Friday, October 2, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who understand they cannot transmit the child's birth culture if it is not their own.

"We use oil," Y said to me yesterday during a phone conversation. "And don't wash that hair every day! Once a week is just fine, maybe less." It sounded from her voice like she was smiling, and I was also smiling.

Our current plan is to talk about once a week, and while V has deftly deferred offers by both of us to exchange phone numbers directly she is more than happy to conference us together and stay silent while we chat. Yesterday Y and I were talking about our families, especially her kids and her past pregnancies, how they compare to this one. I can tell she really loves her children, including baby J. I had been telling her a little bit about my own mom, who is planning to fly out to Georgia with us.

"She is so excited," I told Y. "She has been doing all sorts of research on how to do the baby's hair, asking her black friends for advice and making lists of products to try."

"Well." Y said, obviously warming up to a topic that she has definite opinions about, "I have plenty to say about that." We both laughed.

She proceeded to describe her hair to me, and her oldest daughter's hair. She told me how their hair was similar and different from each other, and what she does to style her daughter's hair. She told me what she thinks I'll be able to expect from the first year or so - apparently her first daughter didn't have hair to speak of for quite a while. "You find one person (hairstylist) you like, and then you stick with that person to do her hair."

"I'll be honest with you Y," I said finally. "I hope I'll be able to call you for help on this stuff."

"Oh yes," She replied. "I'm gonna be looking for pictures of this baby, and you better believe I'll be checking on her hair."

This is a much different place then where Y was when we first talked. We talked about that, too, how we are both so happy that we feel comfortable and connected to each other.

But I meant it about the hair. I think I can learn how to braid and care for baby J's hair, but I don't for a minute suppose that I can fully know what her hair means in the context of her racial culture.

Every child is entitled to parents who understand they cannot transmit the child's birth culture if it is not their own.

Hair is sort of a high-profile example of something that carries a lot of cultural weight for African-American women. Tyra and Oprah have done shows on it, Chris Rock is making a documentary about it and I see multiple pieces that address the subject roll across my Reader every week. I would imagine you are going to see a lot of posts here on this subject in future years, as I figure out how to care for my kiddo's hair.

But while I can learn to care for her hair, to style it and keep it healthy, I can't know what it's like to live with. I haven't had the experience of growing up with kinky-curly dark hair and having to decide whether to let it be, straighten it, braid it, shave it, or chemically relax it. There are few things, really, that I can do with my fine, straight, hair that will cause a fuss - no matter what choices a black woman makes with her hair there is someone who won't like it, either within her racial community or outside of it. (Do you remember that illustration of the Obamas that ran before the election that portrayed them as terrorists in the white house? Do you remember her hair?)

My child will need to be connected to people who can transmit to her what she needs to know about the experience of having the hair that she has. And that's just one example - there are many others I could have chosen.

It is my hope that Y will be a part of that. I know that there are other women in my life who will also want to love and care for my child in this way, who have the ability to help her figure this out. But make no mistake, I don't expect that Andrew and I alone could do it.


  1. ooh i just love hearing about your conversations with Y! :)

  2. We have found that the black women we've met are more than happy to help with crazy hair and skin questions. They have not been shy about making comments about the boys ... "Um, ya think that boy needs a trim??". The first time it happened, I knew in my spirit that I had a choice. I could be offended... OR I could say "You know, you are right. Do you know somebody I could call for advice?" The first time it happened, I took the commentor totally by surprise as I think she was "lookin' for a reaction" LOL. She proceeded to give me the phone number of a local barber who specializes in black hair. My children recently attended VBS at the church of this hair-guy (although now my hubby cuts their hair).

    It's all about attitude I think. If you have a big smile on your face and a sincere spirit in your heart, you will have no trouble. Just remember this truth: Your baby really is going to be WAY CUTER than any other baby on the planet. Seriously!

  3. I'm so glad that you and Y are developing such a nice relationship. I know openness was really important to you, and it is cool to hear how that is developing.

    Good luck with the hair! It IS a big deal. And have fun with it. You'll be able to do things with her hair that you could never do with your own!

  4. Have you checked out At Last Beauty Parlor? It's right next to the Gossamer studio (and very near you too), and the ladies who work there and own the place seem wonderful! Love you!

  5. I was just thinking about this today. Instilling a pride in Isabel with her hair. Recognizing that I need to be able to provide the confidence for her while she is young and can't do it. I had information and places to go before she was born but I had no idea just how difficult it could be if I let it.
    I love that your mom is doing her own research. That is amazing and inspiring.

  6. Can't wait to braid our kiddos hair together! You'll have to pass along all these recommendations you're getting. :)

  7. Dayspring, I'm SO EXCITED for you and N! I need an update, have you finished your WACAP weekend yet?? ♥

  8. Its so cool to hear about your conversations and your growing relationship... I love that you can be open with one another like that.