“Can I touch your hair?” is the type of question many Black women are tired of getting and figuring out a way of answering. Antonia Opiah faced this very same question and instead of perpetuating the negative connotation of the inquiry, she’s decided to “take one for the team,” if you will.
Along with un-ruly.com (Opiah’s site), Antonia created a public art exhibit called, “You Can Touch My Hair,” where Black women gather in Union Square, holding signs with the name of the movement on them and welcome strangers from all walks of life to touch their hair.
Ask the question. But ask it only when you’ve earned the right to do so. Ask it when you’ve taken the time to Google some of the basic questions about black hair. Ask this five-word request when you understand that it carries the weight of hundreds of years of being told our hair is unacceptable and now being told that it’s a curiosity. Ask it when you understand that enlightening you about our hair is a responsibility no one individual wants to bare. Ask it when you’ve actually developed a relationship with a person to the point where you don’t have to doubt their response to the request. Because if you’re actually friends with a person, “Can I touch your hair?” is a question you don’t have to ask because you know that you can either just do it or know to steer clear. And if you don’t know any black people that well enough, maybe you should be asking yourself a different question.
I love the dialogue that this exhibit is opening up. As a Black woman, I am often tasked with smiling politely and either tilting my head towards the curious White hand or screwing my mouth up in disgust and disbelief. I’m never sure quite how to take it. It’s almost as if our hair is a privileged curiosity there for their touchy-feely pleasure. And it’s not. However, Opiah has created a public forum that will likely change the way people feel about Black women’s mysterious tresses.