because as soon as you voice your opinion in a quiet and respectful tone you are automatically deemed the Angry Black Woman. Not because of your actions but just because your opinion is a contradiction to the sterotype and you have the gumption to stand up for yourself.

    Thanks for writing this post and making more people think about not only their actions but what they say as well.

    • I hear everything you're saying. It's too true. And that "Good Hair" movie didn't actually deconstruct the stigma placed on black women's natural hair, or why black women feel they have to get it relaxed, or any social context to the discussion whatsoever. It was just like "Hey, look at how silly these black women are paying top dollar for some Indian woman's hair". I think it did more harm than good.

      • Bronxgirl1 says:

        What galls me is that Chris Rock claims he made the movie for his daughters. How are they supposed to feel about themselves when they watch this movie and find out that their dad basically thinks their hair is one big joke. By the way notice that his wife wasn't in the movie. The mother of his children who I am sure had plenty of insight to give about hair and black culture chose not to participate in his "educational" film. The film he made for his daughters.Gee I wonder why.

        I think what equally pissed me off about this movie was this defense mechanism it created in women of color. Did you see when Chris Rock was on Oprah, and Oprah insisted that he feel her hair to prove it is real? I was spitting fire because I was so mad. Oprah is an educated woman with a multi billion dollar business, and she feels the need to prove herself to some comedian lest he think her hair is fake. It was so utterly sad, because Oprah with all her achievements in those few moments just became a pile of hair, and not an accomplished woman.

        Here is a news flash, most people in this world have a fascination with hair. It is no more a black thing than it is a white thing. Hair has been talked about in the bible, it is the back bone of some cultures, and it is commercialized in some parts of the world. We have been taught about hair from child hood. Whether we were brushing Barbie's glistening locks, or brushing our mothers' hair.

        So why the focus of hair is put squarely on one race is puzzling to me to say the least.

        • ITA. The Oprah thing was definitely sad, I like how you put it. I felt the same way about Chris Rock's daughters and the film. The furthest he went was when he said you shouldn't put relaxer on 2 year olds. Which is like, wow, what an issue to take a stand on. All of the 1% of women who relax their 2 year old's hair are totally going to rethink what they're doing. There is at least one other documentary that explored the issue of black women's hair much better than "Good Hair" but does not get that publicity.

      • Good Hair <– Yeah, Chris Rock sorely disappointed and upset me. I think he did more harm than good too. BTW – after that movie, for the first time a stranger touched my kinky hair…black elderly woman! I was so offended.

  4. Er, "circus freak" is a poor choice of words. Even circus freaks are human beings, and my usage of the term implied I did not think they were. A better term for my intention is "sideshow.".

    Restating, I am a human being, not a sideshow!


  5. Carol Gwenn says:

    It's YOUR hair & you love it; what else matters?

    Strikes me as INCREDIBLY rude that strangers would touch any part of you, especially your hair! What barn were these people raised in? Cannot imagine ever doing such a thing, even as a child (my mother would have done something subtle, like chop my hand off).

  6. This is really interesting to me. I'm white, and I do find natural black hair really attractive. I don't ask strangers if I can touch their hair, though… I don't touch strangers at all, in fact. It's along the same lines as walking up and touching a pregnant woman's belly, in my opinion — it's an invasion of personal space. I think there were probably a couple times in high school when I did ask my black friends if I could touch their hair. And yes, it was just because I was curious about it, but I think we were good enough friends (I hope…) that they weren't offended. I don't know… is curiosity so wrong? I never meant to objectify my friends, that's for damn sure. My hair is extremely straight, and I've always envied more textured hair, and I desperately wanted dreadlocks in high school but couldn't make my hair do it. I'd still like to have dreads if I could, but I've pretty much decided it's not possible for my hair to do that.

    I imagine it's really annoying to be constantly asked questions about your race, but at the same time, I can say from my own perspective, when I do that it's because I'm honestly trying to understand the person I'm talking with, and I really want to break down the racial divide. I want to be able to be friends with people of all backgrounds and not to have to tiptoe around sensitive issues. Yes, I want to respect others' feelings, but I also want to be able to have honest conversations.

    • I'm not a huge fan of white people with dreadlocks because I see it as cultural appropriation. I've had many arguments over that stance because people see it as "just hair". But with dreadlocks in particular, there's a long history of them being seen as dirty, unkempt, threatening and militant when black people wear them. White people don't have that baggage so for them it's another hairstyle.

      I think that having honest conversations is important but saying you don't want to "have to tiptoe around sensitive issues" is trivializing the complex issues people of color have to deal with. It's not their responsibility to educate you, there's a ton of blogs/articles/what have you that delve deeply into many of the issues I'm sure you'd like to know more about. Really, being respectful is not tiptoeing. It's recognizing the power imbalance inherent in a conversation in which you expect people of color to reveal things about themselves when they're at a disadvantage because they already know much about white people because that's the dominant culture they're force fed.

      • "White people don’t have that baggage so for them it’s another hairstyle." – Exactly, it's just another hairstyle to them. Why get mad at them? Instead why not make them allies instead of guilting them.

        • I'm not in the business of making white people allies. It's not my responsibility to explain why a white person wearing that hairstyle is appropriating another ethnic group's culture. All too often white people feel like the world is their cultural smorgasboard and they can just pick and choose various clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, etc. that have great significance to other races but mean nothing to white people. Locks are a spiritual thing to many African diasporic cultures as well as some East Indian sects. It's not a good thing for white people to think that it's just another hairstyle, that doesn't make white people wide-eyed innocent children just wandering through the world taking what they want from other cultures with no consequence. And I don't consider telling white people that to be "guilting" them.

          I notice in another comment you said you have an "educator" spirit. That's great. But I don't. So again, I'm not in the business of making allies. If white people want to be an ally to me they are going to have to educate themselves. Not trying to snark on you, just stating facts.

          Thanks for commenting!

    • I don't have a problem with close friends touching each other hair. I let my white friends do it all the time – as long as they ask. I also have touched my black friends kinky hair.

      I guess I have a what I call a "journalist/educator spirit" – I love sharing info and knowledge with people. I have no problems with white, black, latino friends coming up to me and asking me questions about my hair. Actually I get really excited about sharing stuff about me and my culture.

      Curiosity is good in my eyes – I like learning about other cultures, from Germans to Koreans. So I support white women trying to educate themselves and learn about black hair and our culture.

      Rudeness, dehumanization, and objectification are bad of course. I def can sympathize with other black women who have been touched without permission, by strangers. Yet, I don't see anything wrong with friends asking to touch each others hair.

  7. I don’t know anyone but black people who are dying to have OUR hair. So it’s not like they want tips on how to achieve this look.

    White women with very curly hair might. šŸ˜‰ I'm a white woman with very kinky, curly, wild hair, and I never had any freaking clue how to take care of it. I never knew anybody with hair as curly as mine, so nobody in my family knew how to take care of it. Back when my mom did my hair she'd wash and condition it, then brush it out when it was dry, leaving me with an enormous frizzy mess. When I was old enough to do my own hair I'd end up either spending loads of time blowing it straight or put in tons of leave-in conditions and anti-frizz serums and gels in an attempt to have it not look awful.

    I was almost 30 before I learned how to take care of my hair, which for me mainly involves not shampooing it. Like, not ever. The idea of just using conditioner on my hair would have never, ever occurred to me, because I thought washing your hair every day was an obligation like paying taxes. That's one of those insights into hair care that white women with curly hair have started to catch onto and which they learned from black women. I have been very happy that it looks like my daughter is going to have curly hair, because I'll actually know how to take care of it so she doesn't go through elementary school getting teased about the giant ball of frizz that's her hair.

    • Have you read that "Curly Girl" book by Lorraine Massey? On the nappy hair message board I visit occasionally there are a few white women with kinky hair who love that book. I think it's mostly about white curly/kinky hair but I know there is a section of it for African hair. There are a lot of similarities in how to take care of the two, I don't wash my hair but once a month and co-wash usually every day.

  8. Just swinging by to say that judging by your picture you have gorgeous hair.

    I'm always vaguely baffled by adults who go around sticking their hands in other people's hair, especially without permission (not that it's the same thing, but it used to happen to me once in a while when my hair was down to my hips). Don't most people learn in pre-school to keep their hands to themselves?

  9. As a future full time hairdresser I want to touch lots and lots of people's hair – mainly so I can see if my visual assessment of texture and fine/medium/thick is true. But I always, always, always ask first and pretty much never do so with strangers.

    In beauty school there was a couple of black women in my class and whenever we did anything involving styling or working on each others' hair someone inevitably made some dumbass comment about "oh wow, your hair is SO soft" with so much wonderment and shock in their voice. And it quickly became clear that most everyone thought "black people hair" would always be coarse, dry and harsh to the touch. But what started to drive me the most crazy is how people acted like black hair is so shockingly different from all other hair. As much as there are ways to treat the hair of some black people that might not be suitable for white folks or people of other ethnicities/races, it's not an across the board thing. And all hair is made up of the same shit: keratin and hydrogen bonds and lots of other similar elemnts that vary depending on how fine or thick the hair is, what color it is, etc. To act as though what grows out of the heads of black people is some sort of alien substance is just plain ignorant and offensive.

    One thing that has made me a bit happier about how some people approach altering hair structure is what seems to be a movement away from harsh chemicals and super hot irons and toward things like keratin protein treatments like the Brazillian Blowout. Yes, it is still for people who want to straighten and smooth their hair, which can bring up a host of issues. But at least it is based in proteins that can help the condition of hair that is damaged or stressed from chemicals and hot tools and minimize the necessity to rely on those things. It's an imperfect situation for sure, but I feel much better about using such a product than something that is basically almost Nair, which is the chemical basis of a lot of relaxers. It just straight up corrodes the hair.

    Okay, I'll shut up now! šŸ™‚

    • I know, Nair is like Jheri curl material. It’s crazy! I’m glad you’ve gotten into hairdressing, learn to work with natural black hair! Ha. There’s so few hairstylists that can deal with it.

  10. I just thought I'd add to the white lady echo chamber by stating that I think your hair is totally rad.

    I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, and when I was little I was always jealous that I couldn't have all the braids and locks and twists that my friends did. I remember being really upset and confused when most of them started relaxing their hair in middle school, because, of course, as a white girl, I was oblivious to the pressures they were facing. I still love when ladies rock some natural 'dos, though.

    Also, it never ceases to amaze me how strangers think they're entitled to touch women's hair/bodies. I never really experienced it myself until I started buzzing my hair about a year ago, and now I'll have total strangers approach me on the street and ask if they can rub my head. Hell, no! It make me so ragey. And then you have to deal with the added bonus of white privilege being thrown into the mix. Awesome.

    • I buzzed and then Bic'ed my head for a while as a late teen and surprisingly people asked to touch my head less. That may have been because I was throwing shade going through my mandatory militant Valerie Solanas lesbian feminist phase.

  11. I’ve decided that white people touching my hair is among my scorched earth, hill I am willing to die on, issues.

    Oh the tales I could tell. Like the first year I spent Xmas with my ex and his family, and his mother told one of the kids that she could touch my hair, it was really soft, like sheep wool.

    Or the time in a bar where a cute-ish guy needed my friends to move, so he could play pool. I made a funny comment about his beard. He stuck his hands in my hair.

    Or the girl in the crowded bar, who, when I tapped her to let her know someone needed to get past her, looked at my hair, started reaching for it, and then said, “Can I touch your hair?”. And when I said no, looked at me like I’d killed her pony or something.

    These are only the tip of the iceberg, and don’t even count the countless times I was complicit in making myself and my hair part of the sideshow, by allowing fools to touch me.

    Some people act like it’s not a big deal. Like, why get so upset about it?

    Having to be constantly protecting the boundaries of your body from people who don’t seem to get that you deserve those boundaries? That’s exhausting.

    Also, if I never get another white person telling me how easily they think my hair would dread. As if, in their minds, if I would stop doing stuff to my hair, I’d immediately have these sweet ass dreads. Um. Not so much.

    • Also, if I never get another white person telling me how easily they think my hair would dread. As if, in their minds, if I would stop doing stuff to my hair, I’d immediately have these sweet ass dreads. Um. Not so much.

      I also hate when white people ask me how to dread their hair. I dislike dreads on white people period, much less telling them how to achieve that look.

  12. I'm white and have curly hair, and people are sticking their hands into it all the time! I honestly don't mind if they ask because I love having my hair played with, but it is weird how much they like pulling it out and watching it spring back. I've had my hair for so long that it just doesn't seem that fascinating to me…

    That said, I'm a big texture person, and I like to run my hand's through hair I don't have, be it straight, frizzy, buzzed cut (love me so me buzz cut), and so on. I don't ask black friends, though, because I know it's a whole different question.

  13. Looking at this I thought it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this post along. Once again I find myself spending excessively much time both reading through and also posting comments. Although so what, ?t had been nonetheless worth it!

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