These are the breaks

 During the 1980s, African-American hair went through perhaps its most difficult transition — the Jheri curl. In a nutshell, the curl involved sitting in a salon (all day), having caustic paste slathered in your hair, then having it set in rollers and then heated under a dryer. 

 
Needless to say, pretty often after getting a curl, you left the salon with chemical burns but a hairstyle that was “easier” to manage. Easier, that is, until the activator dried out. Activator kept the curl moist. Many remember the movie “Coming to America” and the “Soul Glo” family. The spots left on the couch when they moved was the problem with activator. It was more messy than practical.
 
As I got older, I started to ask for the biggest rollers the beautician had so that I had little to no curl in my hair. I wanted to take my hair from Kurtis Blow curl to a very relaxed Michael Jackson curl. It needed to look like I was born with it. If I were going to wear my oppression, then it had to look like mine.
 
Ever controversial, black hair is the epicenter of perhaps more racist interaction than any part of the black experience after skin color. It is a miracle, a wonder and, no, you may not touch it.
 
Often both my son (who is bi-racial) and I are the victims of Hair Assault. We are subjected to commentary like “Oh how cute,” or “How did you do this?” We are asked to be touched. Sometimes we aren’t asked. Our hair is immediately the locale of an uninvited touch. 
 
Just the other day as I put my son in a stroller at Target, a woman, whom I didn’t know, ran across the parking lot toward us and immediately stuck her fingers into my baby’s curls. Who does that? Her utter lack of boundaries was astonishing. However, she isn’t alone. She was just another in a series of people who perpetuate behavior rooted deeply in the subjugation of blacks.
 
Now listen to me, white people, and share this information with your friends and families. Do not touch black hair without invitation. Do not ask for an invitation to touch black hair. Do not ask questions about black hair. The questions about the black body are 50 years too late. It is time to stop the fetish.
 
For centuries, black hair has been not only a source of beauty and pride, much as hair is for most people. Children were taught how to plant crops with their hair sectioned into neat cornrows or taught to run for freedom with their hair braided other ways. Black hair is rich with historical significance.
 
When slaves were bought or sold, they were made to stand on blocks in front of crowds of other slaves and their white masters. On the block, they were displayed, examined without invitation. Their hair was touched, their naked flesh scrutinized and their dignity stripped. So it is this legacy of intrusion and examination that remains foul for most black people when they are asked to put their blackness on display.
 
When I am asked, “Can I touch your hair?,” as much as I feel attacked by the question, when my son is subjected to this, I am not only hurt, I am enraged.
 
I know people find his hair cute. Children with a head full of wild corkscrews are often pretty cute. The issue is that for my son, he is not any kid with curly hair. He is a child of color with a hair texture that is firmly somewhere between that of his white father and mine. His hair comes with the same legacy, and I do not want him to grow up with the filth of racism’s past causing him to think he must submit to this analysis. 
 
So if I say, “No, you may not touch my son’s hair or mine,” don’t be offended. It’s a boundary with me, and I am not happy when it is crossed, especially without permission.
 
The bottom line is this. We’ve had enough time to examine each other. When black people tan, we get darker. When we get a perm, we are straightening our hair. When we get a curl, well … we have bad taste, but more seriously, we have differences. Differences are OK. They are not spaces for analysis, and nobody’s differences need to be qualified.