The Angry Black Woman has been pursuing the hair petting issue for awhile.
It breaks down to this: white people feel entitled to touch black people's hair without permission, to ask them if it's real without preamble or reason, and to talk incessantly about it. Angry Black Woman says: don't.
This whole thing makes me cringe for two reasons. Firstly, I have a similar thing, which is that people make a very big and rude deal about my height in terms and in a manner in which they wouldn't make a big deal about the aspects of anyone else's body. No one would walk up to a woman with big breasts and say, "Wow, your breasts are BIG! What's your bra size?" People wouldn't even walk up to someone and say "Wow, your feet are BIG! What's your shoe size?" If they did, they'd be considered at least weird, and definitely rude and obnoxious. But it appears to be okay to walk up to me and say "Wow, you're TALL! How tall are you?" I never answer this question. I always explain that I don't answer and why. But no one EVER stops to think about it. Everyone ALWAYS takes immediate offense, as if my refusing to talk about MY BODY is somehow me deliberately insulting them. MY bodily dimensions, you see, are about THEM.
This being the case, it makes me crazy that when I first met Angry Black Woman I DOINGED HER CURLS. I got permission first, of course, but the fact that I did that to someone who SO OBVIOUSLY has hair that people touch all the time and talk about all the time in an obnoxious way makes me absolutely frustrated with myself. I even remember thinking briefly that I shouldn't do it. But I did it anyway. Being a good person, ABW forgave me and is still my friend. But that doesn't make it okay that I did it.
Sure, I've got other excuses. Such as that I NEVER do the usual black hair thing (I don't); such as that I definitely have a curly hair fetish that transcends race (I do) or that I ask to doing the hair of everyone with corkscrew curls, who usually are Latino or white, not black. Sure, all of that is true. It's even possible that ABW is the only black person whose curls I've asked to doing, since I've been sensitive to this racial issue since a very young age, and that I did it because she was my friend. Lots of excuses.
But then, nonblack curlyhaired people have a similar problem with people touching their hair. It's not necessarily a racial issue, but it's definitely a personal space issue. An issue with people thinking that because you have an attribute that attracts them, or repels them, or is simply different, that your personal space isn't as valid as other people's. It's a difference issue. It's a privilege issue.
It's like we're all a bunch of big babies toddling around grabbing things we've never seen before and putting them in our mouths. Maybe it IS hardwired. Maybe we really CAN'T help ourselves, at least not at first. I've had to deal with more of this than most people because I have both the multiracial thing (which means that there's nowhere I can go where people won't make a big deal about my race) and the tall woman thing, (which, ditto). But I STILL do it to others, even though I should know better.
But even if it is hardwired I think we can train ourselves out of it. The fact that I thought about touching ABW's hair before giving in to the impulse indicates that next time I might be able to stop myself before commiting an annoyance. Or that I HAVE stopped myself ever since before committing an annoyance.
I have a black coworker who wears wonderful, bright-colored scarves on her head. The scarves give me a great deal of visual pleasure and I usually comment on women's attire when I like it, but this is so close to the hair petting issue that I've hesitated, and I'm glad of it. Because, you know what? I comment on my other coworkers' CLOTHES, but not on what they do with their hair. Ever. I don't know why that is. Maybe I don't like the way they do their hair. But I've never commented on scarf-woman's CLOTHES, even though I generally like the way she dresses. It's her headscarves that get my attention. I'm not 100% on why that is, and until I am, I'm keeping my damn mouth shut and just smiling at her to say "good morning."
None of these choices are satisfactory, and yes, it's a pity we can't just go with our impulses. But people, you don't have any gods-given RIGHT to act on your impulses in public, so let's not act as if we do. If your impulse were to pet a woman's breast, no one would have to tell you why you shouldn't do that. If your impulse were to call a total stranger a "cunt", ditto. We control ourselves all day long. This is just another item on the list. Add it.
By the way, it's a good thing the height thing "intimidates" people, because I particularly hate being touched by strangers, and if ABW and I changed places, I'd be slapping people right and left and not being dignified, generous, and funny about it, like she is.