I have voluminous curly hair that I wear naturally. I am always surprised by the reactions I get from people about my natural hair. I have had complete strangers touch my hair, making me feel violated and I have had numerous hair salon tragedies. Women of color with Afros and curls are raised in a society that tells them there is something wrong with their natural hair. From a young age, we are told our hair needs to be changed or tamed. We are taught that society will not accept us naturally and that we need to change our hair to resemble the straighter hair of people of European descent. I have had debates in the mirror before job interviews on whether or not I should change my hairstyle that day in fears that my natural hair may be too intimidating for the interviewers.
If you look at a timeline of African-American women's hair throughout history, wearing natural hair was only a popular hairstyle during slavery and in the 1970s, which is probably why my natural hairstyle has led to people telling me that I look progressive. I have talked with other African-American women who wear their hair naturally about their experiences and there is always a similar factor of people being very curios. This curiosity about our natural hair plays out in many ways, from people with similar hair asking about how to achieve it, or curious about how to maintain it, to an outsider feeling the urge to un-invitedly touch it.
Curiosity is understandable due to the history of African-American hair and the fact that it is almost taboo. However, its how we handle that curiosity that I believe is very important. When a person comes up to me and touches my hair out of curiosity – especially when that person is of European descent, I feel degraded. It is inappropriate to touch a stranger, and when someone touches my hair without asking I feel as though they feel a certain amount of entitlement. African-American women and girls, and women and girls of color should be able to wear their hair naturally if they want to without having to worry about how they will be received – or random people touching it. There has been a history of our bodies being owned by others and it is about time that we have ownership of our bodies and our hair.
Zora Rabb is a senior at Augsburg College majoring in social work.