Review of ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ by Emma Dabiri

The politics of black hairstyling is the topic of this thought-provoking book by social historian and presenter, Emma Dabiri. A mixture of human experience, sociology, economics and persuasive writing, it’s a must-read for anyone who wants a closer look at the attitudes which have literally shaped the hair of black people throughout history and which are still impacting on their lives today. I would also describe it as empowering book for women in particular who have what Emma describes as ‘kinky’ hair. This is a deeply personal subject for her, which she has skilfully weaved with academic research to create a narrative which is part social study, part manifesto. It’s an excellent achievement and I learned a lot from the range of topics covered. There’s also a good selection of illustrations such as cartoons, adverts, historic photographs and even some examples of Emma’s own hairstyles.

I found the writing style difficult at times, because it was more academic than I anticipated – not a problem as such, but I’m not used to reading this style since I finished at university several years ago. I found it odd that occasionally this was punctuated with comments which included words such as ‘lol’. It just seemed weird to me. Although don’t quote me on it; the text may have been edited again before publication. My favourite sections of text were the social history and the author’s own experiences. She grew up in Ireland, having Irish and Nigerian heritage; it was a difficult time for her, not only as a rare minority in white predominantly Catholic Ireland, but also being made to feel ugly because her hair was ‘kinky’ and no one understood how to care for her type of hair. She longed for smooth ‘princess’ hair which grew down instead of out, and devoted much time and pain to make her hair fit the white western ideal. Throughout the book, she explores the damaging attitudes which are promoted but there are also positive moments too, in which she celebrates black hair for its particular qualities and examines the intricate traditional hairstyles of the Yoruba people.

The book title is inspired by Solange’s song ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’.

Thank you to the publisher, Penguin, for the advance copy via NetGalley. This book is published today.

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