Dispatches from Nappyville: What’s the mother of a black child to do?

Sorry for the late post today.

Crossposted from What Tami Said

So, I’m all het up about a slight to black, natural hair. What else is new? But I swear, I would stop writing these posts if people would quit demonizing black hair and disseminating incorrect information about it.
What’s got me steamed this time? I was reviewing a transracial adoption site, in hopes of having a new resource to share with readers of Anti-Racist Parent. I will not be linking to said site here, so as not to spread bad info. But under a section on hair, the site “informed” that black, natural hair tends to be drier than white hair and requires added moisture (Okay…that is often true–not always, but often). Then the writer offers that, despite the need for moisture, black hair shouldn’t be washed often, as too much water can be drying. Wait…what? Now, one might generally assume that water and moisture are damn near synonymous. Apparently, though, on black people, water is not….wet. Also, if you feed a black woman after midnight, she turns into a gremlin. Okay. That last bit isn’t true. But neither is the first bit, which feeds the notion of black, natural hair as some mysterious, unknown quantity, defying even the natural laws of liquids. To its credit, the site suggests that parents of black children take care to instill an appreciation for black physical features and that they avoid straightening hair with chemicals. But it also tells parents that they must use products specially formulated for black hair. Also not true.
Black hair does not require special care. It simply requires care, like anyone else’s hair. Black hair care only seems special or unusual if you a) start with the assumption that what works for white hair is what is normal and right for all–the baseline against which all other regimens must be judged; or, b) care for black hair with an eye toward making it embody the qualities of non-black hair, rather than its own qualities.
It occurred to me that it must be challenging to be a non-black parent searching for good information to care for the hair of a child with African ancestry. The misinformation is rampant. This is another example, then, of why it is important for non-black parents of black children to have other black people in their lives. Someone who actually has a head of coily or kinky locks would surely be the source of accurate information about black hair. Yes?
Maybe not. Barely a day after the aforementioned brush with nappy ignorance, a frustrated reader e-mailed me. The white mom of a black child, she had visited an international adoption blog run by a black woman, who in a current post was castigating white parents for [dred] locking their children’s hair. (I’ll be giving no link love to this blog either.) The sight of a locked child with a white mom drives this blogger to distraction. After, I’m sure, surveying the some 40 million black people in America, the blogger asserted that NO black parent would EVER lock a child’s hair unless that parent also wears locs. See, straightening is a right of passage and, I quote:

Little Black girls love to swing their pigtails as equally as their white counterparts.  Getting your hair pressed for Easter Sunday is a rites of passage of sorts. Hair envy is common, even on small girls. Little Black girls were not very happy to have their hair braided up because although it saved you from the torture of getting your hair “did”, it ultimately took away the free feeling of having your hair down.

Little black girls love to swing their hair, because even at a young age, females in this society learn to buy into the prevailing Eurocentric beauty standard that long, straight, swinging hair is prized and beautiful, while nappy, coily, curly, twisted, braided and cornrowed hair is not. Hair envy isn’t exactly what we should be abetting in young girls. We should praise parents who encourage black girls (ALL girls) to love the skin they’re in and who find hairstyles adaptable to their natural hair–be it long and straight, short and kinky, or anything in between. Instead, this blogger complains about parents making “permanent” decisions about their children’s hair, as if those kiddie perms that are so popular are not permanent, too.
I don’t know how many more times I need to learn this lesson: Being black is no predictor of one’s level of natural hair knowledge. I had hoped that my generation of black women would be the last forced to learn about our hair as adults, unlearning years of misinformation and wives tales. If the parenting resources I’ve stumbled upon in the last week are any indication, I’m out of luck.

Image courtesy of DouaLiege on Flickr

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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