15 October 2016
SANKOFA wondering why we still even need to talk about this!
(Please listen to the song if you haven't before, for the culture and context ensuu...)
Recently, in the last two weeks to be specific, I have had a milieu of different people ask to touch my hair. I am exhausted by this conversation, exhausted enough to write an article in the hopes that anyone who reads this will have the decency not to ask me, or any other women of colour to touch their hair. And yes, that is a disgruntled tone you detect, that is annoyance and let me explain why.
I am probably asked up to four times a week from people to touch my hair.
What shocks me more than the request, is the interrogation which follows the request. The entitlement which people seem to feel when they address me about my hair.
My hair being the operative words.
My hair, which belongs to me, on top of my head.
This hair suddenly seems like the only appropriate point of conversation to people, regardless of occasion, petrol station, church, parking lot, test venue.
Occasion seems to dictate this entitlement because somehow, my no is never conclusive enough. "No you may not" (which is always my indignant and justified answer) seems to be a bargaining chip, perpetually forced to enter into a unilateral negotiation in which I have no invested interest.
"No" somehow, is not good enough.
"okay, so like later? Can I touch it later?"
As if there is an occasion which will make it more appropriate to dehumanize me.
And dehumanization it is, because of the subliminal exploitation of my space that comes along with it.
Let's for a second ignore the fact that you, a perfect stranger, feel entitled to my personal space.
Ignore the fact that I have no idea where your hands have been in the last 48hours. Ignore the fact that it may have taken me an hour to ready my hair on the given day. Let's ignore the fact that my space is exactly that, mine- ignore the necessity of consent, as I am forced to do when fighting for my dignity.
Lets ignore all of the above, let me interrogate the why?
Because that's always what people want to know when I say "no", why?
Why do children respond to the unfamiliar with touch?
Why is the instinctive reaction of a child to touch what is unknown to them? I imagine it is done to mentally calibrate what they cannot understand. To compute what is unknown and create a familiar recognition thereof. Right?
Well, the implication of you, a perfect stranger, grabbing my hair is that my hair is unknown. That it is foreign and therefore abnormal.
You attach an abnormality to my hair by wanting to grab onto it , to touch me in an intimate fashion to acclimatize yourself to the change in environment that is me.
You attach an undue exoticism to my existence, a degrading fascination to the way in which I occupy space.
And my hair is an intimate space to me.
A comb, detangling cream, coconut oil, conditioner, rose water, water.
Up to 40 minutes of treatment, entering into a conversation with my newly liberated ancestors. A 40 minute conversation between my comb and my roots. Coaxing them out of their jail cells, beckoning them into the light of adulthood.
My fingertips press against oppressed roots, whispering secrets of self love, breathing life over the times I was teased for having ugly hair, a boskop.
Smeared in coconut oil and sunlight, I whisper to my roots about how I am acceptable now, that condemnation will not move the nation that now sits upon my head.
Fly the flag of my forgotten people high, with pride.
This is the intimate space which your unpractised, unloving fingers wish to enter into. You wish to enter into a space of the liberation of my identity.
You wish to enter into volatitlity and intense vulnerability, standing in the shower watching patches of my hair fall out; paper thin, because the relaxer was just a little bit too strong. And, of course it would be, I mean, relaxer is potent enough to render a person blind, strong enough to burn through an aliminium can. Standing there in the shower, hand in hair, wishing my hair would be as strong as I am.
I made the decision to see which lengths these tough roots would grow to would I give them a chance. Would I give myself a chance-
to feel beautiful.
At which point I decided to liberate my beauty I do not know.
At which point I let each kink of my now strong hair blow in the wind, I do not know.
What I do know is the violence of your unkind fingers feeling entitled to stand among the roots of my ancestors.
To stand there proud, as if you stood with me in the shower,
stood with me when I recieved the side eye inside shopping stores,
stood with me when peoples eyes roam from my face into the thickened sky above my head, stood with me when I was told I look ugly with this hair- the same hair that grows out of my head. Told me I would struggle to adjust in the corporate world with hair like mine, untidy. Implying that mine was not only untidy, but unworthy of a corporate status, as if I didn't study the same degree as my colleagues, work just as hard. As if my blackness was somehow a threat to business if made too apparent. Untidy, as if 40 minutes of work in the morning mirror was somehow negelectful.
Your perverted fingers stand among my roots in those moments; as if they belong there in those moments- my intimate moments . The moments in which I wailed at night wishing that self-love didn't need to be an act of courage. Reminding myself that this temple, the body that is me, is not in desperate need of alteration in order to be good enough, worthy of being called beautiful.
Your perverted fingers want to enter this space- my space.
And in these moments I will be so bold, borrowing only from you momentarily, I will call it perversion.
Perversion defined in terms of google, the first provided definition reads
" 1.distortion or corruption of the original course, meaning, or state of something."
It is a corruption of the original course of my beauty, having your unkown fingers rummage through my hair with the same level of callousness as you would when rummaging through the pages of an old magazine. It is a distortion of your rights, to believe yourself entitled to my intimacy, to believe that your fingertips should become privy to citizenship amongst the nations of my ancestors. Privy to an ID registering you as a member of my intimate space having understood the terms and conditions of radical self-love, a member of the state that is me.
It is A corruption of my right to human dignity when you pet my hair, as if I was a dog ( and this has happened all of twice. Once a man. Once a women. I remember each occassion, and each time feeling less human than the time before.) some forlorn animal in need of your condescending touch of acceptance.
It is a violation to have you, a perfect stanger, feel entitled to argue with me about the reasons as to why I don't want you to touch me. As if the status of my curled hair has made me an activist for the concept of consent, an educator in the relationship of eurocentricity and I. As if I want to debate this with you, a perfect strangers, as if we were friends. Patiently, as if you're the first. As if I'm not exhausted by this conversation. As if...
AS IF (Catch the hint, Clueless much?)
"Well it's just hair?"
Is it really though?
because for some of us it is the reason why we are excluded from job opportunities, called ugly, denied of human dignity.
"Well it's just hair"'
Say the same people who are never petted, and rummaged through like a trash can.
"Well it's just hair."
That it may be, but it is my hair, hair which you are not allowed to touch.
So do me a favour, and stop asking.
SANKOFA- The Boskop
(who doesn't want to lose respect for more people in the next few weeks)