Please Don’t Touch My Kid’s Hair
By Puja K McClymont, a london parent who runs a mindful life coaching
practice called Frankly Coaching and wishes more people would mind her son’s hair
As city dwellers, there are many ties that bind. The lack of physical space, the frenetic but palpable energy, the never-ending list of fun things to do, the abundance of over-priced coffee shops and the big adios to personal space. And there is no greater platform than which to witness the lack of personal space than a city commute. Be it a bus, a shared ride, the subway, train or just a walk down a busy avenue at prime time, the city commute can make even the most claustrophobic lover one giant claustrophobe.
Huh? Yes, you read that right. People touch my son’s hair all the time whether on a crowded London commute, in the park, at the supermarket, even at nursery - the hair touchers come out to play.
This is what usually happens:
Stranger: “OMG your son is so cute, his hair is amazing!”
Me: “Ah, thank you that’s very nice of… [STRANGER TOUCHES HIS HAIR]
Let me back up a little here and give you some context. My kid is of mixed heritage as I am Indian and my husband is Jamaican. Our son is a very cute (OK I know I’m his mom but he is THAT cute) product of our relationship and he happens to have the most gorgeous curls which we left natural in all their glory.
But we recently cut his curls off. And I hate that we felt like we had too.
The decision to cut his hair was two fold: maintaining them was a lot of work for me but if I’m being totally honest, I actually was getting anxious that I might just punch the next person in the face if they touched his hair.
You see, my child’s hair means different things to different people. For us (his parents) it’s a definer of his personality, his strength...his whole being. He was the tiniest yet loudest baby in the NICU ward -born at 30 weeks - with a beautiful head of hair that was constantly complimented during our hospital stay so his curls quite literally represent life to me.
As he has grown into himself, his ‘crazy Sideshow Bob’ hair (this is what we’d call it because some days it really had a mind of its own!) was a defining part of his beauty. For our son to be so confident (and cute) about his hair almost felt like a step in breaking stereotypes and changing the conversation of beauty among our races.
Because when I was growing up the kids who were told they had beautiful hair all had straight locks...not wild curls.
As well as the usual challenges he’s going to face just being a human, he’s got the added attention of his race. In the Indian culture, it’s not typical to be with an Afro-Caribbean person -like my husband. I choose to be with my husband despite my culture’s narrow ideas on race because I was raised to accept everyone (even though ironically when it came down to my choice of life partner, my mum had other opinions.) However, we are through the worst of this which you can read about in this article if you want to learn more about race stigma within the Asian community. Getting back to the point, my son will unfortunately face an array of race stigmas from both his backgrounds, from society at large and the rest of the world.
So yes touching anyone’s hair without permission is just not OK but touching my child’s hair has different connotations.
To the stranger who is transfixed by my son’s hair:
And then touches it.
You’re touching my child.
Yes, you’re touching my child.
You are violating my son right in front of me.
You are singling him out because of his hair.
You are drawing unnecessary attention to him because of his hair.
You are contributing to racial templates that he will now form.
You are ensuring I have to overly praise his hair to prevent him from getting a complex (however, this won’t work)
So I might have to send him to therapy and his insecurities about his hair comes out by hating on his parents.
You are socially unaware - I suggest you see someone about that.
You give me permission to touch you?!
Which brings me back to a (potentially polarizing) tactic I enacted before chopping my son’s locks. If someone touches my son’s hair, I touch theirs back. Granted, this is met with nervous laughter but it’s amazing how if you touch their hair back, how quickly they realize how unacceptable it is what they just did. And in that moment my son (through me) has won a bit through delivering self awareness.
We live in a time where cities are incredible melting pots of diverse cultures with an array of culinary, culture and international fashions. Cities are an exciting and vibrant place to raise children. However, with the ever-increasing popularity of racism today, it’s essential that we as the minority in these Western societies, speak out and speak out loud when things are not ok with us. It is imperative that we change the conversation, we change stereotypes and that we stand proud of our heritage and everything that comes from it including (but not limited to) hair.