Please Don’t Touch My Kids’ Hair

I’m just going to go ahead and put it out there. As the mom of brown kids, I want to say on the record: please don’t touch my kids’ hair.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand your curiosity about it. I am, after all, the white mom of brown kids, and I can confirm that black hair is structurally different, and even my mixed-race kids have really fascinating hair. I admit, I feel lucky that I’ve had this opportunity to learn about cornrows and rope twists, box braids and Bantu knots. But please, no matter how interesting the hairstyle may be, please don’t touch it.

“But what about those women who did a performance art piece with signs saying people could touch their hair?” (Read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

First of all, those were grown women who made a choice and specifically advertised that they were willing to accept contact and questions. Second, that piece has sparked quite a bit of debate. My favorite summary (link points out a few, simple reasons, like the fact that black hair isn’t some kind of zoo exhibit, and, frankly, it takes a ton of work to maintain and style (when I’m on top of my game, I average about 5 hours a week, minimum, caring for my 3-year-old’s hair). Because my daughters are small children, you can add to that list the fact that even if you ask (and most people don’t bother), because you are a grown-up, they might not feel like they are even allowed to say no.

“Really, though, how much of a problem is this? You’re making a big deal out of nothing!”

This happens about once a month. Usually, it’s a white adult. They almost never ask first. When I tell them to stop and ask them to apologize, they usually either get offended or give me a hard time. It’s been done by doctors, teachers, members of my church, complete strangers. People who know not to touch a dog without asking will touch my kid’s head without compunction. And they don’t, for example, touch my husband’s head, just the kids’, as if they think that one would be weird, but the other is no big deal. Interestingly, kids don’t do this – they just say, “I like your hair!” or, “your hair is weird!” But they don’t touch.

And here’s the thing, above and beyond the hygienic and consent issues, there’s this: my daughter doesn’t like to be touched. She just doesn’t. And I think that we should respect her choices.

Moreover, frankly, there’s an undercurrent of racism there that I find troubling. Yes, my kids look different from most of the kids around here. No, that does not make it okay for you to treat them as some kind of petting zoo. I’m actually happy to entertain questions about their hair care and styling regimen, their ethnic background, even the color of their skin. But please, don’t touch my kids’ hair.

julia high - mom meet mom

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