There’s been songs, books, plays, poems and multiple think pieces written about this- and here’s another one..
Originally posted on Medium
Since the release of Solange’s recent album, A Seat at the Table, featuring the single Don’t Touch my Hair, this cry from people of colour all over has once again attracted widespread white reaction. “Wait what? This isn’t a new thing? Since when? I thought Solange created it. And people touch my hair all the time and I don’t see anything wrong with it”
If this is you, and perhaps you’re thinking “wow, you just read my mind!”, well sorry YT folks, I didn’t. This might come as a surprise but we (People of colour) have habituated to you voicing your innermost thoughts publicly (in some cases we even internalise them) so much so that we could be commissioned to write your entire internal monologue.
If you have any friends of colour, especially black friends (which I’m sure you’ve got ‘plenty of’), then you would have heard this request a couple of times. (Note: If you don’t have any or haven’t heard it- trust me- we’re thinking it) It may come out in various ways from this:
And sometimes even this
Now where most of y’all seem to get lost is at
“Yeah, but why?!!”
Because apparently a person of colour’s simple request for you to respect their personal space, autonomy and agency isn’t valid unless they have some logical explanation that makes sense to you (without making you feel bad) for why you can’t do something.
Now in the small chance that the person you’re in conversation with has the energy and time to educate yet another YT person, that doesn’t want to do their own homework, here’s just 2 ways you can help us help you
- Before we even put the chalk to the board your defensive artillery is probably already on standby – stop this. It usually comes out as:
“Maybe they’re just curious”
“There’s no need to get that mad about it-it’s just hair”
“But it’s soo soft”
“Don’t get all emotional about it- you need to make an objective argument”
Stop advocating for your (or others) oppressive actions! We know how to do that- we’ve been raised and taught in the ways to empathise with white peoples
2. Shut up and LISTEN
We’re already using up valuable resources in educating you about our own oppression (fun tid bit: it’s VERY exhausting – we need those resources to help us make it through the day)
So if you won’t give us the respect that such a process demands, please let us know ASAP.
Below you shall find the receipts, the historical context, an analysis on whiteness and what it means every time you do this. If you’re planning to skim it and reply with some basic, ignorant and non-productive comments – just stop here, yeah?
Believe it or not, white people fucked up a lot of shit!! Like, a lot! Sometimes you’ve just gotta step back and look at the intersectional monolith of white supremacy which white people created to ensure they remained on top. It’s actually extremely elaborate and calculated genius. Evil … but genius!
When YT folk went to other continents and ‘discovered’ populated lands they went with the aim to join these lands to their ever-growing colony. And you know what’d really throw a spanner in all of that? If the Indigenous peoples started feeling some type of way about the ‘discovery’ of their land and then keep getting in your face with that “no you didn’t discover it, we have sovereignty over this land” talk. You can’t have that, that breeds suspicion among the settlers about the moral integrity of their actions. They can’t just say the Indigenous people are lying (because obviously they aren’t) so what you gotta do is correct the cognitive dissonance that thus arises by creating a saviour narrative that justifies your actions towards the Indigenous peoples. Take a pick out of the following:
They were savages, barbaric, dying out, helpless, backward, sub-human, morally corrupt, violent, in need of a saviour. Because of these beliefs, many nations invested in niche form of entertainment: Human Zoos
“Roll up Roll up Roll up — see these CRAZY Black people who look different to us. WOW. Look at their hair, look at how they dress, eat and live! WILD.” At these ‘exhibitions’ you could watch, feed, and pet the humans on display and satisfy all your white curiosities. So for those curiosity apologists, who think that “maybe they’re just curious” is a valid excuse, you missed your era.
Alongside this, they were taught that they were lesser, that they were scientifically inferior, incapable of performing at the level of white people. Whiteness was placed on a pedestal as a universal goal of civilisation, intelligence, power and beauty. When you do this, develop systems to reiterate this message, whether that be media, education and literature, and this message –after just one generation – becomes the norm. So by hearing ‘damask’ cheeks, ‘fair/porcelain’ skin, or ‘silky’ hair constantly praised through all forms of the media, an individual who doesn’t possess these features (especially if it’s something they can’t change) is going to have some warped notions about their self-worth and value within society.
Generation after generation is born despising their own skin and hair, with most not reaching a point of acceptance and appreciation of themselves as a black person in a white world until they’re in their adulthood, if at all.
What follows is large groups of people of colour learning about their hair, how it works, what it does, how to take care of it, even how to wash it as grown adults; because that opportunity for education was denied them in their pursuit of the epitome of beauty, that is whiteness. Now when a Black POC decides to ‘wear their hair natural’ ie. leave it the way it grows out of their head (a privilege too many white people are ignorant of), it is deemed, coded and read as “political”. That the very action of appreciating one’s natural state is said to be “a statement” just further highlights the extent to which white superiority is encoded into our society. Because of this, my afro is not JUST HAIR. Even though I would LOVE it to be, so then you wouldn’t be so keen on exploring it, it’s not allowed to be – not yet.
So if people could regard us as human beings and grant us the same autonomy and agency granted to them, that’d be great.