I wrote the following as a guest post for another blog several months ago. It was never published there, so I wanted to share it here instead.
Before our kids came to live with us, they were raised by a wonderful foster family. At the time, my daughter had very long hair and her foster sister would spend hours braiding it. I don’t mean one long braid in the back. I mean many, many small braids all over her head. I’m ashamed to say it made me a little uncomfortable. It didn’t seem right with blond hair.
The kids would spend the night with us every weekend and every weekend I would take out the braids with the explanation that she needed to wash her hair. I knew I was ruining her foster sister’s hard work and I felt bad about it – but only a little.
That was in 2009. In 2012, my daughter started second grade in Detroit Public Schools. And many of her classmates wear their hair in braids and beads. This time, I wasn’t intimidated; possibly because I felt more secure in my role as her mother, more confident in our attachment as a family. So when she asked for braids, we went for it.
Our first stop was at a beauty supply shop. I felt a little embarrassed because I had no idea what to buy. I’ve always been good at self-deprecation, and this time I used it to my full advantage. Thankfully, the cashier was completely understanding and very helpful. She showed us all of our options and gave us recommendations. We left with two containers of beads (pink and purple of course) and a box of black rubber bands.
When my daughter went to school with her hair beaded and braided the next day, her friend’s mom said happily, “she finally got the braids! She’s been talking about that for a while.”
I don’t have the patience to braid her whole hair; I usually do between 8 and 20 braids at a time. My biggest challenge has been the threader. Even after our neighbor showed us how to use it, I still haven’t been able to get it right.
My daughter’s biggest challenge is the texture of her hair. Stray pieces stick out through the rubber bands and the braids get messy very quickly because her hair is so smooth. She’s probably one of only a handful of blond-haired girls who’s wished for coarser hair.
We’ve received many positive comments at her school about the braids and beads. In fact, we receive positive comments almost everywhere, even in church, where these kinds of braids are rare.
What I’m curious about is how long the hairstyle will remain cute. I assume that by the time she’s a teenager, people won’t be as accepting. Perhaps it’s cute now because she’s a child and can be “forgiven” for “not knowing better.”
When I was in junior high in the 1990s, we had a derogatory term for someone who accepted styles like this. Typically we used it for boys who wore their pants low. I don’t think anyone will call my daughter names when she’s older, but I’m certain that people are still not completely comfortable with unexpected styles like her.
I started thinking a lot about this again when I came across an article titled, “White Women With Black Hairstyles Redefine Corporate America” that appeared in the Huffington Post. For me, the title is misleading. Unfortunately, white women really aren’t redefining corporate American by wearing black hairstyles. Instead, the article is really about an artist who photographed a number of white women wearing suits and “black” hairstyles.
“Yet the most compelling aspect of the photos is not necessarily the physical discrepancy between a white woman and her black hair, but all of the complex histories, assumptions, silences and transformations that make such a discrepancy so apparent to the viewer,” the author wrote.
Right now, I’m living with a white girl and her “black” hair, but I have a long way to go before I understand all of the complexities and assumptions that may confront her as she gets older.