Sibongile Mafu

Don't touch me on my hair

2013-06-12 13:04

Sibongile Mafu

It was bound to happen. Inevitable, really. I'm a black woman; the hair issue is about as unavoidable as a swimming cap on the head of relaxed hair.

"Can I touch it?" they ask. "You're like Zahara," they say. They appear to ask for permission for their hands to venture in but it's not a request, but courteous a warning that they're going in there, because guess what? By the time they ask, their hand or God forbid, hands are already in your hair when the question is being posed.

Black hair is a tourist attraction and it still astounds me that white folk still find it to be as fascinating as it is. Not even fascinating, mesmerising.

The eighth world wonder that is black women's hair is a topic that has both exhausted and tested me over the years. Whether it's exposed or covered up, there will be comments, questions and suggestions from the floor. If, alongside the Big Five, we were allowed to have a bonus attraction, black women's hair would be it. From afros to dreadlocks to braids to weaves many have tried to understand it, poke and prod at it, as if the meaning of life is hidden in it or in the case of a bald black woman, over it.

I currently have an unruly, albeit proud afro that kind of has a pulse of its own. I often allow it to do as it pleases, like a stubborn teenager.

When I was little my mother used to take me to hair salons to "tame" my natural hair by getting the stylist to relax it, which is the process whereby the hair is chemically treated in order to make it straight and easier to manage. To literally relax your hair - make it less tense, rigid, or firm. To make it behave.

This became part of my routine and because I knew no other way of being, it became a routine I carried into my teenage years.  I'd see my hair fall out over time and the stylist telling me reassuringly, "don’t worry, it will grow back". She'd warn me to keep it away from moisture of any kind but to always remember to moisturise it. This conflicting advice obviously confused me but I did as I was told. She didn't tell me however that not only would I have to protect my hair from the harsh elements but also from the hands of curious strangers and their fidgety hands. There's no hair protector in the market for that, unfortunately.

It's not so much the fascination that amuses and annoys, but rather the constant surprise white folk get even though they've seen this kind of hair before. It's incredible really. Like watching the same movie, and expecting a different ending. Yep, the texture is really like that. Yes, that is our hair. Yes, when it touches water it recoils.

I recently read of a bizarre phenomenon where human beings are now stealing the dreadlocks off the heads of other human beings. Earlier this year a man was robbed of his dreadlocks at a nightclub in Johannesburg. The victim's friends found him passed out with his head shaven. He still had all his valuables in his possession except his crowning glory.

There's a growing demand in the industry for 100% human hair dreadlocks that leaves many people vulnerable. The police have encouraged victims to come forward and report the theft of their hair and open cases of assault.

Can the same be done for those who touch without permission?

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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