Growing up, touching my hair was the sole province of the family caregivers who would wash, brush, braid, cornrow, pigtail, or hot comb it until I was myself old enough to manage its day-to-day styling. As I entered adolescence, those family members were replaced by the professionals who'd relax it during the school year & box braid it in the summer. In the year since I've begun my transition to natural hair, I've claimed all responsibility for its styling & care. Nobody touches my hair but me. This is not to say that I recoil from the affectionate touch of friends or lovers, but I always remain very conscious of the fact that I may need to pull away at any moment should things suddenly go awry. On this score, I'm hardly a unique little butterfly. No touching, like silk scarves & fear of water, is just one of those Black girl hair idiosyncrasies recognized as a fairly reliable given.
So why is Black hair so noli me tangere? It's more than a matter of sociopolitical taboo. There are some actual, practical reasons. Black hair is often delicate. Whether permed, weaved, or natural, there are few Black hair styles that don't require a fair deal of money & even fewer that don't require a great deal of patience & time. Most of us would prefer not to have uneducated hands dirty, tangle, frizz, mat, knot, break, and generally undo our chosen and sometimes painstakingly achieved 'dos. And yet many of us experience the intrusive indignity of strangers touching our hair, often without warning or permission.
So when news of Un'ruly's You Can Touch My Hair exhibit hit the wires, I was perplexed, nonplussed, baffled, befuddled, outraged, & extremely curious. After engaging in much debate, here & elsewhere, I resolved to attend the second day of the event in the hopes of arriving at the most informed opinion.
Allow me to set the scene.
The kind of energy present in Union Square on a clement Saturday afternoon in June is an ecotone of skater boys, goth kids, yuppies, hipsters, modeling scouts, dog walkers, concrete sunbathers, street musicians, & a shantytown of homeless hippies milling throughout a major connective hub of constant happenings. (Mere minutes after this exhibit reached its conclusion, a Turkey protest was in full swing.) This was the stage and backdrop for the mini-media circus of television camera crews, bloggers with DSLR Nikons, lookie-lous with smartphone cameras, confused tourists, conscientious objectors, & a thoroughly unexpected drag queen cameo, all assembled to witness this spectacle.
Despite my conviction to keep an open mind, it was impossible for me to enter the event without expectations, most of which would be shattered