08 July 2011

A Vanilla Perspective on the Politics of Free Hair



There are a lot of social issues regarding wearing natural hair in it's free state (i.e., as an afro). And as a vanilla mother of a chocolate little girl, I hear my fair share of people's opinions on whether or not I should be letting her run around with her hair "all out there." I've been caring for my daughter's hair since she was born, and publicly blogging about it for almost a year. However, there is no other time when I get more advice and comments about how to care for my daughter's hair than when I take her out in public with her hair free.

It's hard not to take critical comments of my daughter's hair personally. Really hard. As most of you know, Boo's been wearing her hair free for a week now, in celebration of "Afro Independence Day" (also see, The Freedom to Rock Natural Hair). Boo and I have done a lot of public activity over this last week, from shopping, to preschool, to playgrounds, to doctors. Maybe it's the area within which I live, but I have received an insane number of people approaching me with advice on how to care for my daughter's hair since she started wearing her afro. A few have even handed me business cards for their stylists who could "teach me a thing or two about hair," or "do it themselves if I wasn't interested in learning." Yes, these were real comments.

You might never have heard of this scenario (or believe that it's even possible), but I have to admit that it happens every time we're out when Boo is wearing her natural curls. The assumption is: Clearly I don't know what else to do with her hair if its not styled. Free hair = ignorant adoptive mama.

To be fair, this is probably true of many adoptive parents (and is sort of the reason why I started blogging about hair in the first place). A lot of newly adoptive vanilla parents put a headband in and call it a day when first learning to care for their chocolate child's hair. I understand that.

However it doesn't make it any easier for me not to get defensive. I know that I need to approach each situation as a new one, to understand that each person who is speaking to me does not know that she is the 5th, 6th, 10th person to have done so that day.

And I know in my heart of hearts that every comment, recommendation, business card, and/or piece of advice comes from a place that is in the best interest of my daughter and her well being.

But it hurts. It hurts me because it seems so glaringly obvious to me that her hair is well-cared for. Her hair is not dry, her ends are not split, the length is long for a 3-year-old, etc., etc.

It really hurts because Boo is now old enough to hear her mama being publicly corrected by total strangers.


My first instinct is to retort with explanations as to why here hair is free right now ("we're in-between styles," or "her scalp needed a rest," or "we're styling it tonight"). I have to resist the urge to pull out my cellphone and show photos of her hair nicely styled in the hopes that whatever assumptions where made might be taken back once they see what I can really do.

Free hair is a hot topic for some folks, and being a vanilla mama caring for it is such a small part of the political baggage it carries.

However, when it comes right down to it, I do not justify why I'm letting my daughter wear her natural curls, except by saying how much we love them and enjoy letting them come out to play.

See, I view corrective comment about Boo's curls is a lesson in grace and humility. For me. I am no expert on hair, but I am Boo's mama. And how I respond to people will be etched in my daughter's memory as she grows and learns to respond to unsolicited comments and criticism in the years to come. And the last thing that I want to do is foster an "us" versus "them" mentality, nor do I want her to adopt a defensive posture against others who may see things differently, including, but not limited to, hair.

Besides, "we knew the job was dangerous when we took it." As a transracial adoptive family, we are very often approached with questions (sometimes seemingly random and/or insane). My favourite was when my husband and I were out with Boo and someone asked us if we were going to tell her that she was adopted when she grew up. (Seeing as how both my husband and myself are vanilla and Boo is very obviously not, I have to wonder sometimes about what people feel the need to ask and/or share with me.)


When it comes right down to it, I will still let Boo wear her natural curls, whether it be to give her scalp a break, or just plain because she wants to. What people think of me with regards to letting her free hair loose, well, that has little to do with Boo and her own self-esteem. The politics surrounding free hair have been around long before Boo joined our family and will no doubt be here for years to come. The fact that my feelings get hurt sometimes, well, that is just God humbling me a bit and teaching me a bit more about grace. Besides, Boo has no problem telling people how much she loves her curls just the way they are. Yet another lesson I can learn from my little one, although it sounds much cuter, and less confrontational, coming from the mouth of a 3-year-old.