Do you really wanna touch it?” Monifah wails powerfully in her song Touch It (1998). Now, I know what you and many are thinking, “What might I be touching? Is there consent? We don’t really know each other…” I appreciate your sense of bounded inquisition, AND if you are a white, cis-gendered human it is likely that you have exoticized the natural hair and body of black women like myself; put our golden/brown/black/earth bodies in some hybrid progressive-is-me faux meets “I celebrate diversity” otherness.
Take a deep breath and stay with me now. This reality does not, in fact, make you a bad person. What it does mean, is that we (Americans) inherited, harvest and continue to grow racially biased notions of cultural and individual performance, including fashion, hair style, and mannerisms that have very real consequences for those of us who challenge the norm du jour. Just look at the recent news of black girls punished for wearing braids to school. Let us then take an exploratory path, one that moves towards personal evaluation and collective liberation.
Being brown around this town has presented unique challenges in how I am allowed and not allowed to move through spaces. I regularly have people in this progressive town touch my hair without asking, ask to touch (do you really wanna?) or make a comment that sends the message, like an arrow to the bulls-eye, that my hair, my look, my fashion and my speech (you are so articulate!) are not the norm (I am different and exotic). Not only does this reality get old, but it is wildly painful when experienced in self-proclaimed progressive and/or queer spaces.
I name these experiences not to shame you, but to invite you, particularly racially privileged and cis-gender queer dears, to consider how your words, actions, and expectations of my brown/natural hair, gender performance and sexual-self are bound in painful histories of purposeful worthlessness shot right into my/other queer people of color’s hearts and psyches. So if you wanna touch it or culturally appropriate it, pause to ask yourself where that desire comes from. As my ‘fro stands with fierce intentionality, it performs sacred Mawu dances and reaches to the heavens with its #blackgirlmagic, breathing new life into centuries-old black lady ‘bad hair’ narratives, setting me free one kink at a time.