BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Rea-Anna Walters will be hosting a “human exhibit” tomorrow morning, on the Burman University grounds, encouraging people to explore a new way to approach culture conversation.
The exhibit is titled You Can Touch My Hair, and is an interactive hour that opens people up to a very real experience felt by many people of African descent – the experience of strangers asking to feel your hair.
“The exhibit is a way to show how we feel. When we are asked personal questions in public, I know I’ve felt like I’m part of an exhibit. There have been times where I was just standing in public, and people have asked to touch my hair,” Walters explained.
“Once, I let a woman do this, and the woman standing behind her in the line asked to touch it, too – soon there were three women touching and pulling at my hair and saying “Oh my gosh, this is so cool,” and I’ve had to say to myself, “Okay this doesn’t feel right.”
Walters said she feels the community is willing to celebrate cultural diversity, and she simply wants to facilitate an appropriate venue to ask questions.
The exhibit will take place at 11 a.m. in front of the Burman University Administration building at the feature sundial. From 11 a.m. to 12 noon, community members are invited to come walk through the exhibit, which will be broken down into two parts.
The first portion will be a group of people with a sign saying, “You can touch my hair”. The second portion of people will have a sign saying “You can’t touch my hair”. At the end of the exhibit, students will be serving tacos in a bag as a lunch-time treat.
Walters said people will be able to speak to the volunteers, ask them how they are, and open up a kind conversation. This, Walters says, is the key to unlocking the conversation around cultural differences.
“First of all, people will ask something like, ‘Can I ask you about your hair?’ and open the conversation. From there, they may ask the volunteer if they can touch their hair, or if the volunteer feels comfortable with the guest touching their hair,” Walters said.
This simple chat creates a space where a person can set their own physical boundaries, and it is done so in a respectful manner. Walters said this experience will help people to understand an appropriate way to approach a person and ask them a personal question about their cultural background.
“It will show people what the dialogue should look like among people,” Walters said simply.
“Hair is a part of our beauty, not just in African culture, but in all cultures. A portion of our society’s beauty identification is our hair. It’s something people are naturally drawn to.”
Walters said she is hopeful that members of the community will take this opportunity to ask questions and be able to open up a dialogue around cultural expression and acceptance.
“I want it to be a motivation for black people in my community to be able to answer questions about our hair in an easier way. However, I’m a little scared people won’t take the opportunity to come to this and ask us,” she said.
“I know people are curious – I just hope they can get out of their comfort zone and take time here. I’m putting myself outside my own comfort zone to provide a safe space to talk, and I want people to come and actually participate.”
Stop by Burman University tomorrow morning to check it out.