Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Can I touch your hair?"

By Briana Whiteside

I’m a server on the weekends in a steakhouse, and I generally get a lot of attention about my hair. Usually customers stare, smirk, or even ask how I manage to get it so big, but no one has asked could they touch my hair. Well, that was until last week.

No sooner than I got to the table to introduce myself and ask for their order did the customer remark, “I like your hair.”

"Thank you," I replied.

"Is it real," she asked.

"Yes," I said.

And then came the question: “Can I touch it?”

My answer, “Yes.”

She touched my hair and then turned to her friends and disclosed, “it's real!”

I wasn’t offended by her remark, nor did I think she was trying to be funny. But, I believe she was genuinely curious and probably had never touched a black woman’s hair before. She jumped to the opportunity.

It’s very telling the way I receive mixed acknowledgment because of my hair. I don’t mind people touching it as long as they are asking out of curiosity. People who don’t have the luxury of going natural -- by "natural," I mean the versatile state and experience of varying curl patterns of black hair -- sometimes seem, on some levels, to envy the changeability of black hair.

Until recently, our hair was not celebrated, nor viewed a positive light. Shifting views on natural hair instills a sense of pride, and in that moment, at the table, I became the teacher, and she the student.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.  

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