Antonia Opiah, the founder of un-ruly.com published a column in the Huffington Post in which she talks about how some black women are uncomfortable with total strangers asking if they can touch their hair. In the piece, Opiah describes the time she was in Paris and a woman came up to her and asked if she could have a feel.
“My response to such a solicitation usually depends on my mood,” she wrote. “On this night I was tickled by being asked the question in French, so I obliged. She stroked me. She actually really got in there, so I had to curtly make her stop. I wonder if she got any satisfaction from it and if so, what kind? Did my hair feel good on her hands? Was some sort of curiosity finally satisfied? Or was I simply just a Saturday night amusement?”
As Opiah points out, this kind of encounter isn’t unusual but when it happens it can be enough to make anyone feel taken aback. No one wants to be made to feel like a freak. But on the other hand, some people are genuinely curious when they see a billowy afro or some other style that takes advantage of natural, unprocessed curls. My own sisters are wearing their hair in beautiful, curly natural styles these days, and whenever I see them, I can’t resist reaching out and touching their hair. But I always make a point of asking first.