A New York Times bestseller, One of Glamour’s top ten books of 2016, Stand-up comedian and podcaster extraordinaire Phoebe Robinson’s book, You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain sets out to expose exactly what the befitting and eye-catching title entails.
You would think, does she still have to explain these things in a post racial America? In the twenty first century? Sadly, she does. In fact, she rips apart the term post racial by saying the term needs to retire “much like the 90’s New York Knicks basketball team that was never quite good enough to win the big Kahuna, but had a lot of heart”
She treads the difficult topics of race and gender in a conversational and honest manner with razor sharp wit, hilarious humor, and pop culture references galore. This is a book not just for Black women readers who can relate and empathize with the author and her anecdotes but also for all readers; across all races. So, we can cultivate a deeper understanding of what it means to be an African American woman in today’s society and how we can be mindful of intentionally or unintentionally spewing micro aggressions and/or ignorant comments.
There are twelve essays in the book with titles ranging from “Uppity”, “Welcome to Being Black”, “Casting Calls for People of Color That Were Not Written by People of Color”, “The Angry Black Woman Myth”, “How to Avoid Being the Black Friend” and so on. She also writes a list of demands from the first future female president and a series of letters of wisdom to her biracial niece Olivia.
The chapter “A Brief History of Black Hair in Film, TV, Music, and Media” is complete with pictures of celebrities like Angela Davis, Halle Berry, Grace Jones, Cicely Tyson, Janet Jackson and a brief commentary on their hair. Angela Davis’s ‘fro “became a powerful political sign of the wearer embracing their African ancestry and rejecting long held beauty ideals.” Cicely Tyson's cornrows in the TV drama East Side/West Side in 1973 “shocked white America” as she was sporting a popular African-American hairstyle on primetime television.
The chapter “Little Rock Nine to Nappy Hair, Don’t Care in Eighteen and a Half-ish Years” is an eye opening must read which details what African American women are working with when it comes to their hair both literally in terms of time spent in relaxing and straightening and emotionally when micro aggressions are thrown their way. She writes, “Back hair seems to raise a lot of nonblack people’s blood pressure. I’ve seen a gamut of emotion on people’s faces- awe, confusion, stress, anger, joy, amazement, suspicion, envy, attraction, you name it…. because we, and I'm using the royal we, as in society, have never figured out how to have a healthy, functional relationship with black hair.” There is a lot of judgement and speculation about a person just based on the kind of hairstyle you have. If you straighten it, you are trying to be white, “E!’s entertainment reporter Giuliana Rancic “joking” that singer /actress Zendaya must smell like weed because she was wearing dreadlocks…….When Black women’s hair does not meet beauty standards, they are bombarded with negativity that can cause feelings of self-doubt, shame, embarrassment, and confusion about who they should try to be and whether it’s better to be fully themselves or not.” The author has to be commended for her self-deprecating humor when she talks about how “her natural hair has special shape shifting qualities of epic T-1000 proportions, which means it has a mind of its own. For instance, when I sport an Afro, I may want to relax by sitting on my bed and leaning my head against the wall. When I get up from that spot, my hair has assumed the shape of the said wall” She also posts a picture of her hair flattened out by the wall to illustrate her point.
The crux of the book and point she wants to make is that otherness should be celebrated and not feared. It’s not so much about touching your hair and intruding on your personal space but more about Black women myths and stereotypes that are so steadfastly perpetuated and believed that people refuse to consider that generalizations cannot be made, that each woman has her own individualistic traits and personality. She writes, “But some people don’t want to believe that, because if varying degrees of blackness become normalized, then that means society has to rethink how they treat black people. In other words, if you allow black people to be as complicated and multidimensional as white people, then it’s hard to view them as the other with all the messy pejorative, stereotypical, and shallow ideas that have been assigned to that Otherness.”
Other quotes from the book include:
“we do not choose our circumstances, the prejudices that we inherit, or our privilege or lack of it. "
“I’m sorry, but eeeeeeeww. A woman telling another woman that she’s not likable because she’s smart is gross.......and furthermore, it continues the cycle of discouraging women from being as well rounded as men are allowed to be.”
“Let me just say this right now, in case there’s any confusion in 2016: If you’re a white person and you have references on standby to verify that you’re allowed to say the N-word, you are probably the last person on planet Earth who should be saying nigga.”
“Whenever someone tells you that you're doing XYZ like a girl, then you can whip out, "Thank you, hater, you're my motivator," and then go back to being XX chromosome AF.”
“Sexually desiring someone who does not share your skin tone is not some grand sign that society is becoming postracial, no matter what anyone tells you.”
"When you get sworn into office, yell, “I’m a feminist,” and then throw your fist in the air like you’re Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club. 3A.”
“Let me explain: Like two great athletes who don’t play on the same team but meet up on the world stage, blacks and women have always convened at the Oppressed Olympics and given each other a friendly head nod, similar to how when I’m in line at the grocery store and I notice the person in the next checkout line is also buying lemonade.”
If this book piques your interest do check it out along with some other well written and interesting memoirs from African American women published in the last few years. Find more, here.
Research and Readers Advisory Professional
Loves learning about other cultures and broadening her reading horizons through a vast selection of multicultural fiction.