The POC Petting Zoo

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Why is it rude to touch a POC's hair? —Anonymous

Hair is a crucial part of someone's identity, especially for a POC. It gives us the chance to express ourselves through another outlet and embrace our culture. For most women of color, being asked "Can I touch your hair?" sparks some uncomfortable feelings. What we, WOC, really hear is, "Can I pet you?" Most see it as an invasion of personal space and others just find it strange. Sometimes asking this question dehumanizes the person that you’re asking. Natural hair has been put down and degraded for centuries. African American women have even lost jobs, just for having the hair that they were born with. Today, we live in a society that puts down anything that makes a POC who they are. When you ask us if you can touch our hair, it makes us feel as if you have some sort of claim over us. That our hair no longer belongs to us, but instead to those who poke and prod at it.

In June 2015, three women stood in New York’s Union City and held an exhibition called “You Can Touch My Hair.” These three women gave an open invitation to people who passed by to touch their hair and explore the three different hair types that were on display. This was meant to "explore the tactile fascination with black women’s hair." They also used this as an opportunity to explain to people on why some would see it as being intrusive.

In a WOC’s world, having braids, afros, kinky hair, etc. is often criticized and put down or called “nappy and wild.” It’s hard to not take offense sometimes when someone asks if they can touch our hair. It may seem like this is a harmless act,with or without permission, but you have to keep in mind the history that some POC have. With celebrities like Miley Cyrus, African American women have been used as props in music videos and stage performances. Not only does she use these women in such offensive ways, she continues to appropriate our culture by wearing dreads. It's just another example of how African American women are still forced to give away their bodies to others and be treated as objects, whether they've given their consent or not. 

We understand that curiosity is a natural thing. That’s not the problem. Sometimes it just makes us feel like zoo attractions instead of actual people. Compliments are fine; we just feel that you can educate yourselves about our hair type without touching. Instead, try to be a supportive ally by respecting our personal space rather than promoting supremacy over our own feelings.