You Can Touch My Hair

A throng of people gathered in New York City’s Union Square Park recently to touch black women's natural hair. (Photo by Donovan X. Ramsey)

Share The GrioSubscribe to TheGrioShare The Grio

Black hair continues to be a hot topic in the public arena, with ever more creative ways being employed to explore the issue. Recently an African-American woman staged a series of photographs of white women wearing black hairstyles.

Mere weeks before, a black woman and hair care expert staged an exhibit called You Can Touch My Hair, during which people were invited to Union Square Park in New York City to — you guessed it — touch black women’s hair.

In case you missed the opportunity, a new documentary of the same name captures the exhibit creator’s attempt to demystify African-American hair, and reactions to the performance art-like piece. You Can Touch My Hair was produced as a short film in conjunction with the brand Pantene Pro-V.

It premiered on October 20 on YouTube, showcasing the intense emotions and deep curiosity women of all colors feel about black women’s hair.

“The exhibit was organized by Antonia Opiah, the founder of un-ruly.com, a website dedicated to black hair,” reports New York’s Daily News.

The paper also states that Opiah’s opus, “aims to dig deeper into the country’s fascination with African-American hair, and how the women who wear it feel about being the subjects of such wonder.”

The documentary captures both the anger black women often feel at being sought for what some feel are invasive grasps, and the innocent interest white and other women have in exploring African-American hair textures.

At the time of the You Can Touch My Hair live exhibit, reactions to the presentation were fierce — both online and off. On Twitter, many denounced the event, which to critics set up participating black women as though they were animals in a petting zoo.

In the offline world, a protesting group of African-American women staged their own convention in Union Square the day after the event called You Can’t Touch My Hair. This only shows how sensitive the issue is for many women of color. That is why Opiah made the film.

“One woman in the film said she gets asked almost every day,” Opiah told the Daily News. “It’s a frequent thing people are experiencing. Mostly people with natural hair. I realized there was a story to be told here.”

Opiah recently moved to Paris from New York City, where she will work on her next project that will focus on how hair culture is different in European cities.

“They don’t have the same racial history as America,” she explained. “I think it will be really exciting to see, do they get offended by those questions?”

Watch part one (and more) of the You Can Touch My Hair documentary and tell us what you think. Was this a good way to communicate to other groups how black women feel about their hair, while indulging people’s tactile curiosity about black hair looks?

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.

Share The Grio Subscribe to TheGrio Share The Grio