The Hair Thing

Oof, I have not posted in a long while. Sorry to any die hard fans of this blog, but I have been distracted with that old chestnut we affectionately call ‘life’. So what exactly have I been preoccupied with? Oh I don’t know; dealing with my hair identity, my expat identity and my relationship status/identity. So let’s deal with the hair stuff first; or start from the top, as they say. Pun well and truly intended.

Oh Australia. So well meaning, so oblivious, so damn handsy. Yes, handsy, specifically in reference to numerous Aussie’s trying to make direct contact with my hair. As if I were a dog or a cat or basically any other mammal without the language to say

“keep your hands to yourself, b***h”.

This is a lifetime occurrence if you’re a black woman surrounded by other people who are neither black nor woke. Still, I’ve never dodged so many wandering fingers in such a short period of time before. I’ve changed my hair a couple of times since I moved here, sure, but as any adult in my childhood would have said;

“look with your eyes, not with your hands!”

Interestingly though, the biggest culprits with their words and comments, rather than their hands, have been older, grey haired white men. I honestly do not know why, but I had about five separate conversations in passing with strangers of that demographic that were varying iterations of the following:

WHM (White haired male): “Wow your hair! Amazing!”

Me: “Erm, thank you.”

WHM: “I can’t do that with my hair!” Then he points to his white, thinning or almost bald head.

Me: “Ha, no. I guess not.”

WHM: “Yeah it wouldn’t look as good on me! Watch out though, I might steal it!”

I smile awkwardly, usually trapped in a lift with this person, waiting desperately for the doors to open in-between floors just so I can get some sweet reprieve from all the awkward.

There is nothing apparently wrong with this exchange, apart from it’s general dullness, right? But here is always where another question arises; would they have made the same comments to a white brunette woman? Or a white blonde woman? Or just a white woman, or man for that matter? I’m thinking the answer is no. I’m thinking my hairstyle was not outlandish; I just had long, light brown braids – ones which I did not really enjoy as it turns out, because braids that go down to my waist make me feel like I’m being strangled during the night. So I got rid of them after two weeks. But also, the relentless comments were doing my nut in.

My hair was not blue or green or any other voluminous colour. But still, I appeared to be this wondrous new thing to them, that they felt the need to comment on. I say ‘they’ not in the general sense, but in reference to the groups of people that approached me during the weeks that I had that hairstyle. The ones that asked me whether I washed it, how long it took, how DID I do it? I resisted the urge to tell them that my name was not Google, and sometimes it’s OK to say you like someone’s hairstyle and move on. Or even better, to not comment at all when all you have are questions.

And then there are the hair touchers. The amount of times a white Australian has reached out and touched my hair like I invited them to feel a new piece of linen I just purchased, is way too many for the short amount of time I have been here. And I know why they do it. Well, half of them. The ones who touch your braids or weave are doing it with the misinterpretation of what your hair is. They appear to believe that your hairstyle is just another accessory because it is not naturally yours, and thus they feel they have a right to feel it, comment on it, search through it desperately for answers over its origin. These same people would likely freak the fuck out if you then reached over and touched their hair, commenting on how horse like it felt.

I can allow the misunderstanding, but people, if you’re someone who doesn’t know how to keep their hands to themselves and you’re reading this, your assumption is INCORRECT. If it is on top of my head, I don’t care if it’s a bird sitting on top of a hat with a fricking cake on top of that, DO NOT TOUCH MY HAIR. Simple.

And then there are the other people. The ones who poke a finger into your very real afro as if it belonged to them; the person you can imagine blows out the candles on other people’s birthday cakes, and jumps the queue at the bus stop so they can get the best seat before all the pregnant and infirm people get on. I mean, even if you do not respect me as a human being, where the hell are your manners? How can you really go up to a full on stranger and stick your finger up their nose? OK, perhaps that’s too far. Let’s try again.

How can you go up to a stranger and stroke their face? Oh you wouldn’t do that? Are you sure? Or if you really felt the urge, you would at least ask first, right? OK then. Politeness plays a role here guys. I mean, of course I am going to say no, unless I actually know you to be a person who always cleans their hands; then I might oblige. But even then, I probably won’t. Don’t assume unless you want to lose a finger, or more likely, just get a dirty look from me because you know, I hate violence.

On the bright side I have perfected lightning fast avoidance movements with my head, in my efforts to spot and retreat from a hair toucher. Apparently when you immediately pull your head back from someone and direct your disgusted face to their ascending hands, they get the picture pretty quickly. But then they move on to the questions, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.

This was happening a couple of months ago and I’m still salty about it, for good reason. Hair is important for everyone, but for black women especially, it is history and culture and aesthetic all woven into the fibres that sit atop your head. It is more than your crowning glory; sometimes it’s that new you that you want to be that week, the you that is more you than the last hairstyle you had. It’s confidence. It’s power. It’s goddamn dignity most of the time. It has no time for anything else.

And especially no patience to wait for Australia to catch up with the rest of the world and learn how keep its hands off things that don’t belong to it. #Justsaying.

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Maame Blue

Writer| Poet| Blogger| Ghanaian by heart, Londoner by nature

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