Let’s get this straight. It’s not magical, it’s not weird and it certainly doesn’t warrant wondering hands. Afro hair is no more special than any other kind of hair.
Throughout school however, this was not the case. Of course in the later years the excitement died down, but in primary school (where black people were few and far between, at least back in my day and in my ends) the 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. They were going to touch my hair again. At first I didn't realise what was so fascinating about it. What they considered so different, I knew to be the norm.
Most had a gentle touch.
“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.
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, the sensation would remain even after they'd stopped. 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, 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 five 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.
Being serious, my regret would be not taking the time to properly educate my peers on why my hair and other parts about me and my life were so different to theirs. We were in a school after all. But I didn't have the capacity for that at six years old. My desire to be accepted, shrouded any and all attempts at sharing a bit of my culture.
It's not that I was ashamed, it was just unnerving to be so different to everyone else at such a young age. So, I tried my best to minimise those differences. But it quickly became apparent that it was very difficult to suddenly transform into a white boy with blonde locks. The black skin, the afro hair and everything they represented seemed destined to stick around forever.
Which is a good thing, because now, I've learned to embrace what makes me different, whether the people around me look like me or not. It is liberating embracing who you are, your culture and where you come from. The "afro" remains a staple here, always offering a bout of conversation whenever I get it cut.
The people around me now are wise enough to look, but not touch.
And I am wise enough to appreciate everything I cannot change about myself.