Can I touch your hair?

So Un-ruly.com is hosted a “You Can Touch My Hair” event in NYC’s Union Square Park on Saturday, June 8 from 2-4pm. The event was a response to the question, “Can I Touch Your Hair?” that many black women are asked about their hair styles and textures. Antonia Opiah, the founder of Un-ruly.com conceived this event after an interaction she had in a Paris nightclub when someone asked her this question. Full disclosure: I am a black woman with naturally curly hair and I have been asked this question before. In fact, I had a similar experience in Paris when I was wearing kinky twists and a group of East Asian tourists asked if they could touch my hair (From what I caught, I think they may have been Japanese, but I’m not sure).

Here are three postings about the event:

  1. Can I Touch Your Hair? Huffington Post blog post
  2. Event posting on Un-ruly.com
  3. The Human Zoo

To me this fascination with hair is a case of the colonized versus the colonizer. After all, I never hear any of my black friends asking to touch white people’s hair. For years black women’s bodies were dissected as if they were science experiments and not human beings. Perhaps the most poignant example is Sarah Baartman, or Hottentot Venus, who was enslaved and taken to England to be a part of a freak show because of her large posterior. Then when she died her buttocks and labia were on display in a museum in France until the 80s when a large push from the court of public opinion forced them to give her parts back to her people. Depending on the social impact of this exhibit, we could be giving into our own exploitation, which is not progress. Our hair is not separate from us.

I caught the tail end of the exhibit in Union Square Park on Saturday, June 8th and I am writing an article about my experience. I plan on placing the event in the context of the 50th Anniversary of the Black is Beautiful Movement. I’m going to shop it around to Clutch, Ebony, Essence, HuffPost, and some arts websites where I know some editors. I’ll post a link of where it appears.

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