How to respond when someone asks to touch your hair
Kathleen Newman-Bremang, a TV producer and freelance writer in Toronto, on how she learned to just say no.
THE SITUATION “It has happened so many times. Not to generalize, but if you talk to black women or girls who live or work in a predominantly white space, they will tell you this is an experience that happens often. Recently I was in a grocery store, and it started with compliments about my hair. I have very long rope twists; they kind of look like braids. Then the compliments escalated to ‘Can I touch it?’”
THE FEELING “The thing is, I know it doesn’t come from a malicious place. I think that a lot of the time, it’s just curiosity, but there is a racial connotation as well. I don’t think this same person would have gone up to a woman with straight blond hair and asked to touch it. Whatever the intention was, it just made me uncomfortable. It’s like you’re a pet or something – and it doesn’t feel great.”
THE RESPONSE “I politely declined in that specific instance. The ability to be firm in declining has come over time. When it happened in high school, I think I just let it happen.”
THE ADVANCED RESPONSE “After hearing Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” – which was everything in the moment; I was just so excited – I now think the appropriate response to someone asking to touch my hair is ‘Don’t touch my crown.’ That is what I will say to everyone. Thank you, Solange, for giving me the greatest response ever.”
The article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of ELLE Canada.