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Dont Touch My Hair

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From Guardian contributor BBC race correspondent Emma Dabiri comes an essay collection exploring the ways in which black hair has been appropriated and stigmatized throughout history, with ruminations on body politics, race, pop culture, and Dabiri’s own journey to loving her hair.

Emma Dabiri can tell you the first time she chemically straightened her hair. She can describe the smell, the atmosphere of the salon, and her mix of emotions when she saw her normally kinky tresses fall down her shoulders. For as long as Emma can remember, her hair has been a source of insecurity, shame, and—from strangers and family alike—discrimination. And she is not alone.

Despite increasingly liberal world views, black hair continues to be erased, appropriated, and stigmatized to the point of taboo. Through her personal and historical journey, Dabiri gleans insights into the way racism is coded in society’s perception of black hair—and how it is often used as an avenue for discrimination. Dabiri takes us from pre-colonial Africa, through the Harlem Renaissance, and into today's Natural Hair Movement, exploring everything from women's solidarity and friendship, to the criminalization of dreadlocks, to the dubious provenance of Kim Kardashian's braids.

Through the lens of hair texture, Dabiri leads us on a historical and cultural investigation of the global history of racism—and her own personal journey of self-love and finally, acceptance.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2019

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About the author

Emma Dabiri

5 books369 followers
Emma Dabiri is an Irish-Nigerian author, academic, and broadcaster. Her debut book, Don't Touch My Hair, was first published in 2019.
Dabiri is a frequent contributor to print and online media, including The Guardian, Irish Times, Dublin Inquirer, Vice, and in academic journals. She is known for her outspokenness on issues of race and racism.
She now lives in London, where she is completing her PhD while also teaching and continuing her broadcast work.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 520 reviews
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,815 followers
August 22, 2020
4.5 Stars. What a powerful book! I mean if you know anything about the Black hair experience than you know how phenomenal this book is

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture is Emma Dabiri's take and insight to the complex world that is Black hair. This book not only focuses on her own personal experience, but also the beautiful yet sometimes heartbreaking history that Black people have with their hair. While it may insignificant to most, Black hair culture is a complex, dynamic part of our identity. Dabiri spends chapters of the books discussing all facets of Black hair in relationship to Yoruba traditions, the hair binary, the relationship between Black men and their hair, historical figures like Madame C.J. Walker, cultural appropriation, and more.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the different views and perspectives that Dabiri explored. There were aspects of the text that I was familiar with while there were others that enlightened me on my own experiences and the experiences of others. One of most interesting points centered around "hair binary." According to Dabiri, we have become a culture where Black women who have natural hair are considered "woke" while those who do not are still considered to fit within the confines of traditional European standards. Dabiri attempts to reinforce the idea that this binary is not so black and white. At first, I didn't get what point she was trying to make, but then I realized that our relationship with our hair is so complex that creating something like a hair binary could never work. I also loved that she explored the complex relationship that exists between Black women and Black men in relation to hair. I think that Dabiri does an excellent job bringing the whole idea of internalized racism and proximity to Whiteness into this conversation and showing how it not only affects the relationship Black men have with Black women, but also the complex relationship they have with themselves. It was very clear from the text that Dabiri spent a great amount of time taking the basis of her own experience with Black hair culture and applying research to open the gateway for a well-rounded discussion.

There was one issue that I had with the book and it's the fact sometimes it felt as Dabiri had the habit of getting off topic. She would go off on a tangent and then be forced to attempt to bring it full circle back to the discussion about hair. I watched her doing a virtual talk on Youtube and she does discuss the fact that while this book is about Black hair culture there was more that she wanted to include. While I do feel as though the information was just as important it felt like I was reading two different novels at certain points in the book.

Overall, this was a great non-fiction pick for the month. I really think that if there are people who want to more about Black hair culture than I would definitely recommend picking it up.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,151 reviews266 followers
June 11, 2019
Intelligent, thoughtful and thought-provoking, I found this a truly riveting read. It’s an exploration of black women’s (mainly) hair and for me it was jaw-dropping and eye-opening (to mix metaphors) at the same time. I never realised that hair could be such a complex, multi-layered and political subject. Because as the book states, black hair is never “just hair”, and this brilliantly and convincingly argued account demonstrates this with clarity, meticulous research and personal reflection and experience in an engaging and entertaining style. Highly recommended and I am just so glad I read it.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,404 reviews2,375 followers
August 19, 2020
As a young child, I spent long hours on the floor wedged between the strong legs of strangers, my head cradled in their lap. These early childhood memories are vague in detail but strong in atmosphere.

Emma Dabiri left no stones unturned with regards to the history of Black Hair culture and how it continues to affect us today. It is clear she did her research and lived the experiences that she writes so knowledgeably about. I learned so much reading this book. While the grounding topic was hair, this lead to discussions around "wokeness" cultural appropriation, the Black Power movement along with dating. So much is covered in this book, and covered so well. An absolute must read!

I need to get my hands on a physical copy so I cam highlight every page!
Profile Image for Aoife - Bookish_Babbling.
301 reviews308 followers
April 7, 2021

A little text'booky at times, but the historical intricacies tied up (no pun intended) in hair is honestly fascinating while also upsetting and infuriating at how belittled and looked down upon the beautiful hairstyles continue to be.

Dabiri touches on so many topics that my mind is buzzing with the need to do my own deep dives & research more if I can, not least the somewhat hidden role the Irish played in slavery, the Orisha beliefs (I don't think mythology is the right word), the Oyo Empire and mathematical hegemony not understood or willfully ignored - which now that my eyes have been opened seems so obvious 🤦‍♀️
I cannot wait for her next release, which I think I have been lucky enough to be first in the hold line on OverDrive at my library🤞

I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by the author herself and can highly recommend it. Really enjoy her turn of phrase and cheeky asides, please don't skip this eye opening educational and approachable read.

PS - I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, especially considering the topics this tackles...but come on! She's a beaut & I am weak 🤗🙈
Profile Image for Korrie’s Korner.
1,068 reviews13.6k followers
January 26, 2021
4.5-5 stars.

“I remember being told that I was “lucky I was pretty,” which meant I could “almost get away with being black.”

What a powerful statement this is. I remember being told things very similar to this being raised in the Deep South of Mississippi.

This book was so good as it broke down the history of black hair, injustices that black women have faced, and the feeling of our hair being a bit “taboo” to others that were different than us. Emma Dabiri takes us through her personal historical journey, and offers amazing insight into the way “racism is coded in society’s perception of black hair, and sadly how often it’s used as an Avenue for discrimination.”

“Dabiri takes us from precolonial Africa, through the Harlem Renaissance, and into today’s Natural Hair Movement” exploring all aspects.

Growing up and seeing labels on hair products such as, “defiant, wild, unruly, unmanageable, coarse” started sending a negative message about my hair at a young age. My mom started relaxers on my hair at age 12 to make my hair more “manageable.” I can remember people making comments about my smooth, swinging, silky, white like hair favorably. I got all the time “what are you?” All this because my coily/curly hair started being straightened. Then you start getting the double processing of light color or highlights because well then it looks even more white like. No one ever talks about the breakage, damage and the many tears I shed about this.

“For girls and women, femininity is intricately bound up in hair.”

Dabiri even talks about colorism in black communities. This is so real. I saw too many times just as a kid and teen the differences as to how you were treated because of how light or dark your skin was. Such a sadness, but it’s just real.

I could go on and on, but there were just so many aspects to this book that I devoured. Growing up, these were the books I desperately needed to help me better accept who I was as a black child/woman.

This is why I’m so passionate about helping others that choose to go back to their hair’s natural curly/coily/kinky state, and teach them how to care for it. Deep conditioning and the right products can make what used to be labeled as “coarse, dry, unmanageable hair into soft, moisturized, shiny and HEALTHY hair. That is what we all want—healthy hair.
Profile Image for Aoife.
1,292 reviews549 followers
June 11, 2020

What a fantastic book that is so eye-opening and captivating, and so, so well put together. The way Emma Dabiri has managed to write a book that is themed around hair -specifically hair of a black woman - and connect it to so many issues today such as racism of old, systematic racism now, European fetishization of black bodies, hair and culture while black woman are punished.

I honestly know so much more than I did before - not only about what hair truly means for a black person but how it signifies a bigger community, and a wealth of women in family and friendship - and how this was taken away from the black woman when she was forced into slavery. How people were made to feel ashamed of their hair - how the ideal hair for a woman with natural 'kinky', tight curly hair is still this European ideal of soft silky hair. How that all comes back to when Europeans initially colonized parts of African and brought their weird ideas of what hair was suppose to be, what beauty was suppose to be, what gender actually meant and how they even forced the European idea of time on African communities who used to measure time in a completely different way than we do now.

Natural black hair can even be connected to science and mathematics in the most amazing ways - and I'm saying this as someone who hated maths in school and still freezes up if I'm expected to do any kind of calculation in my head.

Hair in this book is so much more than something to brush (or not brush) every day. It's a whole history. I can't recommend this book enough!

"Through African hairstyles, we can observe beauty standards and aesthetics, spiritual devotion, values and ethics, and even, quite literally, maps from slavery to freedom."

Profile Image for Mara.
1,561 reviews3,771 followers
February 13, 2022
I was not expecting this to be both a cultural history of a beauty object standard (e.g. hair) and a history of ideas! This book wove in various African philosophical traditions around time, community, work, and so many other things in contrast to how European culture views those things, and then synthesizes those contrasts into a specific example of hair. This was both an intellectually stimulating and personally reflective read for me viz a viz my own relationship to beauty standards as well as ways that I have upheld European beauty standards for people with hair textures that do not easily comport to those standards
Profile Image for Siria.
1,796 reviews1,308 followers
May 21, 2020
A fascinating and powerful read, Don't Touch My Hair looks at the history, culture, and politics which surround Black hair, and the ways in which white people have stigmatised (and continue to stigmatise) Afro-textured hair. It's a book about why Black hair matters.

Emma Dabiri—born to a white Irish woman and an ethnically Yoruba Nigerian man, and raised mostly in Ireland—engages with both parts of her heritage, demonstrating the stunning fractal complexity of the indigenous Yoruba hairstyles known as irun didi and irun kiko and the casually brutal racism of her upbringing in '90s inner city Dublin. There's more than enough in either topic to fill a book, but Dabiri also tackles issues of cultural appropriation, colonialism, Eurocentric beauty standards, indigenous African mathematical traditions, and analysis of cultural power. There's a lot going on here, in other words, and I could see this sparking a lot of good discussion in an undergraduate classroom or a book group.

There are times when Dabiri's use of academic terms/concepts sits uneasily alongside her deployment of netspeak (using "lol" in print always looks asinine to me), and I wished she'd defined and unpacked some of the terms she'd used more. ("Western" in Don't Touch My Hair sometimes means "white" and sometimes means "European" and sometimes means "Anglophone northwestern Europe and North America" and sometimes it means a much more diffuse set of ideologies and aesthetics linked to Protestantism and capitalism. To say that western views of time are more linear and predicated on privileging notions of "change"/"progress" than African ones may be true in the aggregate in the twenty-first century, or in comparison to say many Native American systems of time. But that's not universally true. Dabiri's Irish; she surely knows why we talk about an athbhliain rather than a nuabhliain. The specificities of power and context matter.)

However, none of that ultimately dilutes the power of a book which is so resonant and so clear in its call for a shift in the terms of the dominant conversations. High recommended.
Profile Image for Mina.
239 reviews143 followers
August 20, 2021
"Don't touch my crown
They say the vision I've found
Don't touch what's there
When it's the feelings I wear."

I'll always remember the first time someone put their hands on my hair and said it looked like black cotton candy. It was my first summer here, I was just shy of 20 and all alone in a foreign country. So, a bunch of us were in group study and this 'person' just puts his hand in my high puff for a good couple of seconds just feeling it and all I could do was just sit there in that stuffy lecture hall smile and say THANKS when really I was boiling inside because "How the dareth you touch my hair and say it looks like bloody COTTON!!!"

Anyways I'm far from that smiley 20 year old, New York has raised me well. Now, if you try that move on me I will karate chop off your hand. Cheers.

Now personally, I have gone through the most with my hair. My relationship with Atemba (My hair) is complex. I can be term it as a love-hate relationship . On some days, I will love on her and she can decide to show love back. On other days, she'll be like girl NO! but she comes correct.. (well sometimes)

I've not always understood that my hair is perfect as it is; growing up my mother used to do my hair cornrows, bantu knots, fro babies name it. But like most 4C type hair, mine is really coarse and abhors heat which is something that our mothers never really got. (Hello heat damage!) So I had it relaxed just before going away to a boarding school for my secondary education because I thought and honestly believed that is how beautiful hair should look.

As a young adult, I slowly began to understand that my hair does not define me. I learnt that I do not need to conform to euro centric standards of beauty and that I do not have to hide my hair if that is not what I want to do.
My hair is mine! It is beautiful!! It does not look like bloody cotton candy!! I can do with it as I please.. and so can you black queen

"You can shave it off
Like an African beauty
Or get in on lock
Like Bob Marley
You can rock it straight
Like Oprah Winfrey
If its not what’s on your head
Its what’s underneath and say HEY…."

Dabiri talked about the aspect of hair as non binary and I appreciated the concept. Just because some choose to wear their hair natural doesn't make those that don't any less. We can not attempt binarize (is this even a word) our relationship with our hair because it is complex.

So overall I am happy to have read a book that details something that I'm very passionate about!
I really enjoyed this book. I speed read through it as it was easily relatable. I will definitely be coming back to it as it also alludes to aspects of internalized racism that I would like to understand her perspective of ...
Profile Image for Tasnim (Reads.and.Reveries).
28 reviews143 followers
December 12, 2019
In Don’t Touch My Hair, Emma Dabiri, an Irish-Nigeraian television presenter and teaching fellow at SOAS University, takes readers on a journey exploring the history of black hair from pre-colonial Africa to today’s Natural Hair Movement.
Dabiri considers black hairstyles, their meanings, cultural origins and significance. However, what I hadn’t anticipated was the extent to which she considers our hair in relation to mathematics, philosophy, politics and economics, and I particularly appreciated the discussion around capitalism in relation to black hair.
The reality is that discrimination based on hair texture persists, especially when it comes to black hair worn in its natural state and, as black people, black women in particular, we’re often at the receiving end of some truly questionable comments and behaviours (hence the book’s title). Dabiri highlights many of these issues in a way that is intellectual yet conversational and I’d recommend this book to both those completely unaware of these issues and those who have personal experience of them.
Ultimately, Don’t Touch My Hair is an excellent combination of in-depth research, personal experience and so much passion and I’d highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Anna.
100 reviews10 followers
March 19, 2020
I really enjoyed this book... for a while. I felt it could have been about half the length and laboured the point. It also became a bit too academic and dry as it went on. But some great analysis and ideas, but even a relatively short audiobook lost my attention towards the end.
Profile Image for Justin.
54 reviews56 followers
June 29, 2020
***I was granted an ARC of this via Netgalley from the publisher.***

Black hair had been looked down on in the West for a long time with negative attitudes widespread in the white and black communities. However, over the last 40 some odd years this has changed. In the book, Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture, Emma Dabiri through a series of essays talks about not only her own experience of being a half black, half white girl growing up in Ireland at a time when there weren't many black people there but also how she came to love her own hair and the history of styles and attitudes toward black hair. Many black girls will relate to Emma's story of coming to appreciate their natural hair and people of other cultures will do well to read what black hair means to the black community and the wrongs in policing it. The dive into the history of the attitudes about black hair both from the black community and outside of it show where the negative connotations come from and why we should consign them to the trash heap. This book also takes a look at the evolution of the Black hair product industry and the political and social effects of the dialogue about black hair culture and offers some thought-provoking commentary on it. This is an excellent book on the topic of black hair culture and I would recommend that everyone read it.

Rating: 5/5 stars. Would recommend to a friend.
Profile Image for CC.
326 reviews3 followers
May 15, 2019
Growing up mixed race often feels like a minority within a minority. You can be made keenly aware of your otherness, and that may give you feelings that you don't belong, not enough of any one thing to be truly that. The things that chimed with me in this book I remember as moments that filtered down to me as a child because of other people and their own biases. Being called 'yellowbone', told how pretty my skin was, the surprise that I 'speak so well'. Growing up, when my music instructor thought I might like just prefer to take clarinet with 'the other black girls' when I was proficient at another instrument and in fact sat first chair ever after. The honest assumption of my high school coach that I would try out for the basketball team instead of tennis because I'd probably have some kind of hereditary advantage. But most of all I remember my hair. I never had a relaxer until another black woman decided to put one on me. I never thought there was anything wrong with it at all, but it still took me years to get back to the same self acceptance that I was born with.

This book taught me a lot, about the history of our self hatred and some of the reasons behind that same feeling, a minority within a minority. Though I don't agree with every point made and it was slightly more academic in tone than I had anticipated, I do feel the author made some strong arguments that resonated with me in deeply personal ways. To quote Daberi herself, 'In the face of a five-century-long campaign about the ugliness and inadequacy of our hair, black women have collectively turned round and said, ‘Nah.’ We have shared our hair stories, our journeys through pain into acceptance and to pride. In doing so, we have built a powerful international community.'
Profile Image for nina okechukwu.
48 reviews9 followers
February 13, 2023
“cultural appropriation operates as part of a structural power dynamic where the ‘appropriating’ actors belong to an advantaged group. this group systematically extracts the cultural resources of a subordinate group, erasing the subordinate group’s involvement in the process.”

being a black girl is having your femininity questioned from birth until you’re hyper-sexualised from the edge of adolescence. being a black girl is questioning if every man you’ve interacted with genuinely likes you or if they’re simply fetishising you. being a black boy is having a criminal, almost animalistic narrative forced on you as soon as you learn how to walk. being a black boy is being seen as threatening when doing the most mundane of tasks. being a black person is being seen as a subpar human being simply because your skin is more melanated than your caucasian counterparts. being a black person is having to work twice as hard to get half of what a white person gets. being a black person is never being 100% comfortable in your skin because media pushes eurocentric beauty standards as being more desirable. being a black person means everything you do is seen as ghetto until a white person makes it fashionable. being a black person is having to laugh when your friends say they’re “almost as dark as you” when they’ve tanned. being a black person is having to correct the teacher when they call you by another black person’s name, even when you look nothing alike.

but being black is beautiful. being black is being interlinked with diaspora on every corner of the globe; your home away from home. being black is having an enriching culture, so enviable that people fight to claim what’s ours and turn it into a trend. being black is being able to find a rhythm in the most mundane of sounds, we are naturally musicians. being black is having your hair defy gravity and having the sun as your best friend. for the world to convince us otherwise is one of the greatest crimes against humanity, because a black person should not have to spend their entire life compensating for their existence.

“in our desire to see our own beauty acknowledged, we forget that the beauty regime is an oppressive construct designed to keep women in a state of heightened insecurity.”

from chemically straightening my hair for years to make it more “manageable,” to finally throwing away my relaxer and letting my natural hair grow, before cutting the dead ends off and accepting my beautiful curls, my relationship with my hair has been anything but linear. it’s only been recently that i’ve learned to accept my hair in it’s natural state and allow people to actually see it, rather than hiding it in braids for months. growing up hating your hair, an integral part of identity, is more common than it should be for little black girls, and it truly doesn’t help that the narrative of girls with pin straight hair (and predominantly eurocentric features) being more desirable than predominantly black features is pushed, if not shoved, in the media. every black girl has deeply rooted issues with their identity; growing up seeing no one who looks like you on tv is so unbearably damaging, and those who do look like you are more often than not antagonised or seen as comedic relief. surely there’s more to black people than that?

emma dabiri accomplishes something so beautiful in this book; reading people to filth with elegance while also educating us on the historical and societal significance of afrocentric hair. there were some facts and topics that i didn’t know/wasn’t educated properly on, and i really appreciate the fact that i could learn something new while also heal my inner child. reading about someone who also grew up in ireland was so refreshing istg girls it was like reading a biography. i truly believe this book should and will be on reading lists for curriculums in the near future, and if it isn’t i’m afraid i’ll have to intervene🙄

“speaking about pain is not the same as dismantling the power structures that create that pain.”

no one should have to grow up questioning their worth as a person, apologising for their existence because life has taught them nothing else. but it seems that’s all life has to offer to black people, and that makes me irate.
Profile Image for Paloma.
538 reviews3 followers
October 29, 2020
Reseña en Español | Review in English

Una lectura muy recomendable para entender no sólo cuestiones fundamentales del racismo en contra de las personas de color, sino también para reflexionar y cuestionar los cánones de belleza que se nos han impuesto desde Occidente y que con frecuencia, nos han llevado a poner en duda nuestra propia valía.

La autora, Emma Dabiri, comienza hablando de su experiencia personal al ser hija de un nigeriano y una irlandesa y crecer en una Irlanda tradicional y en donde la mezcla de nacionalidades era algo inexistente durante su niñez. Además del color de su piel, la gente siempre se sentía obligada a comentar algo sobre su cabello, sobre su textura, sobre “por qué no se peinaba”. De su experiencia, Daibiri nos lleva a explorar la percepción del cabello rizado en la sociedad occidental y la diferencia entre cómo es percibido en las sociedades tradicionales africanas. Con ello, entendemos cómo en algo tan sencillo y personal como es la textura del cabello propia de cada grupo nacional, se nos ha impuesto un canon de belleza absurdo, pero incuestionable. Según este canon, lo deseable es una cabello lacio (o a lo más con un ondulado leve) brillante, voluminoso, y si no se nace con ello pues… hay que hacer todo lo posible por hacer que el cabello se vea de esa manera. Es indecible lo que millones de mujeres de descendencia africana han hecho en el mundo por “domar” su cabello, maltratarlo, pasar horas sentadas en un salón de belleza, solo para lograr un nivel mínimo de aceptación. Lo más terrible es que no es una cuestión de vanidad sino un requisito que se impone para ser aceptadas en un mundo que sigue un patrón de belleza “blanco” y que considera a lo europeo cómo lo mejor, y si no se cumple con el estándar, hay barreras en lo económico y social.

Terrible también resulta saber hasta qué grado hemos interiorizado estos estándares al grado de sentirnos mal o menos por no cumplirlos. Para mí esta lectura ha sido reveladora, tanto por haber crecido en México –en donde tenemos una especie de racismo que negamos- como por tener muchos amigos que se sienten menos por no ser lo suficientemente delgados o tener el cutis suficientemente terso o verse jóvenes. Desde hace tiempo tenía la impresión de que una cosa es la vanidad (y todos somos vanidosos en menor medida y no creo que tenga nada de malo) y otra cosa es obsesionarse con cánones estéticos que no corresponden a nuestra realidad. Puede sonar cliché pero sin duda, cada grupo étnico o raza si se quiere llamar, es bella, pero se nos ha enseñado a despreciar lo que no es blanco, delgado, liso, inmaculado. Pero la realidad es que la mitad de la población mundial no cumple con esos estándares y aun así se ha convertido en una aspiración que no puede desembocar más que en frustración.

Otro punto que señala la autora es como en las sociedades africanas, el cabello y su arreglo tenían una función más allá de la estética –arreglarlo, cortarlo, peinarlo, trenzarlo, implica tiempo, y en ese tiempo mujeres y hombres convivían y construían y reforzaban lazos y redes de apoyo. Sin embargo, bajo la demanda occidental de que “tiempo es dinero”, ¿qué necesidad hay de ‘perder tiempo´ trenzando un cabello? De hecho, incluso la idea de “perder tiempo” en sí misma es una idea occidental. Cada instante, hora, sea trabajando o conversando con alguien, tiene un valor en las sociedades tradicionales y es invertido aunque no se genere algo material.

En ese sentido, la reflexión más interesante que me deja este libro en lo personal es la necesidad de cuestionar, y empezar a hacerlo pronto. Es difícil, sin duda, sobre todo porque siempre estamos bombardeados de imágenes de Estados Unidos (en el caso de México) y a ciertos patrones de vida y estéticos a los que queremos llegar. Sin embargo, cualquier cambio parte de una introspección y de invitar a los demás a reflexionar sobre lo que hemos dado por hecho. Otro dato que comparte la autora del libro es que en una encuesta que hizo una revista hace unos años entre sus lectores de todo el mundo, preguntando si se sentían bellas, casi el 40% de las mujeres de color respondieron que sí, mientras que apenas el 30% de las asiáticas lo hizo y solo el 25% de las latinas contestó de manera afirmativa. Dabiri asume que el gran porcentaje de mujeres de color que se sienten bellas lo hicieron porque al interior de las comunidades sobre todo afroamericanas y europeas, a sabiendas de las dificultades que el racismo les depara a lo largo de la vida, la familia y la comunidad se apoya y se dicen constantemente que son valiosas. No puedo hablar por la población asiática, pero pensando en los latinos, no me sorprende: toda la vida pasamos aspirando a un patrón, a ser más delgadas, o a tener más curvas, o a tener un cabello impresionante o a hacer sensuales, y dejamos de vivir el ahora y apreciar nuestras particularidades y nuestra belleza, y no solo física sino cultural y espiritual.

Creo que todavía no está publicado el libro en español; sin embargo, recomiendo muchísimo esta lectura.

This book is a must read to understand not only fundamental aspects of racism against people of color, but also as a first step to think about and question the Western beauty standards that have been imposed in the rest of the world.

This book focuses on the personal experience of Emma Dabiri, the daughter of a Nigerian man and an Irish woman, growing up in Ireland in the mid-1980, and where mixed race individuals were practically non-existent. Besides her skin color, the author talks about how her hair was always the subject of some comment –from her texture, her way of styling it, or of not doing it. But, moving from this experience, Dabiri explores the perception Western societies have on African hair and the difference between how it was seen on traditional African societies. This difference has been so accentuated that something as personal as hair texture which is different for each nationality, has been subject to an absurd beauty standard that remains unchallenged. According to this standard, the desirable hair is the one that is straight –or with a soft curl, and shiny, voluminous, and if one is not born with it…well, you better do something to change it. The things that Black women have done around the world to try to change their hair is unbelievable and unfair, has damaged their natural form and all to try to fit in on a society that will discriminate them and not accept them in many ways if they don’t. The most terrible thing is the fact that this is not a thing of vanity but a requirement imposed on a world which follows a white beauty standard and considers European traditions as the best and as the last aspiration. Then, if you don’t comply with the standard, you face economic and social obstacles.

What is also terrible –and this book made me realize more clearly – is the degree to which we have assumed this standards that we even feel uncomfortable in our skin for not complying with it. Having grown up in Mexico, I am familiar with racism, an attitude that unfortunately exists in our country, but also with the fact of having friends that feel less because they are not thin enough, or have the perfect skin or look young. One thing is to be concerned about one’s looks, and this is something completely normal, but another very different thing is to be obsessed with beauty standards that are not our own. It might sound cliché but we need to understand that every nationality and ethnic group is beautiful and we have been taught to think that if it is not white, or thin, or flawless, then there is something wrong. But why do we think that when half the world population does not meet these standards? And why do we feel frustrated about it? Basically because we have been taught there is something we should aspire to and this thought has become too ingrained in our minds.

Another interesting fact the author mentioned was how in African societies, hair was more than just part of a look –styling it, braiding required time, and this time was not only seen as aesthetics but also as a space for men and women to build links and strengthen their ties. However, under the Western idea that “time is money”, styling such a textured hair was “losing time”. But why is time spend in leisure, talking to people, seen as a waste of time? In most traditional societies these are the spaces where communities grow stronger and help each other, getting something beyond anything material.

What I take from this book is the importance and the need for us to start questioning our ideas. No doubt this is very difficult, and more so if we consider that we are constantly surrounded by those Western standards that we aspire to have. However, any change must come from within and it is important to start this assessment personally. For example, another interesting fact the author mentioned is a survey made by a magazine worldwide. The question was basically asking women if they considered themselves beautiful, and 40% of Black women answered yes, while only 30% of Asian women and 25% of Latin women said yes. Dabiri assumes that the large percentage of Black woman that said yes is because, knowing they will face racism and hardship only for their skin color, families and support groups are always telling girls “you are beautiful and worth it”. I cannot speak for Asian women but when compared to the realities of Latin American societies, I am not surprised by the result: women spend most of our lives aspiring to a certain standard –being thin but having curves, have a beautiful hair, be sexy, etc., and we stop living the present and embracing our characteristics and our beauty, both physical but also cultural and spiritual.

It is definitely time to start questioning and rethinking our beliefs and preconceived ideas, and this book definitely contributes to the discussion.
Profile Image for Esme Kemp.
199 reviews11 followers
August 26, 2019
I think very possibly the best book I’ve read in 2019.
Well written, incredibly well researched and academic but didn’t lose humour or personality.
Not a bad word to say about it. And I’m still reeling about some of those complex fractal braid patterns! I can’t even get a plait to stay in my “lank, thin, greasy” hair 😫😫😫
Profile Image for Katheryn Thompson.
Author 1 book43 followers
June 14, 2020
I have to admit that this book wasn't quite what I was expecting it to be. Dabiri starts off by talking about her own life, but, although she often writes in first person, her own experiences are not the driving force of the book. I tend to find that the best non-fiction is personal, because that's what makes it unique. While everything Dabiri wrote about was interesting, and I learnt lots of information, I kept wondering why she was the one telling the story. If it's not an objective study, especially when it involves so much history, it feels more like it should be the subject of an academic book. I know that Dabiri is an academic, so I don't doubt that she is qualified to write such a book, but Don't Touch My Hair is marketed at a popular audience, and Dabiri advertises her personal credentials over her academic ones.

Don't Touch My Hair just felt, to me, a little disorganised. I don't think the titles of the chapters or (in my opinion too frequent) subdivisions were particularly helpful, and I didn't feel an overriding argument or structure - to the extent that turning the page to find 'Notes' (i.e. the end of the book) was a surprise. The blurb on Goodreads describes this book as a collection of essays. I think the lack of structure would make more sense if this were a collection of essays, but that was never made clear to me while reading the book. I think this circles back to the fact that the book didn't feel personal enough to be a collection of essays.

I don't want to sound too negative. This is wholly my own opinion, and I'm sure many people disagree with me. I did enjoy this book, and I definitely learnt a lot from it - in particular, Dabiri explains some complex issues in impressively coherent language - but I just found it a little disjointed and, as such, had to push myself to keep reading. I imagine it's difficult to teach your reader about extensive periods of history in a personal essay format, which is perhaps where I felt a disjunction -- and that is entirely my own fault, for not already knowing this history. I'm definitely glad I read this book, even if it wasn't what I was expecting, and maybe the book's structure will become more apparent to me on a reread.

There are several important concepts I will take away from this book, including the way we judge things (including African culture) by western standards. Perhaps that was my mistake with this book.

You can read my full review here.
Profile Image for Anne Griffin.
Author 3 books895 followers
February 5, 2020
This is a fantastic academic, yet very accessible, work on the history of black hair, its styles, its needs and how hair is a cultural expression of a community. This is a must read for historians and those interested in sociology and racism. Excellently written and compelling throughout.
Profile Image for Amanda Hupe.
953 reviews57 followers
August 29, 2020
Thank you, Emma Dabiri and Harper Perennial for the opportunity to read this book!

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture by Emma Dabiri is a collection of essays about the history, culture, and racism surrounding Black hair. Black hair has a beautiful history that has been erased by European history. Today, Black hair is still a source of discrimination. It is stigmatized and appropriated. Emma Dabiri begins by giving her background. She is Black and Irish, with “tightly coiled hair.” Her first memories regarding her hair is that it was something bad–something that needed to managed. She didn’t have access to the proper hair care and she was often made to feel ashamed of her hair. She then dives into the history regarding black hair and hair discrimination. The most important detail is her growth to love herself and embrace her beautiful hair.

“Africa is the gift that keeps on giving. African and Afro-diasporic cultures continue to be presented as lesser, as primitive and underdeveloped, while the systematic extraction of their resources-physical, cultural, and material-continues on at a merry pace.”

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a powerful statement of taking back her power, embracing her identity as a Black woman with Black hair. As a white woman, I can’t relate. My heart is absolutely broken for all those who have discrimination for the color of their skin and their hair. It should be accepted and embraced. The fact that history had tried to break and erase Black culture is infuriating. I had no idea that the history behind Black hair is so complex and I am angry that I never knew this. I am so glad I read this because now I do know! Black hair is not just cultural but there is also science and mathematics that comes from this culture. It is eye-opening and brilliant.

The research that went into this book is just astounding. European history tried to erase much of it but she is able to bring up some history. I am now going through her references to read and learn more. I can’t stress this enough, read this book. The discrimination that many face needs to be discussed so we can make a better world for our fellow Black brothers and sisters. Read this book. 5 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews448 followers
July 28, 2020
I read this book based off Tasnim's @reads.and.reveries and Enobong's @enobooks reviews, and it was a good decision! I listened to the audiobook via my library's audiobook app (the best thing ever), and Emma Dabiri reads it herself. She lays down the facts surrounding Black women's hair, structural racism, and history that's all too often glossed over, but it never feels dry.
I think if I read it again I would definitely go for a physical copy, as some sections were quite complex and layered and I felt like I couldn't absorb all the information as well as I could had I been reading it you know... with my eyes. It's definitely a book you'll want to underline and tab and share with others!
Throughout the book, Dabiri weaves the personal and the political, recounting her journey with her own hair alongside the politicised history of Black hair. Dabiri grew up in Ireland at a time when there was no really visible Black community, so she underwent countless microaggressions when it came to her hair and skin colour and struggled to look after her own hair with the products and salons available in Ireland (or not available).
Dabiri takes us on a hair journey from pre-colonial Africa through to the Harlem Renaissance and up to the Natural Hair movement, which still discriminates against certain hair textures. She delves into politics, history, philosophy, even mathematics. The last chapter on maths and hair braiding seriously boggled my mind. I had no idea that essential mathematical calculations (even used digital systems) originated in ancient Africa - but it's not often talked about in the west because it doesn't fit in with the 'primitive' narrative of the continent.
This book is just so full of interesting and eye-opening facts. Like how the 9-5 grind has robbed Black people of the time to care for their hair properly, when in the past it was seen as a social time that took however long it took and people took joy in it. Modern life has brainwashed us into thinking that if you're not working 24/7, whatever else you're doing is irrelevant.
Seriously an illuminating read!
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
February 19, 2022
Hair is so personal to ourselves, yet in many ways it is also political. Hairstyles can signal status—gender, affluence, class, or cultures. As Emma Dabiri explores in Don’t Touch My Hair, this is particularly true for Black women. This book goes far deeper than I expected given its length; Dabiri fuses her personal experience growing up Black in Ireland and the United States with meticulous research. The latter takes us from enslaved people in the Americas to Yoruban culture and mathematics to the sprawling, technologically sophisticated cities of African empires. This book is about far more than hair; it is a story of culture and history as it is written on people’s bodies.

As a white person who grew up in a city with a very small number of Black people, Black hair has never been something I have had much familiarity with or call to think about. Somewhere along the way, I learned about the controversial idea of Black people rocking “natural hair” instead of relaxed or straightened hair—but again, my racialization and upbringing meant that I really didn’t understand the internal politics of such decisions. Dabiri is really doing white people a favour when she discusses the history and weight of Black hairstyles, for she helps us understand how colonialism extended its control over Black bodies long past the formal end of slavery. In so doing, we go far beyond the simple eponymous admonishment and actually get to the root (pun intended) of our society’s misogynoir attitude towards Black women’s natural hair.

Dabiri’s grounds her connections between colonialism and hairstyling in her Yoruba heritage, but I suspect similar stories exist from other African cultures. She relates what she has discovered about the role that hairstyling played in Yoruban life, from the status of travelling hairstylists to the way that one’s hairstyle could signal one’s social position, such as a messenger. Dabiri admits that taking care of natural Black hair is time-consuming, then goes on to say:

The time it takes to do Afro hair is, quite frankly, the time it takes to do it. And it is in this fact that a very powerful truth is revealed. Our hair continues to be a space in which the fault lines between an imposed European system and black bodies’ resistance to that system are exposed and played out in real time. Our very bodies are positioned as seemingly at odds with the “British values” imposed by colonialism. As such they are subject to regulatory procedures.

Truly in this paragraph Dabiri demonstrates why it is so necessary for white people like myself to continue, always, to read books about racism by Black people. It isn’t enough to stop at “ok, don’t touch Black people’s hair without asking, and don’t ask to touch a Black person’s hair.” That’s merely being not racist. If one wants to be antiracist, one needs to go deeper than mere behaviours and actually understand the connection between Black hair and the forces that maintain racist oppression. That’s what Dabiri does in the above paragraph and throughout this book, and it is why no white person will ever be an expert on anti-Black racism no matter how many of these books we read.

But one of the benefits of reading to learn more about being antiracist is that it also encourages me to think about how white supremacy, while not oppressing me, also forces me into certain patterns of behaviour. Reading this book inspired me to reflect on how my relationship with my own hair has changed over the past few years, mostly as a result of my transition. Since that isn’t relevant to my thoughts on this book, I turned that reflection into a companion blog post that you can read if you are interested in my thoughts.

Beyond the antiracist education made available in Don’t Touch My Hair, there is just a wealth of cultural and personal knowledge that Dabiri shares. I was not expecting the final chapter to be all about mathematics! It was with such delight that I read Dabiri’s account of research done by white ethnomathematician Ron Eglash. In this way she summarizes how, historically, Yoruban and other African cultures have used hair as a way to describe mathematical knowledge, such as fractals, long before these concepts were laid out in writing by European mathematicians. We often give a tip of our hat in mathematics to the contributions of “Islamic mathematicians” while forgetting that a large portion of Muslims were, indeed, Black Africans. This erasure is, in and of itself, a form of racist revisionist history wherein even as we re-admit Islamic contributions into science and mathematics, we whitewash Islamic scientists and mathematicians just enough that they become palatable to Eurocentric stories of these disciplines.

Dabiri’s point? African people have always participated in scientific and mathematical discovery and innovation long before Europeans showed up in Africa, looked around, and promised to deliver “civilization” by railway at gunpoint. Moreover, African people did this through complex, three-dimensional ways of storytelling, from the construction of their cities and weaving of their clothes to the styling of their hair.

Highly recommend this book to a wide audience, particularly for white people like myself. It isn’t too long, it is rigorously cited, and it is packed full of important ideas and information. Dabiri’s writing challenges you, pushes you to consider your own complicity in these systems, and exposes wide without recourse the ways in which white supremacy continue to oppress Black bodies despite supposedly centuries of freedom. It’s time to change that.

Originally posted on Kara.Reviews, where you can easily browse all my reviews and subscribe to my newsletter.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Book Minded Mag.
164 reviews3 followers
May 1, 2020
Read this book. It is VITALLY important if you want to understand how black hair has been weaponized, criminalized, appropriated and used to discriminate against black people since slavery. READ. THIS. BOOK.
Profile Image for Christian.
147 reviews7 followers
November 29, 2019
An absolute education, a must read. I can't stress enough how fantastic this is from all angles. Amazingly written, researched and thought provoking.
Profile Image for L A.
353 reviews8 followers
May 7, 2019
Thanks to Penguin Books UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Full disclosure, I am a white woman and I know this book wasn't written for me. Please excuse any mistakes I may make in my review, I come from a position of almost complete ignorance on this subject.

To say this is a book about hair would be far too simplistic. It’s part social history, part memoir and explores issues and themes around personal and cultural identity and self-worth. The author comes from a mixed background and spent her childhood in Ireland. There she was faced with negative opinions about her skin and hair that made her feel excluded and ugly. She longed for the kind of hair associated with storybook Princesses aka European Princesses bedecked with long, silky locks.

Dabiri discusses the pervasiveness of European beauty standards and the negative impact it has on how black women in particular are perceived. Opinions towards Natural (‘bad’ hair), the impact of hair straightening rituals and the damage caused through hot combs and chemicals is also discussed. Dabiri looks at the rise of natural hair movement and the increasing rejection of European beauty standards. The self-loathing towards Natural hair is deep rooted however and even those involved in the Black Power movement weren’t immune to this. The afro is a symbol of rejecting the status quo but there is still a feeling of competition and insecurity towards “Becky with the good hair”.

Juxtaposed against this is the cultural appropriation of traditional black hairstyles by the likes of the Kardashians and Katy Perry and the scorn placed upon women like Zendaya whose (GORGEOUS) dreadlocks were quoted as looking like they would smell like "patchouli oil or weed" by a television host.

The book is engagingly written in a snappy yet academic writing style. Here we have an empowering and passionate celebration of a rich cultural heritage that is at best ignored and at worst openly discriminated against. It is never ‘just hair’.
367 reviews2 followers
September 18, 2019
This book is not what I expected. First of all the title caught my attention - it’s a play on the Solange song of the same title. From the description - I thought it would be stories of the author’s experience of growing up in 80s Ireland with black hair. For better or worse - this book is so much more than that.

The author touches on everything (and I mean everything) related to black hair. From the different textures, styles, how people used to wear their hair and the significance of those styles in ye olden day African Kingdoms, to colonial times, slavery, the Jim Crow era, to the modern day times with the resurgence of the natural hair movement and even touches on the issues with cultural appropriation.

Now I like to think I can read anything even though I generally prefer fiction. However I had mixed feelings about this book. I found some bits really fascinating and the breath of the research was her inspiring - which unfortunately also meant that some parts of it felt quite disjointed and were quite boring. I think it could have done with a bit more editing to refine it more.

It was still interesting enough to read to the end and that is due to skill of the writer so kudos to her. It also made me think a lot about how I present my hair as a black woman and my attitude to my natural hair - questioning my underlying feelings about it and the reasons behind that.
Profile Image for Kat.
783 reviews27 followers
July 29, 2020
This is the U.S. edition of Don’t Touch My Hair. The wording is almost exactly the same. Trust me, I’ve read both versions.
Profile Image for Shoshanna.
954 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2021
I saw this had a starred review in Kirkus Reviews and I thought it would be an interesting look at the way Black hair is treated in society.

OK, so I got that but I got a whole lot more. This is actually an incredibly deep and broad book. Emma Dabiri, a Black woman who grew up in Ireland, talks about her experience as a child and teenager, but that's just the start. "Twisted" looks at the ways that hair is in many ways more racialized than skin color, and that colorism is more based on hair texture than people think. I learned about historic Black entrepreneurs and the way that hair trends have changed over time. Some of the subjects that one might think would seem far afield, but which Dabiri really ties together, are the effects of the colonialist mindset on cultural appropriation, the African concept of time being different than the Western concept of time, and the way in which African mathematics and map making are interwoven with hair braiding, and the ways in which mathematical concepts developed in Africa are basically the basis for modern computers.

A lot of these ideas were totally mind blowing, and to be honest, I don't know if I would have come across them otherwise! I'm sure there are more academic books that might talk about one of these concepts or another (honestly I had trouble keeping up with the math / braiding discussions, I wanna re read that at some point!), but to have it all tied back to the way hair is treated, and often punctuated with Dabiri's dry wit, is something really special.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in studies of hair, of fashion trends over time, of theory of Blackness, of colonialism. I mean honestly, everyone should read this book.
Profile Image for girlwiththebookshelves.
16 reviews27 followers
January 10, 2021
4,5 stars- not a whole 5 because sometimes, this book jumps from topic to topic and it gets a bit hard to follow.
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