You would think with the abundance of information being shared in this day in age that this would not still be an issue. However, I can say that I deal with pestering curiosity and ignorance on a regular basis regarding black hair. I recognize that it may be viewed as some sort of enigma and many may see it as their chance to finally have their curiosities of black hair and black culture answered. So, they may assume there’s no harm in touching or asking about a hairstyle of a black classmate, friend, or co-worker. I am here to briefly put things in perspective.
This is not the petting zoo. You cannot simply reach out and touch someone. This is extremely demeaning and is rooted in the era when people of African descent did not have control over their own bodies. This is paralleled with issues regarding women not having control over their bodies. It is dehumanizing to be touched without permission. Furthermore, no one knows where your hands have been. Moreover, you have no clue what kind of products and oils are in someone’s head. You might reach in someone’s crown of glory, and might come out smelling like strong tea tree oil for the rest of the day. Or worse, you might touch the wrong person and be “touched” back in a less friendly way. So a word to the wise: do not invade someone’s personal space or touch them without permission. This includes your friends too.
You are not entitled to have a person of color fill the gaps in your knowledge. People with curly hair textures that differ from yours are under no obligation to entertain your inquires. You are most likely not the first person to have these questions, especially if you are in a place that lacks exposure to real diversity. Believe me, explaining how different my hair and life is to you is taxing, especially when there are so many people preoccupied with the same sort of questions. Google is free. Google has answers for days. Google won’t grow tired or annoyed with your questions. Google is your friend. Remember before you ask something uncomfortable, think to yourself, “Can I Google this?”
If someone does decide to bask in the attention of your curiosity, recognize that people of color are not a monolith. No one wants to hear that your “black friend” explained to you what cornrows are, and now you want them because the Kardashian clan has deemed “Boxer Braids” as an acceptable Columbusing act of black culture. I ask you to realize that by choosing to adopt aspects of another culture without fully understanding and/or acknowledging the experience within that culture (like how many companies strictly forbid people of color to wear their natural hair textures, including cornrows, for decades to this very day), many people within the culture may consider you to be a “culture vulture,” despite your one “black friend” or that black person you date(d) giving you the okay to do so.
"Boxer Braids" vs. "Cornrows"
By calling such specific attention to an individual’s physical features, such as their hair, you further perpetuate the idea that their hair is abnormal and your hair is the standard. This is a microaggression. For example, it isn’t advisable that you approach a person of Asian descent and ask questions about the shape of their eyes. Even if you are well-meaning with your curiosity and do not intend to offend the person, you may possibly make them feel like an anomaly and unknowingly create a spectacle of them. Moreover, you reveal your ignorance to everyone. It can be quite an uncomfortable and inappropriate situation. Additionally, consider the situation. Is this an appropriate time or setting for my questions? Consider your relationship. How well do I know this person and would they feel comfortable answering my questions?
Many of us with kinky hair textures have had to learn how to care for, shape, and mold our natural hair, often on our own. This type of knowledge and skill can take years to fully develop into "black girl magic." There is a plethora of books, magazines, websites, Youtube channels, etc. dedicated to black hair. Therefore, it can be somewhat insulting for you to demand a quick summary of our hair experiences in a matter of minutes.
Ultimately, however, I can understand your curiosity. Rihanna said it best: