Thursday, June 13, 2013

You Can Touch My Hair Exhibit in New York City is Controversial

What began as an idea spurred on by the rhetoric surrounding the “Can I touch your hair” comments many women with natural hair encounter, ended up as a living New York City conversation piece this past weekend. In an effort to bring light to the controversy, Antonia Opiah set up a one-weekend-only exhibit entitled “You Can Touch My Hair.”

Much as its name suggests, the exhibit, located in Bryant Park, allowed passers-by the opportunity to touch natural hair in an atmosphere without bias. But, better than the opportunity to touch natural hair was the conversation sparked by the exhibit amongst the natural hair community.

The “You Can Touch My Hair Exhibit” had very few online supporters. By placing what is a mild annoyance for some into an exhibit for all to see, many felt that the showcase was more of a human petting zoo than something to encourage dialogue and open minds. 

Opiah, founder of, said, “Because if you’re actually friends with a person, ‘Can I touch your hair?’ is a question you don’t have to ask because you know that you can either just do it or know to steer clear. And if you don’t know any black people that well enough, maybe you should be asking yourself a different question.”


Watch: Huffington Post discusses the “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit featuring the Opiah and Professor Imani Perry of African American Studies at Princeton University and Michaela Angela Davis, Image Activist / Editorial Brand Manager at BET.

I disagree with Opiah in having the “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit. I agree that African-American hair is something to be celebrated. However, I feel that the event exoticized African-American hair. I think a forum would have done a better job of sparking a racial dialogue. Having the opportunity to touch African-American hair can be a form of cultural exchange if it is presented in the correct format. Instead, I think many people who participated in the event simply satisfied a curiosity. And as for people who have never touched or learned about African-American hair, I think it is a reflection of the lack of relationships they have with other cultures.


photos courtesy of,,, and Taren Guy

What do you think about the exhibit? Are you for it or against it?

More: 'You Can Touch My Hair' Exhibition: A Social Experiment, NOT A Movement via Huffington Post

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