Black women want their heads rubbed, too

by Guest Contributor Ryan Barrett, originally published at Cheap Thrills

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Now that this week’s Oprah schedule is up onher site, I guess I can divulge which taping I attended (and if this isn’t supreme coincidence I don’t know what is): Chris Rock’s dish on his new documentary, “Good Hair”. In fact, we audience members attended the film’s North American film debut, right here in downtown Chicago.

The show airs today, September 30th (set your DVRs!). But before it does, I’d like to comment on an issue that Rock discusses both in the film and during his visit with Oprah: the “no touch” rule when it comes to Black women’s hair (i.e. if you’re dating a Black woman, don’t even try to get near her head). According to Rock, Black men are “thirsty” to touch a head of hair, and Black women’s “keep away” policy causes intimacy issues.

So I’ll venture this, and then explain: Black women’s scalps are equally parched from lack of attention. Yes, our hair is thirsty for love, too.

Deeper than the “my hair will get messed up” mantra, I think the root of the problem lies in insecurity. And why not? Us women of color have always been taught that, in its natural state, our hair is not beautiful. So we hide behind weaves and wigs and relaxers, quite literally putting up a barriers between our scalps and the hands of others.

At least in my experience, the fake-ification of my hair promoted my own hair insecurity. When I had a relaxer, my hair was never normal – but instead “oily” or “brittle” or “damaged”. It couldn’t get wet. It would break if I was – forced to – swim during PE. And oh, the lies I told my White friends back then! They’d ask, “How long does it take you to straighten your hair every morning?” I’d reply, “Oh, awhile.” Never letting on that I actually hadn’t washed it for 2 weeks. Because, in my mind, telling them that would make them think I was dirty (when in reality, it’s just not good to wash, blow dry, and hot iron relaxed hair very often). And so, when my first serious boyfriend didn’t want to rub my scalp because my hair was “too greasy”, I pretty much deemed my hair off-limits. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my head rubbed; it was more that I was ashamed. And, quite honestly, having someone you care about halfheartedly rub your head for a second and then wipe off his hand on his jeans burns more than any relaxer on the shelf.

Of course, these stories are from high school. I don’t have a relaxer anymore and I’m proud of my hair now, but I’ll be honest – the insecurity lingers. That’s why, even today, there are only a handful of people who I allow near my head. They’re the ones who I know are actually enjoying my hair. The ones I trust with all my insecurities. Because, as a woman of color, when someone rubs your head you’re completely dropping your guard, thus putting your complete SELF into their hands. It can be sensual, but definitely not by definition. It’s love (think Celie “scratching the song” out of Shug’s head in “The Color Purple”).

It’s sacred.

So back to Chris Rock and men not being allowed to touch Black women’s hair. My advice: If you’re a man and you’re with a Black woman, offer to give her a legit scalp massage. Say you’ll be careful not to mess up her hair – all you want is for her to lay down and close her eyes and relax. She may turn you down, but believe me, the offer will light her up.