Travel and Tech

Can I touch your Hair? and Other Nigerian (African) Travel Stories

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Hair has never been a big deal to me. Wait, no, I take that back. I cried my eyes out when I cut my hair at the beginning of junior secondary school. Having being brought up with the narrative that my hair was my crown and glory, I felt very ashamed to watch the barber’s clipper dig into that crown and rip every shred off. 3 years later, after I got into senior secondary school, my hair was back, all was right with the world and my hair was just that – hair.

Some people have short hair, some have long. Some have natural non-relaxed hair while others have natural hair, softened and straightened by relaxers; some wear their hair in braids, some have weaves and wigs. There was no big deal about it all. Hair did not represent anything to me.

Moremi_Statue

As I grew older, I got to style it any way I wanted. I wore braids this week and curly long weaves that touched my back the next week. I had it straightened out one moment and considered letting the thick undergrowth run their course the next. No one asked any questions. All I got were… ‘You should braid your hair more’. ‘Short hair looks better on you’. ‘I love your bohemian wig’… It was all normal.

And then, I took my first international trip…

I had braided my hair and was walking out of a cafeteria when I felt a slight tug on it. Turning around, I found my colleague red in the face. “I just wanted to know what it feels like”, she said. The next series of questions were ones I would get accustomed to in the course of my travels to predominantly non-black countries. ‘Is this your real hair?’ ‘How do you wash it?’ ‘Do you re-braid it every morning?’ and the occasional ‘Did you cut it?’ after I show up with a shorter hairstyle.

My first reaction was amusement. It felt quite funny that a stranger, or in this case, a slightly familiar person, would reach out into my personal space to feel my hair without even thinking of asking first. I remember responding to all her questions in the best way I could and shrugging off the incidence as a one-off case.

Nile River Cruise

I would later find this to be inaccurate and from my travels and interactions with other black travellers, I would discover that several others viewed hair quite differently to me. That there was more to it and actions like the one above than I thought.

Why, even more than being an invasion of personal space, it is extremely offensive and racist to touch (black) people’s hair and why one shouldn’t even ask. According to these views, touching black people’s hair does not stem from curiosity, and even if it did, the misrepresentation of black hair in the media was to blame for this fascination.

Living in Nigeria, I cannot relate to this narrative because hair like mine has always been well represented. However, I cannot help but think about it each time I travel and have to deal with many questions about my hair.

On the other end of the spectrum is a conversion that I have to come to hear over time in Nigeria. In this case, the fascination is with natural hair. The lack of which indicates surrender to colonialism and oppression, and a lack of pride in one’s African heritage. Ultimately, the conversation still boils down to race.

driving to midelt

In all these, I have failed to view hair in any racial light. I would read articles that do so and think about being in India, experiencing the same fascination and curiosity about my hair as being in France. Asking to touch my hair isn’t offensive to me. If a hundred people asked to do so in a single day, it will get quite annoying but this is never the case.

I would also think about my own natural relaxed hair. How choosing to have it this way has nothing to do with any narrative forced down my throat by the media. One might argue that I don’t know enough about the deep impacts of social racism to come to this conclusion. I would argue that for now, this ignorance is bliss and that hair, for the most part, is still just that. Hair.

Abu Simbel

In the latest episode on our travel channel, Through our Eyes, Mofe and I talk more about this and some other questions we get as Nigerian travellers. We know that some of these aren’t peculiar to Nigerian travellers alone. We would love to hear about your experiences as well and if we share some of them in common.

Do you find it offensive when people ask to touch your hair?

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What are some of the questions you’ve gotten as a Nigerian Traveller?

Black Travel and Hair

6 Comments

  1. Haha, what happens if the would-be hair toucher is a witch? Just asking for a daughter,🤣🤣

  2. I hardly carry my fro because I don’t want it to shrink but when I do, I regret it 99.99% of the time and this is from living in Nigeria. I remember going to find something to eat one day and someone I didn’t know literally dragged the tip of my hair and touched the middle and went “ha I thought it was a wig, it’s so beautiful”. I had to tell her that as much as I enjoyed the compliment, I wasn’t a fan of what she did. All it takes is to ask me one simple question “is this your real hair?” and then “can I touch it?”, I’d be more than willing to allow you do so, just don’t pull my hair. What if it’s the day I decide to wear a wig and then it removes in public, haa we’d fight that day 😂

    • Hmm, this is interesting. From your comment and the Rioba’s comment below, looks like the topic of hair and whether or not strangers touch it is not a foreign ‘issue’ alone.

  3. Miss Rioba

    I wear my 4c non relaxed hair natural about 90 percent of the time and I feel like because I’m always in my kinky hair, it happens a lot and it becomes annoying especially when it’s from fellow Africans 😂. Just the other day I walked into a salon to straighten my hair and the Salonist who’s African btw literally dug her fingers into my Afro trying to find my scalp saying” OMG. I thought you were rocking a weave”

    Imagine this happening to you a few times a week. It’s annoying. SMH..

    • Haha, that must have been so annoying – and painful! I cringed thinking about it. I don’t really know much about hair grades but I just imagine someone digging through my non-relaxed hair, I would scream! Hairdressers should know better!

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