How We’ve Transformed From Accept Me to Respect Me

Photo by @gruvyedrew with rights to use from Sarah Watts.

A Black woman’s discourse on a decade of growth between India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” and Solange Knowles’ “Don’t Touch My Hair”

Like many, I’ve had Solange’s A Seat at the Table in rotation since I first heard it. Who am I kidding? I’ve had the album on REPEAT since I first heard it, and with good reason.

Now, many who know me, know that I love music, and I LOVE hair, which is why I feel like it would be a disservice to myself to not add to the commentary surrounding the latest triumph for Black women around the world, and more specifically, what I’m calling the unanimous Black Girl Magic Anthem, “Don’t Touch My Hair.” This song is a strong and vivid depiction of how we as Black women have transformed in literally a decade since India Arie’s “I am Not My Hair” was released.

Before I continue, let me just say that I am not claiming to be a historian or expert on the Black woman and her existence, but I do believe that I have a certain level of credibility because I am, well, a Black Woman, and my melanin pops just like the next. My hair is also a big part of who I am, even on unruly days, and I think it’s important to highlight the growth that I feel I and many have experienced over the spate of 10 years in regards to our hair and desire to be respected as the queens that we know we are.

Essentially, Solange Knowles and India Arie are saying the same thing, but taking two very different approaches in how they address internal and external attitudes about our hair. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought or even heard about the association of beauty with finer, longer, less coarse hair. In a world where Eurocentric looks are frequently touted as the most beautiful, and where Black women are considered “de mule uh de world (Hurston 1937),” it’s no surprise that we would want to rid ourselves of our natural looking hair to make ourselves more appealing.

I’m not ashamed to say I was addicted to the creamy crack. Though I didn’t initially make the decision to relax my hair (since I was only a little princess at the time), I continued to do so when I was old enough to make the decision until 2013 when I joined #TeamNatural. People thought of #TeamNatural as a phase or as some trend that would lose its momentum, but it was actually our way of saying, enough is enough. Similar to Ms. Arie, we were declaring that we are not our hair. Having relaxed or non-chemicaled hair does not define us nor make us anything less than what we are as women.

India Arie sings “Good hair means curls and waves (no), Bad hair means you look like a slave (no),” and it forces us to rethink the way we judge hair. She also tells the story of how she shaved off all of her hair, and how it became time for us to “redefine who we be.” At this point, she’s practically over it. She’s over the questioning of her hair in regards to her professionalism, her friendliness and her integrity. She wants to put an end to the judgment of Black women’s hair and basically pleas for our acceptance by saying we are not our hair.

WELL, that’s all fine and dandy, but I think we can pretty much agree that WE ARE OUR HAIR. Our hair is a part of us, and we no longer need to be docile about it. My hair doesn’t determine whether I’m beautiful BUT it is a part of what makes me beautiful. My hair doesn’t dictate whether I should be a stripper or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. My hair is not on my head to be judged and ridiculed by someone who isn’t trimming my ends or laying my edges for the GAWDS. In fact, just don’t touch my hair. Don’t touch me. RESPECT me from afar. Solange basically got in my head, took my thoughts regarding my existence, made a bomb ass song and video and then said, “Here girl, I got you.” I’m all the way here for it!

I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve heard “Is that your real hair?” “How did you get your hair to do that?” “That ain’t your real hair anyway,” said a Black man after I swung my hair in his face to reject his number. (JK, I didn’t swing my hair in his face but the rest of that story is true, SMH). People want to come up and touch your hair like it’s on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. PLEASE, DO NOT TOUCH MY HAIR.

Solange sings “Don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear,” and later sings “They don’t understand what it means to me.” It’s facetious that we even let ourselves be succumbed to such ridicule for so long by people who have no idea about what it means to be a Black woman. Then, she sings “You Know this hair is my shit, rode the ride, I gave it time,” almost as if she is acknowledging the journey it took for her to accept what’s naturally hers, but that she’s finally glad she did, which is evident when she says “What you say to me?” At this point, she’s no longer taking any degradation. She’s proud, She’s Black and she’s demanding respect. That’s what we should all be doing, whether we choose to wear it natural, relaxed, in weaves or braids.

To overcome the stigma of the certain ways in which we style our hair is a symbol of strength. It takes courage and a love for self to finally get to this point where we can fully embrace our individual styles and show others that we are beautiful. Our hair is simply a way of expressing this and our creativity, which is something both Arie and Solange agree upon. The difference here is that Solange isn’t asking for acceptance; she’s just saying, this is who I am and you’re going to respect that. Over the course of the decade, we’ve basically gone from “what’s your issue with my hair?” to “I DARE you to step to me about my hair.”

“Don’t Touch My Hair” makes me so very proud to advocate for this movement that is uplifting Black women around the world and making us feel empowered to own our most versatile and unique characteristics. The days where we should feel the need to assimilate because our appearance isn’t accepted as appropriate in society are over. Be who you are. Rock the styles you want. Be your BEST. I know I will. Who gon’ check us, boo?

1. Arie, India, Shannon Sanders & Drew Ramsey. (2006). “I Am Not My Hair.” Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship [CD]. Detroit: Motown
2. Hurston, Zora N. (1937). Their Eyes Were Watching God, USA: University of Illinois Press
3. Knowles, Solange & Sampha Sisay. (2016). “Don’t Touch My Hair.” A Seat at the Table.

Tabresha is a D.C. Metro transplant who loves the beach and tanning cheeks. She doesn’t always rock a twist out, but when she does, it’s poppin.