Thursday, May 28, 2009

More resources...

Motown girl has some do-it-yourself recipes (many from Curly Girl) for haircare

Turns out the author of Curly Girl has designed her own line of hair products. A colleague of color raves about them.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tami and I talked hair and it was fabulous

We had a terrific and enlightening conversation. Do listen using the player in the sidebar or by going to the show page.

Among the resources Tami mentioned on the show:

websites: for how-to videos on natural hairstyles

Curly Girl
Good Hair for Colored Girls Who've Considered Weaves When the Chemicals Became Too Rough Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Tenderheaded: A Comb-Bending Collection of Hair Stories

Tami's post on her hair story:

Tami's "Dispatches from Nappyville":

If you know of other helpful resources, please share in the comments!

Friday, May 22, 2009

All about hair on Blogtalk Radio

Join me and special guest Tami, of What Tami Said, on Saturday, May 23rd at 1 pm Central/2 pm Eastern for a conversation on one of our favorite topics: hair.
Listen live here or join the conversation by calling (347) 308-8145.

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.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

News of note

This American Life did an extraordinary story on a Samoan adoption that went very wrong, and one adoptive family's attempt to make it right. (See Act Two)

The Black Snob has an interesting story about integration and its shortfalls.

On Racialicious, guest commenter Neesha Meminger asks if white authors should write from the perspective of people of color.

Tami of What Tami Said and Deesha Philyaw of Mamalicious and Co-Parenting 101 talk about motherhood, the dearth of books by and for black women on motherhood, and a media-constructed white norm of motherhood that doesn't even do a very good job of representing most white women.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Transracial Adoption on Blogtalk Radio

Tune in Monday night at 9pm Central Time for a conversation about transracial adoption on All About Race, the companion podcast to the blog All About Race. The fantastic Carmen D. has invited me to be a guest on the show, which I am very excited about. We will be taking calls, and I hope some of you will take the opportunity to join us. Show information is at

Listen to the show here:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Those aren't curls, Mom" revisited

Transracial parenting is a very humbling experience. You are continually learning how much you don't know. And sometimes you unwittingly demonstrate your ignorance to your child's teacher, say, or all of the readers of your blog. Ahem.

In the wake of my conversation with J.'s teacher, I found myself wondering if she might have meant that his hair was .... well, you know, that n-word: nappy. I'm going to talk about this word throughout this post, because it seems unavoidable--I have to call a spade a spade. However, I know the word can have negative connotations, especially when used by a white person, and I apologize if I cause offense.

Once this thought--that J.'s hair might be "nappy"--I realized that I had only a very hazy notion of what that word meant, and that I had no idea what the difference was--if there even was a difference--between curly hair and nappy hair.

So a good friend and I embarked on some research. And the more I read, the more, erm, humbled, I felt.

Here are some of the definitions I came across:

And here is how I described J.'s hair in my prior post:

  • tiny little corkscrews that coil like tight springs

Ahem. You'll note the similarities between their language and mine. It turns out that J.'s hair is the definition of nappy.

I had no idea.

See, on the playgrounds I grew up on, nappy was not a good thing. I didn't have a good sense of what it meant, but I knew that it had something to do with being messy and unkempt and maybe even a bit dirty. And it turns out that I'm not alone in having negative associations. My Webster's defines nappy as "kinky: said esp. of the hair of blacks and used derogatorily or contemptuously." Urban dictionary includes this definition: "one of African desent who has tightly coiled unkept hair; one with locks of hair that is tightly curled that is unwashed and uncombed" and this definition: "a black persons hair that is not kept up with, or dirty," as well as a host of other "definitions" that are truly ugly (please do yourself a favor and trust me on this--it's a site you should skip). Because J.'s hair is lovely, and clean, and neither messy or unkempt, I thought that his hair couldn't possibly be nappy. How I learn.

So, is there any difference between nappy and curly? I asked my friend. We researched some more. My friend concluded "It seems like, if a black person has curly or kinky hair, it is nappy by definition." That jived with what I saw, too: that the choice of one word over the other seems to have everything to do with the color of the person who owns the hair in question. On at least one black haircare site, curly is clearly distinguished from nappy with questions like "how do I make my nappy hair curly?"

But at the same time, I see plenty of evidence on the web that the word nappy is being reclaimed. And I'm so glad. I'm glad, too, that natural hair seems to be making a return, and I'm so struck by how powerfully validating the decision to go natural seems to be for so many black women.

What difference does it make to me to know J.'s hair is nappy rather than curly? Not much. Except that I feel (a little) less like Clueless White Mom. I love his hair. Call it curly, I'll love it. Call it nappy, I'll love it. Can a rose by any other name smell as sweet? You betcha.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On not giving the benefit of the doubt

There was an exchange recently on the adoptive forum I frequent that reminded me of many others that have occurred on this forum, usually around subjects of race. Here's what happened: Person A, who is white, posted a question using language that was less than inclusive. Person B, who also happens to be white, politely pointed out that the language was not inclusive. Person C, also white, rushed in to defend A, arguing that she didn't mean anything negative by her language and should be given the benefit of the doubt. Heated discussion between B and C ensued. Meanwhile, A, who apparently did not feel that she needed to be defended, thanked B for pointing out her how her language could be read and apologized.

This notion of intention often comes up in discussions of racism--particularly the idea that the intention behind an utterance justifies or excuses any offense it has caused--and it drives me nuts. So I started a new thread, titled "Words & Intentions," and this is what I wrote:

This conversation feels familiar. One person will say something to the effect of "I find xxx language offensive" and another will say "yes, but we should really give the benefit of the doubt to the person who said xxx, because that person did not intend any offense." I'm a little weary of this conversation, to be honest. And I think the "give benefit of the doubt" argument is problematic, in that it seeks to protect the speaker. I'd argue that it is the person HEARING the language and feeling excluded/offended/etc by it who should be the person we rush to protect.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: in conversations about race, what people hear is the language, NOT the intention. And intention, no matter how good, does not compensate for language that hurts or excludes, EVEN IF the speaker did not mean to hurt or exclude.We all need to think carefully about what we say, own what we say, and take responsibility if we misspeak. And by "take responsibility," all I mean is to briefly acknowledge, clarify, and/or apologize. This is not about punishment; it is not about shame. It is about responsibility. And it does not have to be a big deal.

By being responsible and thoughtful about our language, and responding appropriately when others feel hurt or excluded by it, we ensure that this remains a community that is inclusive and comfortable for all of us. If we can't create such a community here, we can hardly expect the world to create one for our children, now can we?

I received many lovely responses. I also received a number of responses that were extremely frustrating, if not particularly original, and almost all of them, sadly, from the same person. Can you guess who? Yes, indeed, it was Person C.

And like the original conversation, C's arguments were familiar. There was, for example, much handwringing over how considering inclusiveness in language would deter dialogue: that people wouldn't post for fear of being judged, and what about the poor people who are in a hurry and don't have time to parse their language. Then there was more handwringing over not quashing free speech, blah, blah, blah. And much, much more, some of it truly head-scratching in its illogic that had the appearance of logic...

I was truly baffled by C's response, even though it's a species of response I've seen before. Nowhere did I suggest that people censor their speech. Nowhere did I suggest that people who failed to use inclusive language would be judged, or pilloried, or assumed to be racist. What, exactly, is so threatening about inclusive language? Why the protest?

At one point, I challenged him, writing "This argument sounds alot like an argument the privileged might make to avoid acknowledging their privilege."

But is that it? Or was C's response all about B's race? Could C not understand that a white person could object to language that didn't specifically exclude her but might exclude others? Would the conversation have been different if B was black?

In the end, I'm most puzzled by C's resistance and apparent sense that something is being threatened. But what? What exactly is at stake here?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Western take on Africa

Watch this satirical take on Western representations of Africa. It's only about 3 minutes and very, very smart. Thanks to What Tami Said for making me aware of this video.

Question: What do you make of the little girl who is sometimes there and sometimes not?