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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: No. You Cannot Touch My Hair! | Mena Fombo | TEDxBristol

Difficulty: 0

Reviewer: 思铭 陈

Let's play a game

Mena says clap once, great well done.

Mena says high five someone next to you.

Very good. Okay.

Mena says touch the hair of

the person in front of you.

I'm serious. Okay.

Now touch the hair of the person

next to you.

Guys, guys, Mena didn't

say that time come on you know the rules

thank you for playing just want to see

by a show of hands how many of you just had

your hair touched by someone you've never

met before. Yeah? Quite a lot of people.

And just by a show of hands

how many of you were like

Nah, I'm not touching anybody's hair today

I'm with you guys I launched the

No You Cannot Touch My Hair campaign

survey in the summer of 2017 and just

under half of the respondents said they

had their hair touched on a monthly basis

by people they've never met before

and within that 18% said it happened once

a week so you can imagine

unwanted and univited hair touching by

people you've never met bofore that's

that's my daily life. About a year ago I

I got exausheted with constantly saying to

people don't touch like thanks for the

compliment like keep your hands to

yourself and I kind of wanted a recorder

just to press play but I figured that

prevention was much better than cure

so I printed these t-shirts and I started

to walk around wearing no you can't

touch my hair

and I wore them to supermarkets

I wore them to work

and to conferences I wore

them out socially but what I find is that

lots of people started asking me questions

so some people didn't genuinely know that

this was a thing even though it affects

my life like yes its a thing

and some people were like

yeah I want a t-shirt that happens to me

so I wanted to start tracking that data

and the survey was born

As part of the research of the survey

I made this bit of a social experiment


The hardest part of that

was trying to like chase people

lift up my shirt to show I was wearing

no you can't touch my hair campaign shirt

underneath at which point

they started to think I was flashing them

and try and say no no

its a social experiment

but when I did catch up to people

and I asked them how it felt

most of the people you know said

it was weird and it was uncomfortable

the majoirity of our campiagn survey

respondants said that it felt intrusive

it felt invasive

and they were very angry and annoyed

that this happened to them

one of the things that I find was that

the majority of respondents

were female

so 90% in fact identified as female

and the majority of those were

black women and girls

so we know this is an issue that affects

black women and girls

more than any other race

now a friend of a friend

this white guy was saying

yeah but you know you know

I went on holiday to India

for two weeks and people

were touching my hair

and lots of other women were saying

oh you know when you're pregnannt

people come up and touch your stomach

and its the same thing

but i don;t want to take that experience

from anybody

any form of unwanted and univited type

touching is completely unexceptable

but most women on average are

only pregnant for nine months

so that type of touchign will come

to an end

and im not on vacation or holiday

and like many of the repsondents

this is the country that i was born in

it still happens

some people a very small minority said

that they're fine with touching

and again that cool

but this campaign is really targeted

at the overwhelming disproportianate

number of black people black women

black girls that experience this unwanted

hair touching

when I was six years old I was asked to be

Mary in my school play getting the part

and the only other black kid in the school

was aksed to be Joseph

and on the day they gave us this

white baby Jesus

now I accept that it is

genetically possible for two people

of African ethinicity to birth a

white child but this is the 80s England

so I don't think that thats the point

my school was trying to make

so I asked for a black baby they said no

and in response when all the parents came

in I just refused to smile

that was the day that my inner activist

was born

when I got to seven I started to notice

that I was different to my peers

so I concluded that I was really really


hear me out

so basically this is kind of the age where

you start to notice that I was black

and so they'd ask me really really

crazy questions like why are you black

and because I was really inteligent

I'd give these over like elaborate

detailed explanations and I would say

I was born black

and this was mind blowing to them like

why were you born black?

And I've never considered why they

were born white so I said I just was

and we'd go back and forth but it became

very apparant that this wasn't the response

they wanted

so not just being intelligent

I was really creative and so I made up

stories like I was telling the other kids

I was walking to school one day in the

pouring rain and it was car drove past me

this massive puddle splashed me with mud

and by the time I got to school the mud

had dried so hard that I couldn't wash

it off

and the kids actually believed the story

and they'd be like is it true?

and I was like yeah

and they would go and get our siblings

and they'd come back and say

tell my sister why you're black

and so this became my rhetoric

that I'd go around telling people

and the fact that they'd believe such a

ridiculous story made me believe

that they were idiots and I was really


many years later my birth mother

Ayiba would tell me stories about when she

would go to work and she'd take her

Nigerian lunch in so she would have egusi

garri and her colleagues would say

what's that smell? What are you eating?

What is that? And she would look at them

and she would say I am eating worms I am eating

snake I am eating insect and she said

Mena sometimes you just have to tell these

people want they want to hear

they think I am a savage so

I will act like one

My seven year old self learned to tell

people what I thought they wanted to hear

by the age of 8 I had conviced the kids

that my hair is made of sponge because

of course being black it couldn't be made

of hair but by nine

the difference started to become more and

more of an embarasement and I can remember

going on a residential and on

the first night all the girls had to

shower and I was more developed than

my peers so we get into the shower and

my peers were faschinated by my body

so much so that they took it in turns

to run into my shower and to grab me here

and to grab me here to see

what it felt like

and at the time I tried to laugh it off

but it was humiliating

It was so humiliating that for the next

three days I didn't wash and everyday

the girls would say come shower come whoer

and I was like no I'm not going

and by the third day I couldn't tell

whether they wanted me to shower because

they still wanted to grab my hair

or to see me naked or whether

I smelt so bad

becuase one of my guy friends turned

to me and said Mena you stink

but i can remeber being mute for the rest of that day

the rumour kind of spread

through the shcool and over the next

couple of weeks I kind of remember

getting pulled out of my class and sent

to the headmistresses office

And I was like got there

there was a male doctor in the office

and the headmistress another teacher

and they concluded that it was unusual

for somone my age to develop

and so they wanted to examine me

and they pulled open my skirt

and my nickers and looked down to see

that I had hair

and I returned to class

when I got home that evening

my foster mother Jean was absolutely

furious when she found out

she called the school she said a few

angry words and then she put the phone down

and she turned to me and she siad

I did not give permission for that

to happen to you

she said I'm really sorry

it takes all types of people to make

the world and there's absolutely

nothign wrogn with you

and I was very greateful for my mother

for saying that because it does take

all typoes to make a world

and if we appreciate difference

and its not such a this intriguie that

we feel right our ownership

to go and touch but maybe if other mothers

shared that story with their daughters

then perhaps we wouldn't be seen as such

a an (other) and my childhood

may not have been so humilaiting

In 1810 a woman named Sarchy Bartman

was taken from South Africa and brought

to the U.K. she had distinctive features

she was a black woman

she had a large behind

and they put her on display

in (kidili) circus

and thousands of thousand of people

would come year after year

to stare and to point and to touch

fascinated intriguied curios

and she survived for 5 years in the Uk

and when she returned


she surved fo r5 yars in the UK

and shen she died doctors and scientists

were so fascinated by her body they made

a plastic cast and they preserved

her organsi in museums

until the 1970s

and in 2002 nelson mandela sent for her

to come home

where she recieved a burial

when I think about the experience I had

at school with my peers

and I think about the women who

answered the no you cant touch my hair

campaign survey

and I compare that to the experience

of Sara Bartman I have to say that

the actions keep repeating themselves

this fascination with black bodies

when I say black bodies I include

black hair

has been around for centuries

so is the motivation for touching hair

different to the motivation to those

that went to see Sara Bartmen

I'll say that again

is the motivation the same

for touchign hair as it is to the actions

that happened to Sara Bartmen

In 1889 human zoos were first founded

by a guy named Karl Heidenberg

and he traveled the world and he took

tribes some of them african tribes and he

presented them in Europe and in

the Americas and people would come

to starte and to see

and those zoos existed until

the 1960s and I think to myself

had I been born a few decades earlier

could this girl have been me?

Hundreds of thousands of people came

to point and to stare and to view

and they even had signs and it would

say don't feed the natives they've

already eaten

Many women responded in the survey said

people touching their hair had felt like

being petted in a zoo

your hair looks like my pubes

is what a group of lads chanted at me

as I walked down Bristol highway side

I've never touched an afro before are

the kind of comments when I've

challenged them after they've just

grabbed my hair

You can touch mine is a common response

I immediatly get in meeting

or conferences

as a trade off for exchanging

hair touching

One woman said to me

well if you're hair wasn't so beautiful

people wouldn't touch it

after I went up to her and said

don't touch my hair again

Is the motivation different because the

actions are still the same

A fourteen year old girl from Bristol

wrote in and said that

she was in the shopping mall

and a group of girls came

and started playing with her hair

from behind

and when she turned and ask them to stop

they laughed and walked away

is the motivaiton different

becasue the action are still the same

another woman talked about her boss's boss

walking past her desk everyday

playing wiht her hair

and she said it happens not just to her

but to other women always of colour

is the motivaiton different?

because the actions are still the same

A father talked about her daughter begging

to have her hair straightened because

touchign it had become relentless

a mother talked about having to braid

her child's hair everyday because the

touching had become too much

is the motivation differnet

because the actions are still the same?

We live in this world that is

systematically inequal

so we have designed it to

favour one group over the other

and over another

and we're starting to say terms like

unconscious bias and microaggression

and macroaggression by I would argue that

we should be really saying rascism

because the motivation hasn't changed

the actions are still the same

if you're imagine to describe

words as people

then I were to argue that power

would be teh grandfather

prejudice would be the grandmother

and together they have given birth

to rascism

now rascism hooks up with ignorance

and they create microaggression

if you imagina that microaggression

is raised by ignorance and rascism

what do you think she is going to become?

everytime you put your hand in my hair

without permission

you are her

and everytime you ask my permission

and I say no

you are also her

and everytime you see it happen

and you don't call it out

and you don't have systems in place

to stop it from happening

you are her

I call hair touching hair attacks

every black person every black woman

every black girl

deserves the same priveledges as our peers

so we deserve the right to go to work

and not be attacked

we deserve the right to have an education

and to not be attacked

and we deserve the right to go to dinner

with friends

and not be expected to be

the educator of all things

black hair black history black hair care

many of the responders were angry

at the responses when you challenge things

so I asked them

what can we do

what can be done

and they came up with three things

and they said one

touchers just need to stop touching

so if you're someone who touches

whatever you need to do

put a memo

a post-it note on your computer

educate yourself but stop touching

two they said that more education

and awareness was needed

and that looks like more representation

in mainstream media

more history in schools

and not just one month

I hope that this talk today has helped

raise some awarenesses and eduaction

but don't be complacent

google youtube exist

so if this reaffirms your position

or if this is new to you

then learn and share

I have three last but not least

they said that we need to call it out more

we all need to call it out more

what does that look like?

I'm going to tell you.

I'm going to split us through the middle

you guys over here are don't

when I point you gonna say your word

and you guys over here are touch

those two simple words

and this is how we call it out


Guys that was weak

It's two simple words

if anybody doesn't understand

or doesn't know or hasn't experienced

this yet this is how you call it out



I want to hear it loud like

these guys at the front



I want to hear it one more time

how do we call it out?



Angela Davis said I'm no longer

accepting the things I cannot change but

I am changing the things I cannnot accept

I extend that to you and I say

if the motivation is truly different

then we need to let our action be that change

Thank you.


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