Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Hair

Oh yes. We got the comment.

TK and I were in a store, a big box store I'm ashamed to admit. An African-American sales associate came up to us and said how adorable TK was. Then she said, "He has good hair."


Well...TK's hair is downy soft and very curly. He has gorgeous ringlets that I love to put my cheek on. The kid's adorable. I think everything about him is adorable, his hair included. But if his hair had been a different texture, if it had been tighter or coarser, I would still think it was adorable. Because I'm his emama. And that's what we do.

Hair is a BIG DEAL. Ben and I didn't have any experience caring for hair with TK's texture. We didn't want to be unprepared so, many months ago, we took an African-American hair and skin care class put on by Adoption Mosaic at Jayah Rose Salon. It was specifically geared towards a bunch of white folks who were/are adopting transracially.

We didn't know what kind of texture our baby's hair would have when we met him so we wanted to be educated to ensure that our child wouldn't be embarrassed (when he's old enough to be embarrassed) or that we wouldn't be "the couple that didn't care enough about their transracially adopted kid that they f-ed up his hair". We didn't want his hair or skin to be damaged by something we did.

We now have a routine that we use every week that works for us and him. He's a baby, he doesn't notice that his hair looks and smells good, but others have and we certainly do. We will continue to use this routine or tweak it if we need to until his hair changes texture, which I'm told might happen after a haircut or two.

But...there is this whole history wrapped up in African-American hair. It has existed long before we adopted our baby and it is informed by a great many things including racism and self-loathing and fetishism by white folks. There are about a million posts that I could write to address any of those things but I won't because I don't really have first-hand knowledge and there are Black folkswho have lived experiences and have said it much more eloquently than I could ever hope for.

What I have experienced is the fetishism by white folks. Because I've already seen it in the short time we've been home with TK. Some people (white) that I know assume they have some sort of ownership over my kid's hair because they know me. These are people who would never even think of touching my hair so why they think they can touch my baby's hair is unfathomable to me. And it makes me cringe. Wait. Let me rephrase. It makes me want to poke their eyes out, slap their hands, and tell them don't ever touch my kid's head again.

Because most white people have little to no experience with Black folks' hair (even white hairdressers), it becomes this otherworldly, exotic, fascination. And it's always under the guise of appreciation. "Here, let me pet your hair like you're an animal because I believe I have the privilege to do so and I will tell you it's because it's so pretty." OR "Is that your real hair? Can I touch it?"

All I can hope for is that I am able to instill in my kid a comfort with whatever his hair turns out to be. If he wants to loc it or braid it, I want to be able to assist him in that endeavor. I want him to know that I won't let people exoticize him. Until he is old enough to ask people to not touch his head, I have to do that for him. My baby is not someone to be "othered" - he's a baby. And you may think I don't know what you're doing, or I'll give you a pass because we're acquaintances or even friends, but I won't.

Here's a video from Sesame Street that I really love about a little girl who loves her hair. We show it to TK all the time and he gets really excited when it comes on.

Oh Sesame Street, you always get it right.

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