Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Hair We Go Again: Kinky, Curly, Straight

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Babygirl is now five-months old. She's getting to that super cute stage where she actually smiles and giggles in response to the silly voices and animated faces adults can't help but make in her chubby-cheeked presence. But she's still rather pale and her hair is still jet black and silky straight. In other words, she still looks nothing like her mama.

But I'm okay with that. None of my kids look like me exactly. They are true mixies. But it's funny how people give voice to their observations. Nobody wants to come out and say, gee your daughter sure looks White. It's always about the hair.

To wit. Some recent comments:

"Where did she get that hair?"

"Her hair is so black!" (Note, my hair is black too)

"Um, do all of your children have such, um, 'soft' hair?"

"It's unbelievable, that hair. I mean your other kids have such curly hair. Is her hair really going to stay straight?"

Dear readers, I point these comments out, not because they anger me, because, if I'm honest, I'm thinking about babygirl's hair too. It is truly amazing to me, as both a mother and a 'hairstorian,' that I could give birth to three children with such different hair. I got kinky, curly and straight (although babygirl's is still in transition.) Visually, the difference in textures is quite dramatic. But socially and culturally too, I find it fascinating that it is the hair that really causes people to doubt/question/marvel at babygirl's heritage. Out loud. Her light complexion can be overlooked, but the hair seems to be the true marker of negritude. And since she doesn't have it (yet) then perhaps she's not really Black?

Historically, the hair has been used to define people's racial category --not only in the United States but in South Africa as well. When the one-drop rule cannot be applied, you can just check the kinks and curls on top of the head. In antebellum America, male slaves with light complexions would shave their heads to --get rid of the evidence -- and pass as White. In South Africa, government officials would stick a pencil into a child's hair. If the pencil didn't fall out when the child shook their head -- because their kinks were so tight -- then they were officially categorized as Black. So, I get it. We've been conditioned over generations to believe that the hair speaks the truth. The hair is the key to our racial identity.

But I'm not thinking in these terms about babygirl. Really, I'm just wondering what kind of comb I'm going to have to buy and if I should start practicing now, learning how to braid silky, straight hair!

I'm wondering. Did any of you have to 'learn' how to do your children's hair because it was so different from your own? You know I want to hear those hair stories.

I'm so listening.

Peace!

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting indeed.

With my daughter the first thing many people did was touch her hair and said "its soft". With her skin tone (very brown), I got the feeling they really wanted to know how much black was in her! She is from coastal Colombia where there is a strong African heritage. Matter of fact, another little boy from the town was being adopted at the same time as our daughter by a Finnish family. An adoption worker referred to this little boy as Afrocolombiano. When I met the family and their son, I was shocked to see that his skin was lighter than my daughters. But guess what? His hair was kinky!
Colombia Mami

Honeysmoke said...

This is my story. My girls have curly fine hair, and it's been a process figuring out which products work for them. At the moment, a little coconut oil works wonders for both of them. By the way, I'm going to have to write about this. I hadn't thought about hair in that way. Thanks for the idea!

This NigerianAmericanLife said...

How interesting! It's funny to see the societal differences in what specific physical traits are focused on as signifying race while others are excluded. At a lecture I attended related to race in Brazil (a rather nebulous and mercurial subject in that country!), the presenter noted that there were many racial categories in Brazil, many more than the American binary of white and black and that most of the categories revolved around skin tone. It's interesting to see that in the U.S. the focus is on hair. In Nigeria, hair is much more associated with economic class than race (the concept of race has only recently gained importance in Nigeria due to exposure to western media and also due to a growing Diaspora). Generally, kinky hair is considered low class as in "oh, you don't have enough money to go to a salon and straighten your hair," while the most class-elevated hair one can have is one that is bought, "a natural hair weave from India" being tops. Check out this great article on the subject: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/16/curls-nigerian-women-straight
And I won't even get into how locs are viewed in Nigeria!:)

BTW, I've been a(mostly silent) follower and admirer of your blog and you and other great black women writers on the web have inspired me to start my own blog. I hope you'll visit it sometime: http://thisnigerianamericanlife.blogspot.com Keep up the great writing!

P.S.: I'm expecting, and if it's a girl, I hope her hair is close to mine, I love braiding. :)

LT said...

Colombia Mami,
So interesting. Thanks for sharing. As always :)

Honeysmoke,
I look forward to reading about your hair stories on your blog. And thanks for the coconut oil tip.

ThisNigerian,
Wow, this is so interesting. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the love and for coming out of hiding ;) Good luck with the baby and the blog. I'll be reading.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Such an interesting post, and interesting comments. I have three mixed children also; and just like yours, each of mine has different hair. All are very different from mine, but they are also different from my husband's and different from each other's. It has been a huge learning experience for me, navigating the world of loose curls, tight curls, and boy vs. girl styles. By the time I have it all figured out they'll be too old to let their mom mess with their hair anymore. It's always good to know that I'm not the only mom trying to figure out her mixed kids hair! My youngest has the fairest skin and the loosest curls in our family. At school, she says that most kids assume she is white--especially after they see me with her. I wonder how it will all play out as she gets older. It is interesting that the friends she chooses are all much darker than she is and have courser hair. Despite her appearance, she chooses to identify with daker/curlier girls. We'll see how it plays out. Thanks for sharing this interesting hairstory!

Arnebya said...

I had to learn. Although my children aren't mixed, each has a unique head of hair. The oldest, aside from having hair two degrees lighter than mine (the honey shade I tried unsuccesfully for years to get she has naturally), has thick, coarse hair. The middle girl has black, curly hair. And the boy. The boy I am so confused about. He sleeps on his stomach but still has a bald spot on the back of his head. It's curly, but then not quite. It's straight, but then not quite. I've decided it has just not quite chosen how it will be. I want it to hurry up.

I had NO idea how to braid when I had the first girl. I learned fast. There was just way too much to ponytail. I had to learn what products worked on her hair, what combs, what brushes, and for the love of all that is normal, where is the damn Dax grease I grew up with? My middle one although curly, is still fine too. Harder to braid, but it lasts just as long. Best of luck as babygirl continues to grow into her beautiful self. And I love that you aren't angered by strangers' questions. We can't help but think about it ourselves, in preparation.

Body Image said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cozy Friedman said...

I own 3 children's hair salons in NYC and I get questions like this one ALL the time! Here's a compilation of my responses to similar questions... http://bit.ly/xxn3J7
Good luck!
Cozy

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Congratulations! your baby looks so lovely in your photos at facebook!

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I prefer to use an straight cut, it's easy to care of it.