I think this can be incredibly confusing because a compliment should be harmless. Of course, though, there is always more to the issue.
I don’t necessarily think that it is wrong to compliment someone who has a different hair texture than yours. I have been complimented by men and women who are not black many times and never took offense. Its important to be mindful of your tone and the way you say things, simply stating, “I love your hair” is completely acceptable! As women, we should be building each other up as often as possible.
On the other hand, I can see how some people, can intend to compliment someone but end up offending them. A white coworker of mine once told a black coworker of mine that he “loved black people’s hair even though it always looked messy.” That is NOT a compliment and isn’t something that makes anyone feel good about themselves.
I definitely think that when it comes to complimenting a black woman on her hair, there is a fine line between good and insulting. If you say a neutral, “I love your hair” “Your hair looks great today” etc, I think that is totally fine and anyone that takes offense to that is looking to create an issue.
The problem, however, comes when one of 2 things happen: 1. You reach out to touch our hair. That is a huge issue that black women face because our hair texture and styles are so different. If you pet our head, we will be offended as anyone should. And 2. A compliment followed up with an insult. Saying “your hair looks great even though it’s so (insult here)” or “I love your hair. Are you mixed with something”. Now those types of compliments are uncalled for.
I think the person you were speaking to might have been referring to compliments that can come off as condescending. The truth is that black women have been inundated with media telling us that our hair is shitty and we need to change it. We are bashed for natural hair, perms, extensions, braids, everything so when you give a black women a compliment about something that is largely thought to be bad, I think it can take us aback.
It is complicated and I think there is a fine line, again, between curiosity and making me feel like a spectacle.