As I was surfing the net yesterday, I came across this article on MSN.com. The article focused on an “interactive public art exhibit” that invited passers-by to touch black women’s hair sparked a backlash by other African-American women, who said it was a demeaning stunt. Check out the full article below.
A recent “interactive public art exhibit” in New York City that invited strangers to touch the hair of a group of black women in a park has caused a backlash, with many African-American women decrying the event as a demeaning stunt.
The event, organized by the black women’s hair-care website Un-ruly.com, hoped to open a conversation about the “tactile fascination with black hair,” Un-ruly founder Antonia Opiah wrote in a blog post announcing the event. It consisted of a handful of black women with various hairstyles holding signs reading, “You can touch my hair” in Manhattan’s busy Union Square Park. Many strangers accepted the invitation, stopping to talk to the women and feel their tresses.
The exhibition did spark conversation, but not in the way Opiah had expected. By the event’s second day, June 8, a group of black women had gathered to protest the display, holding signs with slogans such as “You cannot touch my hair” and “What’ll it be next . . . my butt?” Some took to Twitter and the blogosphere, comparing the spectacle to a petting zoo and saying it harkened to a time when African-Americans were used as attractions in freak shows in the United States and Europe.
“It was taken the wrong way by a lot of people,” Abigail Opiah, Antonia’s sister and the publicist for Un-ruly.com, told MSN News. “At the onset, we didn’t think it was going to cause any controversy, let alone get any attention.
“We were a little bit naïve on that part,” Abigail added. “Here in the U.S., black hair isn’t just hair.”
The idea behind the event was not to make a spectacle of black women but rather to promote cross-cultural understanding, the women behind Un-ruly said.
“Some saw petting zoo in You Can Touch My Hair and I understand why,” Antonia wrote in a blog post on Un-ruly.com in response to the backlash. “But I saw a cultural exchange. Any good conversation requires you to give up a little bit of yourself, by way of listening, by way of challenging your preconceived notions, by way of relaxing your defense mechanisms and making yourself just a little bit vulnerable.”
The idea for “You Can Touch My Hair” came from Antonia’s own experience with strangers asking to feel her locks. She decided to stage the Union Square event after writing an article for The Huffington Post about these odd and sometimes unsettling experiences, Abigail said.
“We were just saying, Since the curiosity already exists, let’s extend an olive branch,” Abigail said. “It was very much tongue in cheek.”
Dominique Hazzard, 22, who took to the feminist blog “Disrupting Dinner Parties” to list “4 Reasons Why, Actually, You Cannot Touch My Hair,” said black women often have to contend with strangers asking to touch their hair or, worse, grabbing it without asking. Though Hazzard said she understands most people in such cases do not have bad intentions, she said the idea that strangers somehow have a right to touch black women’s bodies does stem from a history in which African-Americans were once others’ property.
“I’m curious about people with freckles, but you wouldn’t hear about a black person walking up to someone with freckles and rubbing their face,” Hazzard told MSN News. “That wouldn’t fly in America.
“There’s ways to learn about folks that are different from you without making someone else a spectacle and without invading their space,” she said.
For its part, Un-ruly.com plans to continue the conversation by holding an online panel discussion from 6 to 7 p.m. on June 20 via Google Hangouts.
I personally don’t mind if someone asks to touch my hair. It is something you don’t see everyday and people are curious. It is a bit rude to touch someone’s hair without their permission first but I’m guilty of that myself lol Sometimes a ‘fro is so amazing I’m touching it before I realize I didn’t ask. I usually follow-up with, “I’m sorry is it okay if I touch your hair?” The response is usually, “Girl, sure!” How do you feel about people touching your hair?