Thursday, October 30, 2008

This just in--Mommy's Hair looks like "Black Broccoli"



Black hair 101 isn't being taught in America's pre-schools apparently. Today I dropped my four-year old off at school, just like any other day. Except that last night I went to the hair salon and had my dredlocks pinned up in a crown-like arrangement on top of my head for an event I'm going to tonight. I thought I looked a bit like Cleopatra, or perhaps more like Frida Kahlo, but the (mostly White) children in my son's class didn't agree. (That's not me in the picture, but it's a close approximation of what my hair looks like right now.)

"You're hair looks different," one child announced when I entered the classroom. And I do admit, it's a big change from my usual unkempt free-flowing locks. "I don't like it," another girl said. "Change it back." And then it was like I was an open target. One girl shouted, "your hair looks gross." And then another little boy screwed up his face in concentration as he tried to tell me what my hair looked like. And then he got it. "Your hair looks like black broccoli." I had to laugh at that. Meanwhile the teachers were trying to tell the children to stop insulting my hair. And my poor son, started yelling at his classmates to stoop teasing his mommy. Wow! I've talked about hair issues ad nauseum but this situation caught me off guard.

In a flash I realized that these children were seeing something new and speaking from a place of honesty. (Except for the girl who said my hair was gross who is just a wise-ass in general with a lot of other serious problems.) So I told them I loved my hair, and I love broccoli. I told them I ate broccoli the night before and maybe that's why my hair looks like broccoli. And then I asked them what vegetable their own hair looked like. My son calmed down when he saw that I wasn't hurt by the comments, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. Even innocent little children (Mind you the two other Black kids in the class were looking horrified at the comments flying out of their classmates' mouths. Like they knew, even at age four, you don't talk about a Black woman's hair!) have the power to wound when it comes to Black hair.

So do you think I handled the situation the right way? Should I sign up to give a talk about Black hair to my son's class? Is this an issue about lack of exposure or if I were a White woman with a broccoli hair style, would I have been subjected to the same treatment? I don't know. What do you think?

11 comments:

KoffeeD said...

First, I wanted to say your hair is Cute!

Times sure haven't changed. I think the whole talking anout your hair is a good idea however, Shouldn't the teachers have taught the class before hand the difference in people etc...

FirstPersonArts said...

I think that hairstyle on anyone might have elicited responses like that from a class full of children--especially wise-asses. And you should definitely give a talk on Black hair to the class! I would have loved such a talk back when I was a kid. Did I send you a note about the Yvette Smalls' Hair Stories program at the Blackwell Branch of the Free Library this Saturday? Maybe in my other guise: http://malcolmxpark.org/?p=1728

Anonymous said...

The hairstyle in the photo is marvelous.

It was great to talk to them about it. I've only had to fight about my hair once, when I started to wear an afro in sixth grade, and I won the fight --still haven't used language like that again in my life! Of course, you couldn't do that. But, it explains the reactions of the black children in your son's class.

This does seem like a *very* negative situation -- it surprises me that it would happen in 2008.

Recently, I've been seeing that people are "crazy" -- particularly black women and white men -- about black women's hair. It upsets me. I started wearing a beautiful wig and all kinds of crazy things started happening: criticism, insults, propositions. It was all a total surprise to me. The hair is just an ordinary hairstyle, length and color! It's just crazy. But, all that just makes me very strong. I absolutely refuse to change it.

glamah16 said...

You handeled that better than I would have.Outspoken kids! I would have ran from the room freaking out.I love any style that makes a statement. Im sure it was flattering. Kids like the boring staus quo. Brings back memories of having to explain how I maintained my braids in summer camp and school( was always one of the few blacks).

Spring said...

Yeah, my daughter gets a lot of comments from the white kids at school too...which is a shame, because they make her not want to wear my best work!

BTW, I've been studying the style and am contemplating reproducing it on my daughter! (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all) :)

Former Mushroom-Haired Child said...

I think you handled the situation wonderfully. You responded to their negative comments in a positive and healthy way. I think kids often react in a quick and judgemental way in the form they have been taught by others. I believe this is their way of learning how to react to the unknown. If, say, you had acted ashamed, then they would have felt "correct" in their reactions. But if you talk with them, ask them why they are saying what they are saying, often they will totally change their minds. It's almost like they need to be shown how to appreciate things that are different from what they are used to (or programmed to believe by their parents).

You turned the situation around by asking them what vegetable their hair resembled, thus pointing out that we have different hair, but different doesn't equal wrong. I think by showing you were happy and proud in your hair shows them that a hair style they are not accustomed to is fine.

And I think, though this situation was upsetting to you, you made the path easier for the next woman wearing a proud Afrocentric hairstyle that walks through the door. Next time, it won't seem so "different".

I think a talk to the class is a great idea.

Carleen Brice said...

Ooh, love the hair! I think kids don't like anything they haven't been exposed to before. So the kids at my head start class have asked me why is my hair like this (I also have dreads) with frowns and my nephew (a blaxican or Mafrican American) told me I had "freaky" hair.

I always assumed being curious and ignorant about my hair was a white person thing until I started my dreads and my own cousin shyly asked me if she could touch them. And then everybody in the room (including all the kids) did the same thing. My best friend (a black woman) has asked me "how they work."

Re Girlfriends, I will email the head girl and see if they're still looking for folks. They just had an opening and I snapped it up, but they may have another. Will let you know! Would love if you could join!

Carleen Brice said...

GCC is at capacity, but the next time someone leaves I'll re-recommend you!

Ananda said...

I loved how you handled especially the broccoli piece and how you love to eat it. I am sure your new do looks fabu.

Alex Zealand said...

I'm a white gal with boring (to me) straight hair, and I love to learn about my black friends' hair routines. But I was scared to ask at first, because I felt like an idiot not even knowing how to ask how they did what they did to their hair. So I think talking about your fab do was definitely the way to go.

Anonymous said...

i KNOW I MAY BE LATE LET ME take THESE CAPS OFF BUT why should you have to sign up to talk to some very rude children. Their parents should speak to them about blurting hurtful things out. Your son and the other two children knew better than to say things like that to an adult and hopefully their peers. I'm glad you got to expose the ignorance of blamless children and their wonderful parents.