Keep Your Hands Off The Hair Guest host Allison Keyes has been wearing a new hairstyle. The response by many is to grab for her hair. In today's opinion piece, Keyes discusses why touching hair is a sign of deep disrespect.

Keep Your Hands Off The Hair

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And finally, its time for our Monday commentary. And this week, we're going to talk about hair. To touch or not to touch, that is the question. And as far as I'm concerned, the answer is nearly always no. All right, let me explain why this really annoys me. I'm African-American and I wear my hair natural - that means in an afro or in twist or some other style that showcases my kinky hair and the tight curls in which it grows from my scalp. It is not chemically straightened. In other words, think India Arie, not Beyonce.

And for the past few weeks, I've been rocking an afro puff. That's a round fluffy puff perched atop a braided or twisted updo. It is fierce and I must admit, the texture does look inviting to touch. But walking up and palming my puff, particularly without permission, could I just tell you - speaking colloquially, that is not cool. Think I'm the only one? Wrong. Take a listen to this clip from comedian Chris Rock's recent movie "Good Hair."

(Soundbite of movie, "Good Hair")

Mr. CHRIS ROCK (Comedian, actor): (as Chris Rock) Have you ever put your hair through a black women's hair?

Unidentified Man #1: Hell no. Not a black womans.

Unidentified Woman #1: You just dont touch it.

Unidentified Woman #2: Do not touch my weave.

Unidentified Woman #3: No.

Mr. ROCK: (as Chris Rock) Does your wife let you touch her hair?

Reverend Al SHARPTON (Baptist minister, civil rights activist) The question is: do I let her touch mine?

KEYES: All that from Chris Rock's question at the top to the perm-wearing Reverend Al Sharpton at the end is absolutely true. And I think it is a race issue as well as a personal space issue. The space part seems obvious. I see it as a violation as unwanted as those who approach pregnant women, hands out, and start rubbing their bellies.

The race issue is a little more tricky. For example, I was walking one day recently - puff held high - when a white woman walked up and just grabbed it, cooing, oh, that's so cute. Fighting back my impulse to grab her wrist, I simply stepped back and growled, dont touch my hair. She reared back offended: well, I dont see what the big deal is. That response is exactly the problem. In what realm of reality is it okay to walk up to a person and without their permission lay your hands on their body?

I took a look around Google wondering about the basis for this distaste that I and many other African-Americans have to acquaintances, co-workers or most infuriating, strangers, just walk up and start grasping away. On blog after blog, black women railed about the rudeness of folk just walking up and touching their hair.

One site, in an article called "Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo," the author noted, and I'm quoting here, "Today, white people still feel they have the right to our bodies." She went on to say, "my blackness and your curiosity does not give you the right to touch me."

Let's have a reality check here. For hundreds of years whites could do anything they wanted to black people, and that includes things far worse than touching our hair. Even now, there are still those pesky signs of disrespect, like some whites calling a woman old enough to be their grandmother by her first name. Is it because she's black and therefore doesnt deserve the respect of a title? Dont both acts send a signal that black people are still objects to be treated as one pleases, all without said object's permission?

One Web site actually suggested that blacks try humor or self depreciation, making yourself out to be the bad guy to assuage the possibly hurt feelings of the offended person who has just forcibly touched them. But I think what you ought to do is keep your hands out of my hair, unless I invite you to touch it. Whether it's a thousand dollar hair weave, a 10-inch afro, or an afro puff, watch out. There could be a mousetrap in there or worse. That way, no one's fingers will be injured.

And that's our program for today. Im Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We'll talk more tomorrow.

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