You Can Touch My Hair

There’s a new documentary on YouTube about a recent performance art piece/social experiment that encouraged visitors to New York City’s Union Square to touch the hair of a few curly-headed (and some straight-haired) black women who were holding signs saying “You Can Touch My Hair.”

Prepare to be fascinated (if you’re fascinated) or truly annoyed (if you’re annoyed, like me). But no matter what you’re feeling, that’s what the woman who put the exhibit together intended.

The exhibit was put together by Antonia Opiah, the founder of the black hair website un-ruly.com and naturally (get it? “Naturally”), and she know not everyone would be all that psyched about turning well-coiffed black women into some kind of hair petting zoo.

From The Grio:

At the time of the You Can Touch My Hair live exhibit, reactions to the presentation were fierce — both online and off. On Twitter, many denounced the event, which to critics set up participating black women as though they were animals in a petting zoo.

In the offline world, a protesting group of African-American women staged their own convention in Union Square the day after the event called You Can’t Touch My Hair. This only shows how sensitive the issue is for many women of color. That is why Opiah made the film.

“One woman in the film said she gets asked almost every day,” Opiah told the Daily News. “It’s a frequent thing people are experiencing. Mostly people with natural hair. I realized there was a story to be told here.”

The black women who were shocked and horrified by the exhibit who put up their own “counter” natural hair performance art used the stunt to educate others about the plight of South African woman Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman. In the 1800s, Baartman was tricked into coming to Europe only to be turned into a traveling exhibit across Europe where people marveled at her “unusual” bodytype and large buttocks.

Again, when you have a history such as this (and a long history of slavery in this country where black womens’ bodies belonged to everyone but themselves), creating a “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit would shock the sensibilities of quite a few black women who could truly care less if anyone is “curious” about their hair. After all, if one wants to “learn” about black hair and its care there is this WONDERFUL thing called “the Google” where you can do a search and find multitudes of sites about black hair. But if that doesn’t satisfy your curiosity and you MUST touch someone’s hair you can do as one of the women in the documentary doing her counter-exhibit suggested and do the work of actually getting to know a black person as a person, become their friend and then – and only then – ask them about touching their hair.

You still might get slapped, but at least you’ll be getting slapped by a friend.

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