Why you don’t have the right to touch my hair

As if enduring death threats from angry hormonal tweens weren’t enough, Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding had to incur another act of violence via Justin Bieber — he touched her hair.

The two sat down with the Associated Press after Spalding’s surprising Best New Artist win. The jazz musician showed the depth of her patience and character by bearing an interview with Bieber in the first place — since when does the loser get more camera time than the person who walked away with the award? But the awkward moment escalates to absolute cringe-worthy when the interviewer asks the pair “how do you feel about each other?” Bieber replies “I like you hair,” patting Spalding’s ‘fro like a memory foam mattress.

Now I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one, but for the painfully uniformed and ignorant, please heed this simple PSA: DO NOT TOUCH A BLACK PERSON’S HAIR.

The hair touching issue is a problem experienced by many black people, but it especially plagues natural hair wearers who sport ‘do’s that defy tradition, gravity, and convention. Certainly Esperanza Spalding has endured a lifetime of unsolicited head pats, and perhaps she’s grown to accept these gestures as moments of wonder and flattery. Or maybe, like the rest of us, she’s perfected her pokerface while inside fuming “Oh. Hell. No.”

[youtubevid http://youtube.com/watch?v=AqJnWC871mk?version=3]

“But it’s just hair!” No, no its not. Your European-standard-issue brown strands might be “just hair” to you, but black hair is far beyond the average skull insulation. Black hair is sacred and almost mythical, both revered and abhorred by the head upon which it grows.

Many a black women have spent countless hours of their childhood sitting between their mother’s legs as their hair is patted, pulled, pressed, braided, bunned, beaded, permed and ponied. It’s not just hair, it’s an extension of ourselves, and an integral part of our cultural experience.

Touching a black person’s hair without permission is a cardinal sin, disrespect in one of it’s highest forms, demeaning to the level of a house pet or docile child. Or, more simply, plain annoying and rude.

There is a level of exotic voyeurism that goes into touching a black person’s hair — oooh, it’s soo different, I wonder what it feels like!

It feels like my personal space is being violated, that’s what. Why would someone presume it’s okay to just reach out and touch? On one hand it’s slightly defensible: touch is a natural way to explore the world. Except my hair isn’t a cashmere sweater sitting on a shelf at Macy’s. It’s my hair. Ask before touching — and don’t get your feelings hurt when I say no.

And Justin Bieber, of all people! A kid whose hair has become a central prop in his act! Surely he’s known the annoyance of being petted like a stray dog. But Bieber probably has his locks ensured — if nothing else, he knows his signature baseball cap keeps eager fingers at bay.

I’d hope people would learn to admire from a distance, or in the very least, ask before touching. But let’s be realistic: it ain’t going to happen. So instead, Esperanza take note — as your star will undoubtedly continue to rise, hats are your friend.