The other day my friend and I were standing in Walmart, talking, waiting for our uber to arrive and a caucasian lady walked up to her touched her braids and asked her whether that was her real hair. During the conversation, she continued to pet her hair, then complimented it and walked away.
I asked my friend: could you imagine walking up to a white girl, petting her hair and asking whether her hair was real? At that point we just looked at each other and laughed. Because no, we could never imagine doing that, but these incidents occur regularly in our lives.
Well there’s uneducated ignorance where others do not know much about black culture due to various reasons that are both within and outside their control. First stereotypes play a huge role in these instances. “All black girls wear weave.” Correction: everyone regardless of background wears weave, as we can see with our lovely Kardashian family. And here’s a secret: extensions are a just a fancier term for weave.
People choose to believe these stereotypes and proceed to making assumptions which leads to accidents where instead of one just complimenting the hair, proceed to ask whether the hair is real or not.
It is understandable that there is a difficulty in knowing because Hair is a big part of black culture and there are different hairstyles that have a very deep cultural significance and are part of the identity as a black girl. Culture is not the only factor that goes into wearing braids, cornrows, twists etc.., it is affected also by weather, habits, and the way our hair is naturally built.
Whether the hair is real or not, hair is part of how we express ourself, our emotions, our feelings. Personally I have the habit of changing my hair frequently because the way I wear my hair is affected by the way I’m feeling. There are periods when I’m feeling my afro and I rock that, days where I feel like having long lucious bouncy hair so I rock my weave, and I do get moods where I really want to wear braids so I do. The way we choose to wear our hair is affected by culture, habits, seasons, and how significant they are to us.
The way we wear our hair also aims to defy social norms, where people in general view black hair as non professional, not beautiful, and exotic but not right. Day by day black women have been conquering those negative social views surrounding black hair, especially with the intention of inspiring younger generations to believe that their hair is beautiful too! I can see that with my younger sister, where while my experience as young black girl was to shy away from my hair and my braids, through my learning, appreciation and pride in black hair and culture, she has this immense confidence and love for her hair, natural or not.
Our hair is beautiful, it is a part of our culture, our identity. It is a great thing that other cultures can love and learn about too. But it is important to understand that there is a right way to show appreciation and to ask questions when it comes to learning about black or any other culture. Making assumptions, stereotypes, and appropriating our culture are not the right ways. And most importantly, do not touch our hair.