Black Hair Etiquette Guide

The Angry Black Woman’s Guide to Hair Etiquette or Stop Touching My Hair, White People!

In association with Zazzle.comI’ve noticed that my hair post from a few weeks ago gets the most hits from Google. I’ll throw my keyword analysis up here sometime to show you the kind of messed up queries that lead people here. Many seem to be people looking for hair care options or just looking to understand certain things about black people and hair. I hope this post will be equally informative.

I first thought of making a post like this back when people mentioned on the blackfolk and sex & race communities that Barbara Walters had a hard time keeping her hands off black guests’ hair while on the air.

Best Week Ever blog brought it to our attention:

A couple of weeks ago R&B singer Brandy dropped by The View. Judging by the way Barbara Walters teased her and pawed at her hair, you’d think Barbara had never sat next to a black woman before. Well, not by choice, anyway.

I was willing to brush the hair pulling aside (no pun intended) and write it off as an isolated incident… but that was up until Tanika Ray came in today. Now I know it wasn’t a one-time thing. It’s an epidemic. And Barbara Walters must be stopped.

The original post has links to the video.

LJer implodes had a similar reaction to mine:

Oh my sweet BEJEEBUZZ! Look at how she just grabs at them like they’re damn show dogs or something! “Oooh…look at the unusual coat of these exotic Negresses right over here…”

LJer karnythia says straight out “My hair is not an exhibit

In no reality would she walk up to a white woman, grab her hair and ask “Is this real?” with any expectation of a polite response. It simply would not occur to her to even attempt that behavior. But with black women? Apparently not only does she feel it’s okay for her to touch their hair, in the second situation she actually pulls hard on this woman’s hair.

You should also check out the letter she sent ABC.

This is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. Ask any black person you know if some white person has asked to touch their hair, or if it was real, or went ahead and touched/pulled it without permission and I’ll bet all of them can regale you with a story or two (or a hundred).

As previously mentioned, I have hair that curls in coils. People just love to pull my curls and watch them spring back. Most times people ask permission. Most times. When I was young and had long hair (briefly) people would ask if I had a weave. Often, people ask me if my hair is natural (expecting me to say no) or just go right for the kill and ask what I do to my hair to make it look this way. 9 times out of 10 the other party is a white person.

I can’t count how many times I’ve silently cringed upon hearing some white woman go on and on about a friend’s dreds. How do they get like that? Is it true you can’t ever wash your hair? Can I touch it? It feels so weird!

White people feel they have some kind of right (or privilege) to paw at our hair. It’s like they can’t believe in it or something. A desire to learn more about people who aren’t like you is a fine pursuit. But most of the time I feel more like a fascinating exhibit than someone involved in a cultural exchange.

To further educate the masses, I’ve decided to write up this handy list:

The Angry Black Woman’s Guide to Hair Etiquette

1. It is never okay to touch, pull, or stroke a black person’s hair without permission. No matter how different, cool, or fun their hair looks, you just don’t.

2. It is never okay to ask a casual acquaintance or a perfect stranger if their hair is real. It doesn’t matter how curious you are or how incongruous their hair is to your expectations. Don’t do it.

3. Realize that, in asking if you can touch a black person’s hair, you are objectifying them in possibly uncomfortable ways. That person may consent to letting you touch their hair just to be nice, but rarely is it because they enjoy having your hands on them. The most polite thing would be not to ask until such time as you know that person well enough to know if they won’t mind the request. This is not the Petting Zoo.

4. Think before you make any comments expressing surprise that a person’s hair could look any certain way without a lot of help from chemicals, products, or professional stylists.

Print this, carry it around with you, tell others. I know I will. Because the next person who touches my hair without permission is going to come out of the encounter with several strands of their own missing (with root tags attached).


Crass Commercialism

Unpaid Pimping: I love the Love Your Curls t-shirt from NaturallyCurly.com. I’m honestly in danger of wearing it out.

Pimping: I made a Zazzle store so I could make a shirt telling people not to touch my hair. I figured other folks might want one. Also has the Guide to Hair Etiquette on the back.



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50 Responses

  1. When I was a kid in a public elementary school in North Carolina, my black classmates touched my hair constantly. I’ve always had really long hair, and white kids were a minority in the classroom, so I guess that was why. But that’s one thing when you’re a kid. Adults have no excuse for touching other people’s hair.

    It still happens to me as an adult sometimes, though it’s no particular group who does it anymore. “OMIGOD! It’s so LONG! Is it REAL?” (Uh, yeah, it’d look a lot better if it were fake…) My hair is unusual for my ethnic group, social group, and generation, so I can understand their curiosity even if it’s damned irritating and I suspect there is implied criticism. I still think it’s rude, but a) my hair isn’t considered normal [though that doesn't explain why this also happens to friends with natural ringlets] and, more importantly, b) it’s also not the site of internal or external conflict or attempts at cultural suppression for me, so it’s really not the same thing as Barbara Walters’ pawed-at guests.

    Someone should smack her hand next time.

  2. I understand that this sometimes goes both ways. For black people, especially black children, white hair is seen as the ‘ideal’, and therefore our desire to touch it comes from a deep jealousy or insecurity. (This is a generalization, of course)

  3. Heh. I’ve noticed these same complaints coming more from my goth mates than anyone else, but then the Aussie flavour of “black” doesn’t always come with “unusual” (from a white perspective at least!) hair.

  4. I’m bi-racial, and so’s my hair: ie, somewhere between white and black hair. In fact, no one in my family has the same hair. My brother got my mother’s “Native American” kind of hair–thick, stick straight, black. My eldest sister got the black hair. My middle sister got the wavy, smooth, brown hair with natural highlights (she was born blonde). I got the curly-frizzy brunette hair.

    I find it hilarious, cause all of us except my brother bemoan this or that about our hair. No one’s perfectly happy. hahah.

    What pisses me off–ie, makes me an Angry Latina Woman–is that I can’t find a magazine with styles for my hair. The black hairstying magazines don’t have em. The white hairstyling magazines cater to mostly straight hair.

    No one’s making the “frizzy-curly Latina hair” magazine.

    Sheesh.

    Mir

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to touch or questioned the authenticity of a black woman’s hair. Maybe I’ve had sufficient contact with them since early childhood, or maybe I just don’t get that curious about these things. I had no idea it was so prevalent.

    An early “Boondocks” had Cindy ask to touch Huey’s afro. He said, “Yes… and tomorrow the papers will say, ‘White Girl Found in Ditch; Negro Suspected.’”

  6. Mir, have you tried NaturallyCurly.com?

    Deckard… omg that’s so funny. now I must find thats trip.

  7. I don’t get it. Why this mania for touching other people’s hair? And there’s clearly a streak of condescension to it.
    :-(

    I will make a t-shirt on CafePress: “MY HAIR IS NOT FOR TOUCHING, B**CH.”

  8. I’d be saying, WHAT??? because I can’t imagine thinking it at all polite or acceptable to touch an adult in any way without asking, or to ask such a personal question as to the natural/altered/artificial status of an adult’s hair. That is, I WOULD be saying that, were it not for my own experience a few years ago.

    For a long time I kept my straight hair trimmed to less than a half inch in length, clipper-cut unformly all over my head. I found this a practical and attractive style, but as I have a female body with a generally feminine appearance (short, slender build, cutesy features) I got a LOT of questions as to why I “did that”, not to mention more than a few experiences where people just reached out and petted it, the way you’d pet a kitten. It is in fact belittling and infantilizing and I always suspected it would never have happened were I a man. Nothing says “you’re oppressed” like the notion that others can just touch you without permission or warning. It is a signal that the touchee is a child, or socially not quite a full adult. It is in fact just plain rude.

  9. My response would be more like “Sure! Can I touch your ass?”

    But that’s me.

  10. As a black woman who has had such issues with this subject I can only say this about your post: thank you.

  11. 1)for a response, try “touch your own hair” http://www.cafepress.com/r_a_n/1696004

    2) or the more complete letter found here: http://damaliayo.com/pages/gallery4.htm (dear stranger: i refer to you as a stranger because i do not know you, yet you have just violated my personal boundaries. if you have received this note, it is because you have just touched, grabbed, commented on, or asked an ignorant question about my hair. no matter what your intention, you have treated me as an object to poke and prod, denying me basic human respect and ignoring common decency…)

    3)of course, there is also the billing option: http://rent-a-negro.com/negropricing.html *more complete information in this (http://damaliayo.com/book%20promos/pages/How%20to%20Rent.htm) guide.

  12. Beside the racism and ignorance of that particular move in that particular way, all i can ever think with that sort of thing is,

    “Goddam. Were some people raised in a barn, or WHAT?”

    I have the sort of hair that gets commentst not infrequently–curly, “big,” long, red, and yes, some unwanted touching.

    and i do remember at least one “is it real;” but, you know, that was when i was about ten years old, as was the asker.

    which is about the age limit where one would excuse such things, really.

  13. …heh, i like hexy’s response.

  14. Now we know why Star left the way she did.
    Also, Barbara Walters has been on TV for over 20 years — she should truly know better by now.

  15. I agree that it is incredibly rude to either ask/question/grab someone elses hair no matter what their ethnicity. (I am white and yes, have been curious about a black persons hair, but have NEVER been rude enough to ask/stare/grab/question about it!) However, I find it rather hypocritical that the majority of the posts have an undeniable racist tone to them against white people.

  16. Hello not racist. You’re an anonymouse! Check the Rules of Engagement about that. You should also read this post about what racism is and is not. Black people can’t be racist.

    Now, if you want to say that I am very critical of white people here on the Angry Black Blog, that is very true. Why would that be…? Oh, yes, because I’m black and angry. Don’t see how that makes me a hypocrite.

    If you’d like to continue this discussion, then please comment on the Monday Link Roundup, as that also serves as an open thread. You might also want to consider not being anon. (Further comments from you on this partcular post will be moderated.  I don’t want the comments to veer too off course.)

  17. [...] From Black Hair Etiquette Guide My response [to “Can I touch your hair?”] would be more like “Sure! Can I touch your ass?” [...]

  18. Today’s Boondocks (September 19) is also about hair touching (and sounds a lot like the one in #5). If you can’t track it down I’ve saved the jpg.

  19. As a white woman, I guess I just dont understand what is offensive about someone asking to touch your hair. I mean, I have very long hair (to my butt), and people frequently touch mine, but it doesnt offend me. I am actually flattered that they like it well enough to be intrigued by it. I guess we all see things differently, and that’s what makes the world go round! I just find it fascinating, some of the things that are offensive from person to person. I intend to read more here, primarily because even though I havent done this one, I am now kind of afraid I might have done something else to offend and not realized it.

  20. Middle school was complete hell. I had shoulder-length hair then, white girls would ask me if it was real. Of course it’s real. Can’t you see it growing out of my head? Ugh, then in high school the white girls would always touch my damn hair. If I wore it in braids they would touch it, and ask how did I get it like that? Or if I wore a weave ponytail, they would ask how did I grow my hair so long in such a short time? I’m looking at these chicks like “Wtf is wrong with you?”. It did feel like I was some damn new animal they just discovered in America. I mean how would a white chick feel if I just walked up and asked her, “So how does it feel smelling like wet dog?” after seeing she was wet from rain? They would probably be very upset. Yet it is just ok for them to touch the damn hair? To me a lot of these white women fascinated by a Black person’s hair seem childish to me. As if they have never seen different hair styles before. They are not a child, and they need to keep their hands to themselves. Even today it still happens to me, but most of the time they just stare really hard as if they are trying to see if a booger will fall out my nose. “No, no Becky I don’t care if you are fascinated by my hair, I need about 50 feet and for you to never touch my hair again. Unless you are looking for my foot up your ass which I’ll gladly give.”

    P.S.: Why does it seem like a white chick automatically thinks all Black women can braid? Some will just walk up out of nowhere asking me if I can braid their hair like the “Black Girls” they see walking around. I got that a lot in high school too. Especially when wearing my hair braided to the back or in single braids. =/

  21. MmmHmmm!

  22. My comment is this, What I do with my hair is my own business. Real or not real we women of color are very beautiful,creative, talented and intelligent women who like to explore different styles. We do it simple because we can! White gals, if you have a question about the black culture go ahead and ask but just make sure you do it respectfully as you would want someone to do to you. And pleazzzzz STOP with the DRAMA of “Oh I don’t see what wrong with it” Cause everyone is not you, different strokes for different folks ok! If you can’t understand why a women of color would feel dissed by this action, that’s because you have never walk a single step in her shoes. Think about it, go ahead I dare you.

  23. I am a black female with relaxed hair three inches from my waist. When I do wear my hair out, I am asked by blacks of both genders if I am mixed, etc. When I answer “no” it seems that I am now hated by the females, it’s as if I said “yes”, that that would justify me having such long hair. Why is that?

  24. “Black people can’t be racist.”

    …What? I always thought anyone could be a bigot. O_o

  25. Nevermind, I read your other entry (something I should have done first…sorry), and you’ve made an interesting point.

    Although, is this an opinion or an actual issue of debate?

    I’ve never seen the term racist used seperately from bigotry or prejudice so I didn’t consider that it was a whole part and that prejudice and power came together to make it.

    Although, historically, this makes sense. Sadly.

  26. Black Pearl, you seem to be on the wrong post… but that’s okay. The whole discussion of racism being something different from bigotry is discussed in the Monday Debate. You should be able to find it if you click on the Monday debate category.

  27. Maybe you should just title this “Hair Etiquette Guide”

    I say this because the only people to have touch my hair without permission were black women. One was a complete stranger in a beauty supply shop, moaning in horror at my bizarre hair color, and grabbing fistfuls on it. The other was my manager at work who came up behind me while I was on a call with a customer and started petting my hair.

  28. Amy,

    I am white, have long hair, and am utterly offended by strangers touching it, asking if it is real, if I colour it, etc. I was raised to believe these were very personal questions and that touching other people’s hair or clothing is a violation of personal space and I am always shocked by people who touch strangers’ hair (or bellies when they are pregnant)! I am so freaked out that people actually do this (I came here from a link in a post on a hair comm on LJ.)

  29. Douji, while I sympathize with the horror of the situation you cited, this post isn’t about black people touching white people’s hair, or even white people touching white people’s hair. This post is about people touching black people’s hair. If you feel that hair touching is a huge issue for you, then you should create a similar post and make sure everyone reads it. But for me, for my expeirence in my body, for the issues that affect me and I live with every day, I have this perspective and I’m sticking to it.

  30. Got a comment about the hair…couldn’t it be curiosity? My daughter is interracial…went to a Catholic school…had really long hair. I learned how to braid as self defense. If I left it down, some of the other black kids in the class would braid it at recess–she came home with some–ahem–interesting hairstyles to say the least(5-6 year olds could not make a living doing hair). Should I have been offended? My kid’s hair has been the subject of much curiosity over the years, on both sides of the fence, it would seem. Why not? I would love to have her hair!!

    Now adults ought to know better than to ask impertinent questions as to hair color and whether it is real, etc. Touching a co-worker’s hair that you do not know well is WAY over the top of invasion of personal space.

    A POSSIBLE SOLUTION:
    All of our kids in my family ride at the local horse shows at the county fair which requires a lot of physical endurance because of the long hours involved. One of the other mothers from a neighboring farm came up with the idea that she would get her hair done in small, really tight braids so that she did not have to waste time dealing with her hair. So she did and spent the entire week with a headache and it itched so bad that she was preoccupied with her scalp for the duration. Hooray!! The woman was/is a real pain and she had to much to think about to cause her usual trouble. (Snickers and chuckles all around). Perhaps the next time a black woman gets asked by a white woman about the specifics of where they get their hair braided, they ought to give them the telephone number and a promotional discount coupon to boot and then they can walk away snickering.

  31. LOL

    I never noticed this but maybe a few times in my life. Maybe its because I live in NYC.

  32. I am a 22 year old black female, I was born with a silky texture of hair which is past the middle of my back. NO PERMS. I get alot of questioning from all races… blacks,hispanic, and white women and men. Its like they expect you to be bi-racial, or for it to be weave. We have beautiful hair. Whats to be curious about??? Blacks have the most diverse skin tones and hair textures straight, curley, thick, wavy, kinky… Alot of white women are curious but jealous. “ITS A CONSPIRACY FOR BLACKS TO HAVE LONG NATURAL BEAUTIFUL HAIR”

  33. It seems like a lot of the white people get chewed out at this board just for showing up and contributing to the discussion, but it seems like there are a lot of stereotypes being thrown around about white people! “Alot of white women are curious but jealous. ‘ITS A CONSPIRACY FOR BLACKS TO HAVE LONG NATURAL BEAUTIFUL HAIR’”

    Are you serious? Most white people are shocked the first time they find out that the more commonly “white” texture of hair is seen as the “ideal” in the African-American community. It sounds like you’re projecting your own community’s ideal on white girls’ thoughts, when they would actually find the notion of one race’s texture being superior ridiculous. It’s a culturally indoctrinated ideal, and they have not been privy to that! It may appear ignorant to you, but it’s no more ignorant than your stereotype of whites!

  34. ^^^ I can’t wait to see you handle this one, ABW! :)

  35. Sad to say, I’ve found myself guilty of thinking somethng stupid about a black woman’s hair. (Namely, after she’d come to work with it straightened out.) I’d never seen it in it’s “natural state,” whatever that may be, and so operated on the assumption that ‘black = afro.’ From that lame premise arose the thought “geez, it must have taken a LOT of work to get it to look so good.”

    As if it could not have looked as beautiful as a ‘fro. Or in dreadlocks. In udder woids, it had to look ‘white.’

    Fortunately, my brain locked my mouth before the verbal barbarians made it past the gates and assaulted her mind with crass stupidity.

  36. I’m puerto rican mixed with belizean and I have people all the time asking me if my hair is real. And sometimes they ask if they can feel it.
    My hair is long, thick and 98%in a ponytail. I don’t think my hair looks “fake”, but for so many people to ask that question, I guess it does.
    But it’s not only women who ask, it’s men as well and young teenages. But black women ask as much as white women. In fact, I think I have more black women asking me if my hair is real.
    It doesn’t bother me either way. What bothers me is the looks of disbelief or jealousy. Grown ass women need to act their age.

    P.S. And I do prefer not to be asked if my hair is real and even more “Can I touch your hair”…..It’s annoying.

  37. If someone asked to touch my hair I’d tell them “Sure, if you buy me flowers and dinner first”. That would make them feel real stupid.

  38. “Nothing says “you’re oppressed” like the notion that others can just touch you without permission or warning.”

    I’d say that about sums it up, except for the part about some folks being so unsophisticated or uneducated that they don’t even understand the concept of a personal physical boundary.

    “If someone asked to touch my hair I’d tell them “Sure, if you buy me flowers and dinner first”. That would make them feel real stupid.”

    ROFLMBO

  39. ABW, Gurl I just found your site. This post is GRRRREAT!!! The ‘folks’ at my job always want to touch my hair. Actually it’s the office joke… “Ask to touch her hair… she’ll freak!” I bob and weave more than Ali. I tried nicely to explain that it’s rude, annoying, racist, and wrong to reach out, grab, stroke, or pull my locs. They just don’t get it. When I asked someone why they wanted to touch my hair they said, “You are so mystical and so is your hair. I’m actually scared of you… do you know Voodoo.” First of all I’m Jamaican and Cuban so the proper terms are Obeah and Santaria… Voodoo? That’s Haiti… wrong island. Hopefully they will learn and I can stop being gawked at like the newest edition to the primate exhibit at the Bronx Zoo.

  40. [...] characters or a “layer of moron” to female characters. It’s showing a very real common problem that many black women face that gets under our skin. When I read that scene, I immediately [...]

  41. That’s ghastly. I get a lot of unwanted touching because my hair’s buzzed, but at least that’s my own stylistic choice. It’s appalling that so many people are appropriative of others’ bodies based on race (or at all, but it’s particularly awful given the racial context).

  42. Why is it hard for some people to accept another person’s cultural norms? Would you challenge a Chinese person on why their culture behaves a certain way or just accept it? I’m hoping you will lean toward the acceptance part since it’s none of your business anyway.

    Second note: Just because black Americans have been in America for a long time doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to their own culture nor does it mean that their culture and hair requests should be ignored. If you’ve never walked in another person’s shoes then how can you say how they should feel? My point exactly. You can’t.

    Just think for one second how it would be for an African-American working in a white majority work place. Wouldn’t you get tired of people asking your entire life, “Can I touch your hair?”

  43. “In no reality would she walk up to a white woman, grab her hair and ask “Is this real?” with any expectation of a polite response. It simply would not occur to her to even attempt that behavior…”

    Oh, but they do. (I don’t have a good picture, but here’s a not-so-good picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karmakaze/4234166/) I get… Is that your real hair (would I pay money for fake hair that’s this tattered); How long did it take you to grow it out (I wasn’t counting); Can I braid it/play with it(Not unless I know you really well); Why don’t you cut it off and give it to charity (because it’s part of me); Is that your natural color (more or less).

    I learned to braid my own hair young because it gave me an excuse to tell people not to touch it. I think some of the touchy-feely is the idea that anything about a woman’s appearance is fair game.

  44. I am white and I work with a black woman who constantly yanks my hair as she walks by, and also pokes me and slaps me in the back. She slapped my back once while I was eating.

    It makes me jump because she comes up from behind me and whatever I’m typing gets screwed up.

    I asked her to stop and she stopped pulling my hair but still fluffs it up as she passes me. Somebody else here told me to pull hers but I won’t stoop to that level.

  45. … and your point is?

  46. This topic is on the money! Of course, I’m not the least bit surprised that Barbara Walters engages in such ignorant, petting-zoo behavior. She needs to be in the zoo! It was a blessing from heaven to Star Jones for her to be fired from that show. A queen like Star deserves a better court!

    As a black woman, the following people are the only ones allowed to touch my hair:

    My mom and extended family (as long as you’re not hunting for scalp flakes. That’s my job, thank you!)

    My darling husband of 10 years. Hey, since he’s so gracious in giving me the money to pay for it to get done when we have the money, I would certainly want him to be able to run his fingers through it! (a word to my sisters: if your husband can never run his fingers through your hair because “you just got it done”, then maybe it’s overdone! Better to let his fingers lovingly caress YOUR hair than someone else’s! Word to husbands: Just be gentle when you do!)

    My best friends – I’m talking about the close ones, the friends I can lay my head in their lap and have serious girl talk with.

    Our son (he’ll be 4 months old this Saturday) – when he’s old enough to understand the following, “You can stroke Mommy’s hair, but don’t pull!”

    The hairdresser (but if you jack up this sister’s hair, you forfeit your scalp!)

    All others need to admire from afar. I’m not some exotic animal to pet and stroke. And any hair I wear on my head IS mine (whether home-grown or paid for), period!

  47. In China, being white, I can dye my hair any colour and it looks natural. A chinese person asked me if I can dye my eyes. My eyes do change to green in summer and some “moon faces” (chinese people; they call me “cat eyes”) have stared and stared at them, beleving non-black eyed peeps are devils.

    Black People out there: I envy you guys; in China they’re not terrified of you.

  48. Black females who ask other black females if their long hair is real, is just plain JEALOUS! I get that question constantly. They wish they had long, NATURAL (no weave or extension) hair like us.

  49. Its seems to me this way:
    Black women feel self contious because they KNOW the Beauty standard in the USA doesnt include them. ( well, not really). Therefore, when a white person tries to touch thier hair, suspicioh arises. Kinda like ” waht do they say about me behind my back” or “what , what do you want!?”. It comes off as defensiveness sometimes.
    Probably why we, never get accused of touching white people hair nearly as much as they get accused of touching ours.
    It really sucks and can be a burden when you analyze it or even think about it too hard/much.

  50. love your BLOG.

    we’re Germany’s first Black media-watchdog, and just recently designed shirts with “touch your own hair” and “don’t be so oversensitive” and the likes in German. I personally like the kids’ version of the shirts.

    http://334365.spreadshirt.net/en/EU/Shop

    I wish everyone over here would be fluent enough w English to understand everything you write!

    keep it up & cheers from overseas,

    Noah

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