Updated: May 18, 2020
My 5-year-old son came in from school one day, walked up to me as I prepared dinner in our kitchen and said:
“Mommy, do you like my hair?”
His big brown eyes looked up in wait for what I would say. I ran my hands through his thick and curly brown hair (or tried to anyway) as I responded with a smile.
“Of course I like your hair! I love your hair, baby!”
I thought he was asking because he had just gotten a hair cut a couple days prior and that’s something he normally says after a fresh snip but no that wasn’t it at all.
“I like my hair, too,” Ja’Mauri responded as he touched his hair with both hands making sure it hadn't move. His face clearly showed signs of relief that I agreed with him liking his small afro growing atop his head.
Then he said it. He said the “it” that almost made steam come shooting out of my ears.
“They said my hair is different at school.”
I turned around to look at Ja’Mauri so quick, I felt the floorboards underneath my feet loosen. I dropped the spoon in my hand but tried to remain calm.
“What do you mean different? Who told you that at school, son?” I could feel the blood rushing to my face I was so hot. I didn’t want to be so angry that he thought he was in trouble but I damn sure wasn’t happy about it. Ja’Mauri tried to tell me the kids at school said his hair was different from theirs. It was just a lot to handle as one of his moms.
All I could do to defend him was explain that being different is awesome and cool. he should be proud of his hair. Then I firmly expressed, “Okay, son, don’t you let nobody at school touch your hair! You understand me?”
He replied with a quick “Yes, ma’am” and continued his normal 5-year-old daily routine.
I kind of felt a little uneasy with him not understanding why he shouldn’t let people touch his hair. And I personally am not ready to have that conversation with my younger son. But it is times like this that reminded me that the conversation will come one day.
To some this was an innocent moment in an innocent little life but to me, and a lot of others, it is not.
At five I am all for a child knowing that they are different but thinking they are different because of a physical outer aspect of them is a no go in my house. I want him to think better yet know he isn’t just like every other person in that class but he is not less than them because he uses a pick instead of a comb.
People have to understand, our hair has always been our power. Centuries before slavery, African women would use their hair as a way to communicate to others. From a quick glance of a woman's hair crown, you would know her marital status, religious beliefs, age and wealth. Men in the Wolof tribe would wear their hair in a braided style when they were on their way to war. You can see every stage of a woman's life in The Braided Rapunzels of Namibia.
But there is more reason for you not to touch a black person's hair if it hasn't clicked for you. Just keep these in mind if you ever think its okay to open your mouth to ask:
First of all don’t touch me or my hair without my consent. And definitely do not touch my child! Both of our hair is different with him being a little black boy with sandy reddish brown hair and I with a head full of red brown blondish mix but it does not give anyone the space to touch it. How would you like it if I just walked up to your daughter and starting pulling on her straight untangle ponytail? Here’s a lesson for you: keep your hands to your self!
Next, I am not nor is my child a museum exhibit. We are not some novelty or some foreign being that you can poke and prod. Black people speak English, pay taxes, and are people just like you. If you even think to ask to touch someone’s hair there is a larger problem. Think of it this way. Would you like it if I asked to kiss your elbows? A little odd? Yea, I know.