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As part of a social experiment a group of black women — one natural, one loc’ed and on relaxed — stood on a street corner in New York holding signs saying “You Can Touch My Hair”. The experiment/exhibit is the brainchild of Antonia Opiah, a hair blogger. In an article for The Huffington Post she states;

Black hair is unique. It requires different care techniques and routines. And in a country where we primarily see commercials for white hair products and magazines that mainly cover white beauty topics and TV shows that mainly feature white characters, we, and those curious about us, have to find information about our hair from other sources.

It’s easy to cite the media as the cause for underexposure to the various cultures of America. The media definitely plays a huge role. But another factor is the lack of the right kind of curiosity across the American population.

The exhibit ran today and will run again on June 8th from 2 to 4 p.m. in New York City’s Union Square.

Okay, so I usually post articles without commentary, but for this I had to.

I think it bothers me that the impetus is put on us as black women to become accessible — and in some cases acceptable — to other ethnicities. I understand that black people are just 12% of the population so not everyone has ‘access’ to a black person. But it’s well documented that, for many Americans, segregation is a matter of choice and not circumstance. I fear that a display like this allows some people the opportunity to dip into black culture for an experience before returning to the ‘safety’ of a significantly less diverse world.

A significant percentage of women in the natural community are married interracially. Which proves that it is possible for men of other races to form meaningful and substantive bonds with black women without these types of displays.

I am still firmly opposed to strangers touching my hair. And while I take no offense at strangers asking questions about it (I welcome it), I hope we’ve gotten to a point in this country where my commonalities with a person of another ethnicity are more interesting to explore than my differences.

But that’s just me… And on an unrelated note, those colored locs and that curly fro are FIRE! What are your thoughts on this ladies?

Photos are from’s Instagram account.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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270 Comments on "Black Women Stand on NY Street and Allow Strangers to Touch Their Hair as Part of Social Experiment"

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As far as I’m concerned this is extremely demeaning. What even is the experiment? Why are you letting white people pet you??????

Love Lee Naps

Does anyone know what the experiment revealed?


[…] Black Women Stand on NY Street and Allow Strangers to Touch Their Hair as Part of Social Experiment Whether you approved of this social experiment or not, it achieved its goal of sparking a […]

I do not think the exhbit was to assimilate but simply a way to welocme curosity and questions. To me it opened the door to understanding. Ie you never ask questions then how will you ever know or being to undestand? I read on Huffington post about to exhibit and one lady compared our hair to magic. We can do so many things with it and people are amazed. I have locs anf I get so many questions not only from my white counterparts but my black/brown people as well. There are so many myths and sterptypes that need to… Read more »
I don’t really know what they’re trying to find out from this experiment. Don’t they already know there’s a curiosity? It doesn’t make sense, but I do think it’s kinda sweet in a way by letting others feel comfortable expressing their curiosity without feeling like a weirdo (“Hey…can I touch your hair…?). There does need to be more coverage in the media about black women & their hair products, not so other races accept them, but so they can accept themselves. The media has a powerful effect on people, & when you’re not represented, you’re not going to feel as… Read more »
That’s not true kinky natural hair, she is mix breed:)That’s why they wanted to touch it…LOL, Let me bring my thick kinky curls , they be running..LOL, I love knowing that our hair is one of the strongest if not the strongest in the world! It seem our natural hair reflex our life in this world sometimes good/ bad , sometimes I feel liking taking a scissor to it, but that’s when I allow it to get dry before combing..LOL… I have no worries, with or without relaxer or weaves I love me including my kinky curly afro:) Ladies we… Read more »

Just because she is Fair skinned doesn’t mean she is biracial. Her hair looks like it is stretched or blown out so we don’t know what her actual texture is. If her hair has no chemicals then it is considered in its natural state, regardless if its kinky, kinky-curly, curly, or wavy. Why must we separate and categorize ourselves instead of embracing all types of hair? Even if you were joking.


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Curiosity is part of the human experience. I’m not quite sure what to think of the experiment, other than perhaps the ladies found it amusing that different ethnicities would wonder what tresses like theirs felt like to the touch. My black coworkers had thought the same way about my ‘white’ hair, and I was not insulted, only amused.

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I am not sure what this experiment was to reveal. I do realize that each person has a right to their hair journey. My journey is about self acceptance and owning my look. I know some people are doing it because she’s doing it, fashion, attention….fill in the blank. Why break down a box only to build another box. When I saw this link something in my heart frowned. They are owning their look and do not ask if you want to touch their hair so what are you trying to prove?


The same people who want to touch you hair are the same people who want you to CUT it all off before they give you a job??????

I think how one feels about natural hair in general will affect whether or they are open to other people’s curiosity. I’m a Nigerian living on this side of the world so a lot of the ladies I knew in Nigeria with relaxed hair chose to keep their hair that way because they felt it was easier to manage. Some thought it was a more modern look but (shrugs) everyone is free to form their own opinions. There are also a lot of African ladies with natural hair, some for religious reasons and others who hate relaxers & love their… Read more »

I honestly don’t know what to think about this ‘experiment’, but I do hope those ladies washed their hair when they got home. Who knows what they got on it from those strangers.


I find that the girl with the biggest hair in the photo is the most attractive of the three. The jawn with the fake hair on the right is the butchest of the crew… thats just me but people want to touch the jawn on the left hair’s more just cuz she bad.


wth cares who you find attractive? Why do you scrubs keep showing up in websites for women anyway?


What the hell is a jawn? LOL, English, please..

Well I’m not sure what I think of what the ladies did, but I am not up for people touching my hair. I am loc’ed and live in a 95% white town. So I do get looks. Some are curious, some are loving it. At any rate my grandmother always taught my sister and I not to let just anyone play in our hair. Sort of a cosmos thing. She’d say you don’t know where they’ve been and what they are bringing. All the ladies in my family have had their hair done by the mothers and a few choice… Read more »
Ladies, it’s really NOT that big a deal. These women thought they were doing something positive and helpful. If YOU don’t want people touching your hair then don’t let them. But stop bashing these women…they meant well. Human beings are naturally curious about what we don’t know. To bash these women is to say that you’ve NEVER wondered what that hot guy’s muscles felt like, or your (whatever ethnicity)best friend with different hair than you in grade school’s hair felt like. We’ve all been curious at some time in our life, and have wondered. It’s not petting like and animal,… Read more »
I understand the need the respect personal space when it comes to hair. But these women made a choice to put their natural hair on display. It’s their right just as it is our right to let someone touch our hair or not. There are people who come from countries where there may have hardly seen a person of color much less a person with Afro-textured hair. To be able to touch is a learning experience. No I don’t think it is a black person’s job to educate folks on our hair, but if someone is curious why not use… Read more »

[…] can touch my hair?…al-experiment/ This was basically a social experiment meant to fight the racial stereotypes of African-American […]


Petting zoo…. :/

I’ve never had a problem with people wanting to touch my hair. I’ve had this happen on occasion, especially here work. One guy, who is white, BTW, has asked a couple of times if he could touch my hair, and I said, “yeah, go ahead.” One time it was in a twist-out, and another time, an afro. This particular guy is always commenting on my hair, and loves the way I style it. He really loves when I wear it in a fro, because he says it brings him back to the “good ole days”, (the 70s). I can relate,… Read more »

Yay! The White man loves your hair -_-


Did anyone read where it said more blacks were gouching their hair than others.
I have been short long jheri curled braided with and without extensions bald straight natural and now loced. During all of those moments people asked to touch my hair. I learned more blacks were fasinated by my hair or were quick to question if it was all mine. This experiment, in my humble opinion, is just as much about the comments and conversations it’s created as it is about the desire to touchtheir hair.


Just wow! 2013 and we are still a mystery to people that now we have come to Touch my Hair demonstrations? SMH. I see most of you think this is a fab idea. I just see nothing fabulous about.

Perhaps I’m oversensitive and far-reaching here but this is akin to these women being circus attractions. It’s hair not an attraction. I would feel better about it if there were bottles of hair products they were touting next to them and they decided it was okay for the public to touch the hair to feel how soft the product made their hair – but I hate this. On top of everything, they’re in NY. The “capital” of America, lot of tourists there! I can only imagine how much they got felt up, especially the naturals – the sista with the… Read more »

SO TRUE!! That’s EXACTLY how I feel about it!


I’m much more interested about what this article doesnt say. What was the results of this experiment? Emotion seems to be fueling this article rather than what the experiment was meant to reveal.

Carla Phoenix
Sorry, this hair “experiment” bothers me, a lot. I’m sure a lot of Black women will see nothing wrong with this, and that’s fine for them. But, for me to see Black women put on display and allowing random strangers to touch their hair as if they’re in a petting zoo is dehumanizing and degrading. I don’t think it breaks perceptions (as in showing other cultures how soft and pliable our hair can be). Instead, it just reinforces the stereotypes that have played out in American culture where Black women have to constantly prove “we’re okay” by demonstrating that we’re… Read more »
I live in the UK and I totally agree with Carla Phoenix for the reasons she states. I could not imagine any natural I know wanting to take part in such an experiment. When I decided to go natural I didn’t need to touch anyone’s hair to convince myself. I went online and did research! I would object to any random stranger touching my hair – black or white! If as an individual you don’t mind anyone touching your hair, fine, but to conduct such a public experiment to me reinforces the misconception that it’s ok to walk up to… Read more »

I’m against this type of display it’s a disrespectful petting zoo sideshow theses women begging for white acceptance as mentioned before no other race feels the need to do this type of BS and being in denial saying its ok let’s me know a lot of people are really lost

I had SUCH a reaction while reading Carla’s comment, because she hit the nail on the head big time! Do we not realize that when our ancestors where brought to this country in chains, that they were measured up, examined, and sold? This included having whites look into their mouths, ears, stretch apart their eyelids, and even “examine” the vaginas of the Black female slaves. Everything that made us Black (our skin, our kinky hair, our spirituality, our language, etc.), and everything that set us apart as different from whites was stripped away from us and pathologized as ugly, unattractive,… Read more »
I had the same reaction, Miss JoeyK. I didn’t want to come across as militant or like I was making this too deep . . . perhaps I read too much, but my very first gut reaction was that this seems to be a watered-down, modern version of the auction block. How many strange men felt their hair up and asked them out after that? I’m sorry under those circumstances, I wouldn’t take that as flattery. But that’s just my opinion. Why can’t a Black women’s hair journey and hair choices be her own? Besides this is 2013, we should… Read more »
I too find this “social Experiment” annoying. There isn’t enough room in this reply box to list everything that bothered me, but the main reason is, As African- Americans, we have always had to make ourselves acceptable and accessible- to other races. I’m so tired of hearing about racial “differences”, and all the ways we- as black women especially- try to “fit-In”. I will be glad when the day comes, when I never have to hear a black person tell another black person; “You need to straighten your nappy hair!”. And when our hair, or any of our other “African… Read more »

Why do ppl think you’re being “hateful” if you are not an advocate for the experiment? If you think this is a good idea then that’s great but if others don’t, they don’t have to. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. I personally am neither for or against it. It initially sounded weird to me as I have never had a desire to touch others hair whose texture was different from my own.


I read a first hand account of someone who actually went on Twitter. Guess what? She reported that most folks actually stopped and talked about their display and the people that were doing the most hair touching were other black people. Surprise! So those of you doing all that pontificating about the evils of this experiment should relax. Lesson learned: first person sources/first hand accounts are always better than hearsay.


I am not surprised it was more black people touching! #notsuprisednonotonebit


not surprised honestly. Non-black people are curious about our hair but not THAT curious…they don’t really want to learn if they don’t have to. Black people would be more curious because they can apply the knowledge and interaction in a much more personal way.


I think this was a pretty awesome idea. Since I’ve been natural Ive had many people- even other black people -ask if they can touch my hair. It’s no big deal. I prefer that they ask first but Ive had a few experiences- all male – where they did not ask. They just reached for it. Admittedly, like L.u said… was a turn on. Lol
I understand the fascination and curiosity of onlookers. It’s a beautiful thing to see something so out of the ordinary and unique. #ILoveMyHair

This experiment is pointless to me. At the end of the day, it’s my hair and if I want you to touch it, I’ll let you touch it. However, I also have the right to tell you to leave my hair alone because it’s MINE. I’m getting sick of people thinking they have the right to shove their hands in my hair that I work so hard to keep healthy and looking nice and they don’t even know how to handle it. I ALWAYS ask before I touch someone else’s hair. As for others that are “curious” about natural hair…seriously,… Read more »
I’m a teacher & wore a fro in the late 60s-70s while still in school. I went thru this hair touching back then. Since my job was to be an educator I took such instances as teachable moments to educate white people about our hair & to dispel myths. Most were surprised that our hair felt so soft. They’d probably expected something like steel wool or brillo. I went natural again after years of curly perms & find the same thing sometimes happens today but not as much since there are so many mixed race marriages & kids.It depends on… Read more »
The Mane Captain
I think it’s a pretty cool experiment. Black hair is a very unique that of Hair which makes people curious about it. We (Black women) change our hair texture, length and color overnight which can really throw someone off. The fact that we have to go to Black Salons to get our hair done shows that most non Blacks have never really come in contact with our hair. I use to live in China, and i would always get Locals asking if my hair was fake, how I achieved the style I was wearing and if they could touch my… Read more »

don’t mind if peeps want to touch my locs….just fair warning, please ASK FIRST!!!!


The women who participated in this experiment were simply trying to make the world a better place for black women by dispelling some myths about our natural hair. I personally would not feel comfortable inviting strangers to touch me, but I don’t think it’s right to talk so hatefully to other sisters when they were only trying to do something positive. Uplifting activism rocks! Self-righteous people who judge others too harshly while doing nothing, suck!

Are you kidding me!? When I wore nothing but fake hair as a crutch during my childhood, letting someone touch my hair and highlighting how fake it was actually was the worst idea ever. Humiliating to say the least. Now that my hair is all mine, ain’t no shame in it! Having a man lightly grab the back of my hair as he pulls me in for a kiss was probably the HOTTEST THING I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED. I would’ve had a heart attack if he did that while I had a wig on. If asked, I let black people… Read more »

But I get it, hair is a sensitive thing for many black women. But people make it seem as though someone asking to touch their hair is like someone wants to poke a boobie, or a love-handle or something crazy. To me touching my hair is like touching my fingernails. It’s kinda random.


i dont like the fact that there are 3 models on there and u only compliment 2 out of the 3
the 2 that happen to be natural
i get this blog is mostly aimed at natural hair but why not appreciate the shine or thickness of the relaxed hair model too

Claudette UK

Perhaps because its a weave.