Stop Touching My Child’s Hair And Don’t Even Ask To
By Jackie Gillard
PHOTO © Weekend Images Inc./Getty Images
Feb 7, 2018
Recently, a stranger in a coffee shop asked if he could touch my nine-year-old daughter's hair. For her and I, the biggest surprise wasn't his desire to touch her beautiful hair, but that he asked for permission instead of reaching out and doing it, as others have.
No matter the motivation, there are still racial messages involved each time a non-black person touches the hair of a person of colour.
My daughter is black. As a white woman, I understand that non-black people may find her hair texture and styles intriguing and different from their own. This fascination exists partly because the media only recently began featuring women of colour with their own, naturally styled hair. For centuries, society preferred Euro-centric beauty standards, leaving my child and her fantastic hair as exotic objects of curiosity. Yet, that conditioned intrigue does not make it okay to touch a part of someone else's body — with or without asking.
We often see people of beauty or interest, but we don't use a hands-on approach to express our sentiments. My kiddo deserves that same respectful admiration without physical contact. The requests and hair grabs make my child uncomfortable. She doesn't like being forced to tell anybody to keep their hands to themselves. It's something they should already know.
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Her worries about grown-ups being offended or ignoring her rehearsed and polite, "Please don't touch my hair," are valid because it's happened. Kids are entitled to have control and agency over their own bodies, the same as adults.
My daughter is not part of a petting zoo. You are violating her race, body and personal space if you touch her hair, or even ask if you can.
For people of colour, hair can be a big deal. There is often considerable time and loving energy spent caring for black hair. I've learned about black hair care, styling and the associated cultural significance from my own research, by listening when friends of colour discuss their hair and through lessons from empathetic black hair stylists who have patiently attended to my kid's hair on my behalf.
It's not the job of people of colour to teach others about racial history or how to respect differences. I'm fortunate to have a supportive community, but plenty of online resources exist for learning. It's a well-documented fact that people of colour don't want their hair felt up. To feel up that hair — to even ask if you can — is plain disrespectful and often considered a racial micro-aggression, no matter how genuine the intentions.
Race is often the pink elephant in the room we pretend not to notice, especially with black hair. No matter the motivation, there are still racial messages involved each time a non-black person touches the hair of a person of colour. It's expecting license to satisfy a personal pursuit over respecting another's racial history, boundaries and personal preferences. It's exerting a power, intended or not.
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I discuss consent regularly. I want my girl to know it's important people honour her limits. So, when somebody gropes her hair, whether it's a friend, stranger, classmate or relative, that's still a violation. Even as her mother, I rarely touch her hair except to help style or wash it. I respect her culture, race and boundaries by finding other ways to show my affection.
The requests and hair grabs make my child uncomfortable. She doesn't like being forced to tell anybody to keep their hands to themselves.
Whether a non-black person is fine with anyone touching their hair is irrelevant. Everyone is entitled to their own personal and cultural responses. The worst part of touching my child's hair is that she feels "othered," a term used to describe how non-white people regularly experience exclusion from society based on comments or actions related to racial differences. Diversity surrounds us, yet we haven't achieved a level of chill where those variations are respectfully accepted and celebrated.
So please, just stop it. My daughter is not part of a petting zoo. You are violating her race, body and personal space if you touch her hair, or even ask if you can. Yes, it is a big deal. Would you ask to touch her bum, or worse, just do it? Of course not. My child's hair is soft and silky; not wiry, not woolly and not coarse, fuzzy or any other negative terms you might associate it with. Now you don't need to touch her head. Simply tell her she has gorgeous, amazing or cool hair — no handling required.
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