It has been years that I experience hands poking my kids’ heads from every direction. Very seldom you get someone asking: ‘Can I touch her hair please’?
It is like with a dog. No one ever asks. The unknown hand is already petting your dog and you should be glad about it. It means someone likes your dog. What a cutie, how soft…
But what about my children? Can you just touch their hair because you are curious to know how it feels? Or because you have never touched Afro hair before? Allegedly YES!
My oldest daughter would start crying or hide behind my legs every time someone tried. But this never stopped the transgressors.
When she was 5 we were visiting a water park in Rome, Italy. Whilst queueing for a rollercoaster ride, an arm crossed over from the other row and landed not so smoothly on my daughter’s head. She was scared upset, looked at me …puzzled; almost wondering, how should I behave ? but the guy continued touching her hair and I was just paralyzed.
It was my first time. Should I have told him to bug off? Or have a kind conversation about my daughter’s hair like you would do with your dog? I had a kind conversation about the softness and its waterprofeness and I felt immediately after, a little stupid!
Years have passed, she is now almost 12 but the incidents are still almost a daily happening.
Not long ago, in one of the top civilized country of Europe, home of Santa Claus, widely advertised for being the number one country in life standards and education, an elderly lady, who was queuing behind us in a photo shop (we were getting our passport pictures to become Finnish Nationals and hopefully put an end to our immigrant status – right?!), touched my daughter’s hair one time more than allowed.
How did it happen? In Finland your best friends wouldn’t even come to say goodbye in person, when leaving the country after having lived there for over a decade. Let alone touching you or hugging you unless really necessary. Maybe at your birthday? (no offense to my Finnish friends).
Few seconds later the lady transgressor profusely apologized in very good English. She said my hands just moved: Like the magnet to its fridge. Strongly attracted by it. And there again I had a conversation about the softness and the curliness of my daughters’ hair.
After the arrival of my second daughter, my first daughter and I soon realized that it was happening all over again. And to the second one, the fascination was even bigger (her curls are smaller).
She originally had really long hair according to Namibian standards, she could do nice bolas (that is when elastic rings make small or big pony tails) but one day we discovered she had developed tinea capitis, a fungal infection on her head, common in African children. Similar to our athletes foot fungus caught in swimming pools. Not a major issue but very contagious.
So I cut her hair short (even more tempting now) and although she was under medicament, I tried to inform people (those who asked if they could touch her hair) that touching her head would bear the risk of catching the same disease.
Not much of a reason. Still proceeding with the satisfaction of their desire: feel that hair. Touch it. Rub it. Comment about it. Touch it one more time.
The hands never gave up rubbing it. They followed my girls from hiding behind my legs, from running away from them by coming closer and just getting what they came for: their first hands-on experience of Afro-hair 🙂
And the satisfaction on their faces. Oh my! And their reports about the softness, the strange curls, the being water repellent. How not to be “politely” excited about them being excited?
How do you call it: racism or simple human curiosity? You have the power to decide how to ‘sell’ it to your children. Your reaction will be their reaction.
Years are passing by. My girls are finding it more and more flattering that people love their Afro-hair. It is like being famous. And who doesn’t like that!
After all interracial families are just trying hard to smoothen differences and why not hoping it would smoothen ignorance and slowly smoothen racism?
“Hope is always the last to die” promotes an Italian way of saying. So let’s hope by satisfying people curiosity we are promoting knowledge and therefore putting an end to racism. At least this is my angle to the not so often asked question but often acted upon: can I touch your hair?