This article originally appeared on VICE UK. "Uh, please can you take your hand out of my hair?"—every black woman in the Western world, at least once in her life, if not many, many times more.
Solange wrote a song about this—"this" being people, everywhere, thinking it's totally fine to touch the hair of black people they've never met—and she's not the only person to have come up with a creative response to the problem. After multiple, multiple strangers grabbed at her hair, Portland-based art director Momo Pixel took her frustrations and turned them into the genius Hair Nah, a video game where you swat away all those annoying, hair-hungry hands. Understandably, after a tweet of Momo's went viral last week, the internet is very excited about this game.
I spoke to Momo at 4 AM her time about being a viral sensation, and how, when it comes to diversity, things are slowly and surely getting better.
VICE: Was there one specific incident that prompted you to create Hair Nah?
Momo Pixel: I wouldn't say there was a specific instance particularly. I was just annoyed because [people touching my hair] happens more where I live now than any city I've ever lived in. I was trying to explain how it feels to my boss, and he couldn't understand, so he acted it out—and when he was doing it, oh man, he looked ridiculous. I said in my head, Oh, this would be a funny game, but I think I said it out loud, because he was like, "You should—you should make it a game." I already had a script called Hair Nah because I write about this often.
Why do you think strangers feel entitled to touch black women’s hair?
The obvious answer is slavery. It’s not as bad [as back then]—of course not. But as a white person in general, you just have a freedom nobody else has. You’re allowed to have things, and you can be whoever you want to be, and people have to adjust to you. I think when [non-black] women are walking down the street, they think, Oh, I like it, and it's intuitive or just automatic to them to touch it because they're allowed to. And I’m like, "I’m not an item. You don’t own me. Your privilege stops here." I definitely think it's an entitlement and a privilege, and it stems from slavery.
How long did it take you to make?
It took ten long-ass months. I basically had a creative baby.
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It took so long. I had the idea in February, but I work. The thing about my job that's so dope is that they supported this. They were like, "Why not make this game while you’re at work? You can work on it with your co-workers.” I was like, "For real? [laughs] But I still had to do my work, which is why it took so long. There were a lot of all-nighters and a lot of designing. I’ve never designed a game before.
What are your thoughts on the lack of black women in gaming, and in tech in general?
I think it's getting better; however, I’ve never been on this side of it. Normally I’m a regular consumer, so I’m usually like, "Oh my gosh! A black girl did what? Yaaas!" This is my first time being the black girl people are saying yes about. But black women are the type who do. If the lane doesn’t exist, we create it. I’m not worried about us. There will be a black-owned game station or something—I give us five years, if that. Plus, there are all these blogs and stuff for black girl gamers and black nerds; when I see these blogs, I follow them, so I know there's improvement.
You chose a wide array of skin tones for the game.
I said to myself, If I’m going to make a game, I’m going to do it right. At first, I had three skin tones, but then I decided that three didn't cover it, so I kept adding more. That’s also why I did all the different hairstyles because we change our hair all the time.
Do you think tech companies need to be more inclusive, or are you more in the lane that we should create our own stuff?
Both—tech companies should most definitely be inclusive—but I don't know, it's hard. This whole diversity thing that’s happening, I think sometimes people hire for the wrong reasons. Of course big companies should be more inclusive, but I hate when people only hire us because it’s a movement or a trend. Like, "Oh, she’s a black woman, I’m going to throw you in here." They don’t actually consider who this person is. They don’t make an environment to keep her. Hiring is one thing, but actually having a working environment to sustain her is another. I would say yes, be inclusive, but be inclusive with purpose. Have a plan to support and build up [POC], and allow them to be them.
Is it important to you to bring awareness to the issues in your community?
Oh yeah—I do all of my work for the culture. Even when [my company] worked for Nintendo, we made sure we cast diverse people. I feel like if my work isn't pushing culture forward, or giving commentary, or trying to make it easier for us, then there's no point in me doing it. Art and the creative industries are mostly white-owned, and I feel like you have to do stuff for your culture. I don't want to make art that doesn't relate to myself—that would be weird.
Are there any plans for the game to be a smartphone app?
Yeah! I’m going start on that very soon. I definitely want it to be an app. I want to have a version with black men—I know it happens to them as well. I want to add more levels to the game and keep updating it. I want to have merch because I’m a fashion designer too, and I think Hair Nah outfits and clothes would be amazing!
Hair Nah was developed by artist and Wieden+Kennedy art director Momo Pixel. Momo and a team at W+K contributed to the project. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Follow Ruth Faj on Twitter.