Friday, May 22, 2009

It all started with hair

This blog, that is. The inspiration arrived several days after a particularly fractious online exchange about white adoptive parents locing their black children's hair. This was not the first conversation about white parents and black children and hair that I'd witnessed or participated in, but it was by far the most mean-spirited, especially in the comments section

One of the allegations made by the blogger, and supported by other commenters, was that white adoptive parents loc their children's hair because they don't want to "deal with" their hair:

I am truly appalled at the trend of adoptive parents -- transracial adoptions -- (White parents, Black Children)-- locing their children hair. Apparently the parents think that this is either a.) desirable by the child or b.) easier to deal with. IT'S NOT!!!!

It is sad the amount of APs that are considering and following through with this. MHO the primary reason is because they just don't want to deal with the child's hair. Sad for the child who will learn early on that her hair is a hindrance.

Another was that white parents don't appreciate the natural beauty of their children's hair and want it to look more "white":

All the talk about natural hair, this and that to me is a smoke screen. Because there is another aspect to locing, and yarn braids. It allows the hair to FLOW as my neice would say. If you want to keep it natural we have century long traditions for what a little black girls hair looks like. The yarn, extensions, and even locs is a way to allow the hair to grow and look a bit more like what people are used to. It isn't about keeping the girls hair natural. Now, of course that is my opinion probably not explained very well and perhaps not politically correct either.

Still another was that white parents don't appreciate the complexity of the decision to loc a child's hair--that is, they don't understand the implications for hair care, nor do they appreciate the "political" aspects of the style:

Locs are first and foremost a choice. You will not find ONE Black parent that will loc their children's hair unless the child is old enough to request it or unless the parents have locs of their own. Locs are a serious and intimate decision. Some wear it for fashion. But either way, all loc wearers know it should not be entered without much thought, understanding and commitment. It is amazing to me how many hours are spent posting about hair care for "Black" hair. But I understand that the best way to counteract the unknown is to study up. But to loc a child's hair. A child???? Are you serious?

Wow, I am shocked that ppl are making a decision to loc a child's head who is not old enough to understand the spirituality behind locing. One of my college friends studied with the rastas and I went over to visit with her during that time. Locing to me is so much more than a hairstyle. I have such respect for what it means to the rastas, who have faced horrendous oppression, that I couldn't imagine how someone could loc without truly understanding its history.

Living in the city/town we live in with less then 10% people of color, yet moving back and forth through the Bay-Area, I really had to be careful of the Life-danger my son's locs could put him into and the typical sterotyping that people would subject him to.

Because locs are NOT just some hair-do...if you think that, then you have no business locing in America!

But, sadly, perhaps the most consistent allegation was that white adoptive parents not only don't get it but don't WANT to get it:

I wish I could reach out to the AP's doing this, but I have tried and met great opposition. I found with adoption, people rarely want to hear the truth, or even your opinion. They want to believe what they want to believe. Period.

Great post, as usual. What bothers me about many of the AP or PAPs is when we as Black women (of varying backgrounds) provide our pretty solid and sound advice garnered from years of life is not taken seriously. It is like my mother says "Do you want to hear what you want to hear or do you want to hear the truth?" Many just want to hear what they want to hear. I love the little's just hair it will grow back or other black people loc their children's hair (meaning so why can't I). These are comments said without really understanding the community in which the child comes from and will belong to...not just being their child.

It's nice that you blogged about this, but you know I'm at the point where I think you should leave these crazy ppl to themselves. As my grandma says, they'll learn on their own that fat meat is greasy.

To a white adoptive mother who wants like crazy to get it, the negativity of these responses was discouraging. And that the conversation broke down along racial lines, as it did, was also disheartening. Moreover, none of the allegations are true--at least not of the white adoptive parents that I know--with the possible exception of not quite getting the cultural baggage that accompanies locs (more on that in a future post). So I felt sad, discouraged, misunderstood, but most of all confused. It seemed that I had found another you-can't-win-for-losing facet of transracial parenthood.

The notion that white adoptive parents don't want to hear the good advice of black women is a tricky one. My sense is that most of us white adoptive parents sense that getting the hair thing right is terribly important, and we need advice from willing black people in order to get it right. The difficulty is that what it means to "get it right" varies from (black) person to (black) person. And many white adoptive parents I know (mostly parents of girls) have been advised by black women at least once to relax their daughters' hair. But there is also a strong argument to be made, however, is that relaxing a black child's hair is a way of making the hair more like white hair. So, if a white parent were to take the advice of one well-meaning black woman and relax her daughter's hair, she might face backlash from another , who believes she is trying to make her daughter conform to white norms of beauty, and thus, devaluing her. And, bizarrely, if a parent chooses to loc her child's hair as a way of embracing the child's hair just as it is, she may still face accusations of trying to make the hair more "white," as implied in the comment above that locs are a way of making the hair "flow." There is just no way of pleasing everyone. And if we'd take all the advice we receive, we would have to divide our children's scalps into tiny little sections and do something entirely different to each.

Interestingly, in the adoptive parent community I belong to, white adoptive parents play a strong role in promoting the idea that we should keep our children's hair natural. Among the very group that you might suspect would be most susceptible to preserving norms of white beauty, there is a strong ethic against relaxing and hot combing, and no discussion of extensions or weaves. Many of the Black women who are part of this community happen to wear locs and have talked about how positive the experience of wearing locs has been for them--very liberating, very freeing, very good for their own self-esteem. They talk about the joy they feel in breaking away from hot combs and relaxers, which felt oppressive to them, and as if they had to make their hair different than what it actually is. How confusing, then, it is to encounter black women arguing against locs, and others advising relaxing, and to pass little black girls in the grocery store wearing relaxers and extensions. It makes the head spin. So what is a white adoptive parent to do?

This one reached out to Tami at What Tami Said. And a conversation evolved that inspired this blog. I envisioned a space that could serve as a resource to other white parents of black children. And it would devote plenty of space to hair--the politics, the myths, the challenges of navigating this territory as a parent--without all of the finger pointing. Tami graciously agreed to help. (She also wrote an insightful post about the loc-debacle--read it here.) This was many months ago, and life intervened. But THIS is where this blog was supposed to start. And so, I hope you'll join Tami and me this Saturday at 1 pm Central for the first episode of Nobody Asked You on the radio. It promises to be a great conversation.


  1. Wow, I am so happy to have found your blog! I am an adoptive mom to my beautiful 22 month old daughter, and I too find my head spinning with all the conflicting advice out there about "what to do" with my daughter's hair. So much of what you have written so far, I could have written myself.
    Thank you!

  2. Anne,
    Thanks so much for visiting. And maybe you'll join us this afternoon for a conversation about hair, or listen in later.

  3. Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I feel exactly the same way! And a little less alone after reading this.

    By the way, in your profile, do you mean the French movie Chocolat from the 80's? I loved that one!

  4. Kristen,
    That's EXACTLY the movie I mean. Isn't it amazing?

    So glad that you are here and finding this helpful!