Let’s get this straight. It’s not magical, it’s not uncommon and it definitely doesn’t warrant wondering hands. Black people hair is no more spectacular (or afro-tastic) than <insert colour> people hair.
Throughout school however, this was not the case. Of course in college and university the excitement died down, but in primary and secondary (where black people were in short supply) my hair attracted a lot of attention.
I would see them coming from a mile away. Kids, bolting down the playground with beady eyes and gnashing teeth - some even foaming at the mouth, like a rabid animal. They were going to touch my hair again. Most had a gentle touch which would take the form of a delicate pat.
“Oh, it’s just so soft!”
They would tell their friends, also thriving with a relentless curiosity.
“Can I touch it?”
And after touching, they too would murmur in agreement with the softness.
But others took a more, ‘thorough’ approach. It was almost like they were looking for something, never found it, but carried on looking anyway. These people would rage their hands through my hair so vigorously, sometimes I didn’t know where my afro stopped and their hands began. On one regrettable occasion, this was accompanied by ‘wildly inappropriate’ sound effects.
As a kid, growing up, in a school, sucked in by all the social pressure to conform and be cool, of course I didn’t mind the attention. In fact, I loved it. During my first few years of primary school I was pretty much one of four other black kids. Essentially, I was your go to guy for a ‘feel of Africa’. My only regret now is that I didn’t capitalise on this and allow my friends to touch my hair for money. (That probably isn’t so bad in itself because let’s be honest, that’s not too far away from actual prostitution.)
I guess the only bad bits came when people started to demand more. I’ve already mentioned the example of one guy ravaging my hair accompanied with ‘grunts’, but there was another occasion where a girl attempted combing my hair. ‘Attempt’ is key. What she did (unknowingly and not on purpose) was cause me pain. You see, I don’t think people understand what it takes to get black hair looking good. It’s got to be combed, but you’ve got to do it when it’s still soft - like straight after a shower, and maybe moisturise it too - otherwise it hurts. I must’ve been out of the shower for six hours when this girl attempted to comb my hair. Imagine sticking a shovel into a pool of almost solid cement and not letting science win. Now imagine that on my head.
“Well, why didn’t you stop her?”
My advice to you, before you touch the hair belonging to your African friend, is universal; applying itself to many more of life’s queries and intricacies:
Get consent :)