Event: You Can Touch My Hair

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For years black hair has been more than just hair in American culture. It’s been a suppressed racial characteristic, a symbol of political protest and political change and most recently the cause of some very awkward and offensive situations. We, at Un’ruly, have delved deep into the question and have shared our thoughts on the Huffington Post. But to take things even further, we’re exploring the tactile fascination with black hair by holding an interactive public art exhibit in NYC.

10/24/13 update: you can touch my hair, a short film

Learn more about the film and it’s premiere here.

6/18/13 update: what were we thinking?

Many have asked, “What were you thinking?!” We explain here.

…You Can Touch My Hair is now over, but the exhibition goes on. Any time a stranger tugs on some unsuspecting person’s hair, a person is put on display. Any time the question, “Can I touch your hair?” is asked, a person is put on display. These barely noticeable encounters that happen everyday is the realexhibition.

People have asked: “You’ve started this conversation, so now what’s your solution?” You’ll find this crazy (you probably already think I’m crazy ;-), but YCTMH is the solution…. Continue reading…

For those just joining the conversation, feel free to read the article that preceded the event on the Huffington Post: Can I Touch Your Hair?  And check out our recap of Day 1’s event (video included).

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Team Unruly
Team Unruly
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  1. I think this exhibit is bizarre and in a way, attention seeking.
    If someone is that interested in what ANYONE else’s hair feels like, they should either get psychological counseling for a medical/ psychosocial issue OR go to a beauty school and get an education about different hair textures AND get a life.

    This kind of ‘exhibit’ just encourages the further viewing of black women as some sort of exotic ‘it’ who needs to be studied, picked over, and even petted to be understood. In my opinion, there is just as much wrong with the planners of this exhibit as there is with the ‘museum goers’ who come to pet hair.

  2. Thank you so much for putting this out into the world. You really made me think about how I as a white woman view these issues. I have been guilty of asking black women questions about their hair and – one time – asking if I could touch it. The context there was that a black friend of my daughter’s was telling us about how her mom had just braided her hair. I asked a few questions about maintenance and then asked if I could touch it. She didn’t seem to mind, but thanks to your insights I don’t expect I’ll be asking that question of any black woman again because I really don’t want to give offense.

    I’ve always been curious about black hair. It’s partly because it’s different from mine, which is an odd mix of soft and coarse and random waves and frizz all over the place. But it’s also because I’m envious. Black women can do so many different things with their hair that look awesome on them but would look absolutely stupid on me (just as I think those braids looked stupid on Bo Derek, popular opinion notwithstanding). Better yet, black women can leave their hair alone for a week or longer if they choose. I’d kill to have those kinds of low-maintenance options. I get mad at just having to wash my hair, and all I ever do is throw it back in a bun or ponytail because I resent having to spend time on it.

    So if it helps, I’m not thinking “zoo display” or “other” when I wonder about a black woman’s hair. I’m generally thinking about how beautiful black women are (far prettier than white women, IMO), how cool that hairstyle is, and whether I could learn anything from you about hair care, like how to get rid of all this damn frizz. But as I said, you have made me rethink my approach and I will be a lot more cautious in the future.

  3. I’m a 50 year old white male. This reminds of when I was younger. I grew up “working poor” in the South. When I was a teenager, I took a job as a busboy in a Chinese restaurant. One of the dishwashers was black and had a large afro (it was the 70s). The Chinese staff who just arrived (from Taiwan) were fascinated with his hair and they just “had to touch it”! He thought it was funny and like the novelty. (BTW he was an accounting major at Norfolk State). Thanks for the story!

  4. What a creative way to draw attention to important issues and start a dialogue. You have a lot of people talking! Good job!

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