In a recent documentary, the Image Activist Michaela Angela Davis, the founder of Un’ruly Antonia Opiah, and the model Autumn McHugh join the Miss Black Massachusetts Safiya Songhai and several other black women in a discussion and study of hair. In June, they hosted a public exhibit entitled, “You Can Touch My Hair,” in which women of color held signs inviting passersby to touch their hair. They chose to call it an “exhibition” to confront the way black women in America have been treated and examined by the white majority.
Drawing comparisons to the 19th-Century’s Sarah Baartman, a Khoihoi woman who was presented to the Western masses as a “freak,” these modern women express how they feel when people ask to touch their hair. One woman tells the camera, “It [feels] invasive,” and another explains, “That is exploitation.” Throughout the exhibition, people tentatively reach their hands out and stoke the women’s hair; “It’s soft like a baby’s,” one says.
The women eloquently explain that, for many black women, there’s no such thing as “just hair.” “Black people are persecuted because of their hair,” says Davis. Another woman echoes, “Your hair’s political” and “Our hair holds our history.” The exhibition and the documentary aren’t meant to embarrass anyone, but rather to highlight the weight of the way we discuss and think about black hair. Davis asks that we bring ignorance into the conversation in an attempt to cure it, that we seek educate one another. Watch the amazing documentary below.