In a recent survey conducted at SMU, nearly all black respondents said they loved it when strangers walked up to them and touched their hair. Without question or prompt, without greetings or niceties—these were the circumstances under which said hand-into-hair incidents occurred. Curious about this phenomenon, the SMU Journal sought to investigate.
Victoria, one of the respondents described her own experiences as follows: “Yeah, it [random people touching her hair] happens pretty often. Sometimes I’ll just be standing at the bus stop when an old white lady comes up to me and reaches her hand straight into my hair, it’s wild! Sometimes it happens when I’m at work, by co-workers or by customers. It’s truly an honour to have all these people reaching their hands—who knows where these hands have been—but you know, reaching their hands right into my hair. It’s a humbling experience.”
Most respondents stated that they were honoured when complete strangers unabashedly reached for their scalps; always surprising and never unwelcome. This behaviour, which is completely normal, has been the highlight of many black students alike. The fascination with afros, dreads, braids, etc. has led to many instances whereby they have been ambushed by appendages of well-meaning strangers.
Another survey respondent replied gleefully, “please by all means, just come up to me and touch my hair! And while you’re doing that, I will also without your permission let my hands wander your body. Let’s just invade each other’s personal space.”
The overwhelmingly positive responses to being touched without permission were hardly surprising. As part of the social contract that builds the fabric of society together, the idea of respecting personal space is ludicrous. What are people expected to do, not go up to black people and touch their hair? The allure of the black coiffure is far too great to ignore, and indeed far more important than practising basic human decency.
However, not all respondents were pleased having strangers invade their personal space. One irate student told us, “put your filthy hands in my hair? That’s an excuse to be slapped—and let me tell you something, it is deserved. Do I randomly go up to people I don’t know and stick my fingers in their belly buttons? Because, what? — ‘oh, it’s different from mine so it must be fascinating’? No! I have the sense not to treat you like an animal at the zoo.”
This student did not represent most black survey respondents who really enjoyed the experience of being touched like zoo animals without permission. After all, is violating personal space and dehumanizing people such a big deal? The verdict is out, it is A-OKAY to just touch people’s hair without permission. Totally normal. Try it sometime.
Simone Mutabazi, Section Editor