‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ - call to respect personal boundaries ahead of Leeds Black History Month event

BME Women Liberation Coordinator Martha Adebambo
BME Women Liberation Coordinator Martha Adebambo
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‘Don’t Touch My Hair.’

That’s the title and message of a special event taking place at Leeds University Union (LUU) today to mark the 30th anniversary of Black History Month.

Leeds economics and maths student Ngozi Diamond

Leeds economics and maths student Ngozi Diamond

Named after a Solange Knowles song which includes the lyrics, ‘Don’t touch my hair, don’t touch my soul,’ the event, organised by the union’s Liberation group, aims to celebrate the diversity of Afro-Caribbean hair whilst spreading awareness of the discomfort some black people feel when others touch it.

Speaking ahead of the event, BME (black and minority ethnic) women’s Liberation co-ordinator Martha Adebambo, 21, said: “Hair shapes part of people’s identity, especially black people because black hair doesn’t really fit the standard norm; Eurocentric beauty that focuses on long straight hair.

“The problem is that often people who are interested in it don’t respect personal boundaries. A lot of people have touched my hair without asking.”

Martha, of Woodhouse, added: “I was having a blood test - I hate needles - and the nurse puts the needle inside me. Then she proceeds with the other hand to touch my hair and be like, ‘Oh, your braids are so nice.’

“I just kept quiet, and that kind of happens all the time.

“You want to say, ‘Don’t touch my hair’, but then you don’t want them to label you as the ‘angry black person’.”

Martha went on to explain that black hair - such as braids, afros or dreadlocks - is a political issue.

“It’s to do with the structure of society that they’re seen in that way,” she said.

“My sister, she works as a solicitor and she would never wear her natural hair out to work.

“As a black woman, I really shouldn’t have to think about if my hair, say it was in braids, would mean I don’t get a job or I do get a job.”

University of Leeds economics and maths student Ngozi Diamond, 21, from Hyde Park, said she had also been made uncomfortable by people touching her hair.

“I’ve had so many similar experiences. I used to get the bus back from school and feel people touched my hair from the seat behind me,” she said.

She added: “Once I went in to have an operation. I was under general anesthetic, and when I woke up there was a nurse who was taking off my cap and touching my hair. It felt like an invasion of your personal space.

“People will, instead of asking you, they’ll often just feel like they can just go up to you and touch your hair. It sort of dehumanises you.”

Alisha Lakhani, BME Liberation co-ordinator, said the ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ event is trying to raise awareness of issues such as these.

“Hair’s such an important part of your identity, for me personally I think it’s quite defining,” she said.

“It seems simplistic but when it comes down to it, its really important in terms of how you see yourself and body positivity.”

The event will start tonight at 6pm in Function, Leeds University Union. It has three parts: an exhibition displaying the diversity of black hair; a film featuring hair horror stories; and a discussion panel.