Confronting the microaggressions surrounding the students of color’s hair. 


Amaris Christian, Staff Writer

In my family, hair has always been an attribute that we cherish and celebrate as though it were our crown. Historically, curly and kinky hair has been demonized or deemed inferior. In the beginning of this year, my first at Horace Mann, I felt refreshed by many students’ ability to practice empathy for the students of color at our school, especially since, in my previous experiences at Predominantly White Institutions, Black hair was looked upon with ridicule. I was so excited to become a part of a community that embraced and accepted my hair; but when I later consistently experienced and heard of microaggressions relating to many non-white students’ hair, I was disappointed and discouraged.

Over the last school year, many non-Black students have asked: “Can I touch your hair?” In almost every instance, I’m left with a feeling of emptiness — a result of a nation that is still divided by miseducation but also filled with internalized racism that many people do not recognize. 

In almost all of these instances, I have replied to the question with a polite “no,” and somehow, each time, their reaction is pure shock. People are flabbergasted that someone would deny them the ability to touch their hair to satisfy their own ignorant curiosity. I find it comical that someone would ask for this consent and feel annoyed because I made a reasonable choice and response.

These microaggressions take an emotional toll on me and other students of color at the school. They lead students to feel “othered” and objectified for their hair. I have heard from many of my friends who viewed their hair in a more negative light after other students asked to touch their hair. Some might see these questions as healthy curiosity, but what people do not understand is that Black and POC students do not have to teach white students about their hair and should not have to explain or justify denying anyone access to their hair. 

I am more than my hair, but it’s unfortunate that Black and other POC students have to endure these feelings when hair is a symbol of their identity and should be regarded with positivity. This ignorance towards approaching curly hair can leave POC students feeling tired and isolated from their white peers. One of my friends experienced an instance where a white student grabbed her hair randomly, without asking her for permission. This incident reflects the mindlessness and utter ignorance of the student who grabbed her hair. In addition, to touch a peer’s hair without their permission illustrates entitlement and audacity. Disrespectful actions like these create a divided community where POC students are not able to feel secure or comfortable in their own school. This should never be the experience of any student at Horace Mann, as we certainly have the resources and ability to properly educate students on topics such as these. 

There is a difference between asking out of curiosity and asking out of ignorance. When people ask me questions about my hair it implies that they genuinely care about my answer, because they want to learn and are coming from a place of humility. It allows me to open up and answer their questions without fear of an unwanted conversation. However, as a Black student, when a white peer asks to touch my hair I feel the question comes from a place of disrespect as they do not want to learn about my culture — they want to see my hair put on display for them like an animal. 

What I and many of my POC friends have observed is that when someone asks to touch our hair, their hand is already extended. This hand reveals that they were not asking for our genuine answer. In actuality, they expected to be able to touch our hair. As a result, it is difficult for me to accept the idea that someone could honestly ask a question about my hair in hopes to talk about my culture.

Many white students are not exposed to students of color outside of school. Countless POC students are thus forced to withstand daily ignorance from their white peers. Although ignoring microaggressions and quickly evading uncomfortable conversations and questions about our hair can appear as an easier route short term, it unfortunately results in students never realizing that their questions, actions, and discussions are ignorant. 

I do not believe that all students of color should have to give a presentation to their white classmates and explain the danger of these queries, nor do I think that every POC student with curly hair has to say no when someone asks to touch their hair. My experience is that when white students touch my hair or ask to touch my hair it makes me feel like an animal in a zoo. It is an uncomfortable, tormenting, and vexing event because the white people who ask these questions and touch my hair will never be able to understand the pain that their actions cause. They will never be able to experience my struggle as a Black woman and that is what hurts the most. This close-minded, selfish ideology of asking to touch and feel someone’s curly hair renders the goal of a real Horace Mann community nearly impossible: it forces POC students with curly hair in a box as the “other” of the community and leaves white students as invading inquirers of POC hair. 

White students need to be educated on how to address POC students and curly hair appropriately so that the students of color can feel both safe and respected at school.