You Can Touch My Hair is a two-day interactive public art exhibit, taking place June 6 and 7 in downtown New York City’s Union Square Park, which explores the versatility of (and fascination with) Black hair. Presented by un-ruly.com—a digital resource and community focused on hairstyles, care and products for Black women—the exhibit is an extension of the thought-provoking article “Can I Touch Your Hair?” by un-ruly founder Antonia Opiah, published last week on The Huffington Post.
Outside of a purposeful exhibition like You Can Touch My Hair, what accounts for some non-Blacks feeling privileged to touch African-American hair without asking permission?
“That’s the very question that I tried to find the answer to,” Opiah says. “Surprisingly a lot of non-Blacks weren’t willing to engage in the conversation about touching Black hair. A theory: people who do it without asking might be doing it out of admiration, much in the way a pregnant woman’s stomach is touched while she’s asked, ‘How far along are you?’ They may think a compliment, and good intentions are enough to disregard someone’s personal space. This is a benefit-of-the-doubt theory.
“A less optimistic theory is that they do it because they think they can,” she continues. “They think Black hair, or any hair that’s different from hair that they typically see in the media or in everyday life, is an exception to the don’t-touch-a-stranger rule. And if that theory is in fact the case, then the can-I-touch-your-hair phenomenon has much larger implications.”
The exhibit will feature women of color with various “Black” hair types, each holding a sign reading “you can touch my hair.” Onlookers will be welcome to touch and engage in this larger dialogue. Born out of the aspiration of moving the Black community forward, un-ruly.com was created to celebrate and cater to the full range of Black hair, which has proven itself a cultural centerpiece of the Black female community.