My son was born with straight hair. It turned curly, and then kinky. He had dreadlocks by the time he was five months old and a full-fledged afro by eight months. However, I didn’t want to cut it until he was a year old. I heard it was a bad luck to cut it before a year old, although the child abuse he endured when we tried to tame his dreadlocks was worse than bad luck. Some people snip a curl for the baby book, but I snipped a dread.
His hair didn’t get longer –it just got bigger. What we greasy white people don’t understand is that black hair needs moisture put in, not washed out. I took to washing it only once every two weeks or so, but moisturizing it every day. And I tried to keep it combed out every day. I don’t know if I did the right thing, because there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. (From him or me?) I created in him a phobia of head-touching that continues to this day.
What I quickly realized is that there seems to be no consensus among the African-American community about what hair-care products are best. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, since there is no consensus among white people either. Was it racist to have assumed that all black people would have had the same opinion about hair care products? Everyone’s hair and opinions are different, no matter what your skin tone or kinky-ness level. Why did I think there would be an all-agreed-upon product guide or something? People would recommend all sorts of products to me, and lots of them were heavy-laden with chemicals. That was also a surprise to me. (Please watch Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair!) After many months and dollars, I finally settled on shea butter for his hair. I tried everything- even olive oil and coconut oil. Shea butter was my personal winner: it works, it’s natural, and it doesn’t smear all over my furniture. (And, perhaps most importantly of all, it is one of the few smells that doesn’t trigger a migraine in his momma.)
My husband finally cut R’s afro on his first birthday. It was a shock to our son – and to us. He looked like a little boy! I continued to rarely wash – and constantly condition – but at least I didn’t have to torture him with comb-outs anymore.
Hair isn’t just about the physical aspects. Emotion and belonging and tradition are weaved into hair too- and especially black hair. It isn’t just about the hair itself. Black hair is just a catch-all for all the things that I don’t know.
I am no expert here. I only know what I have read. One thing I have read in my adoption books and magazines is that black sons adopted by white parents wish that their parents had kept their hair shorter. White parents have a tendency to think that afros are cute on a black boy, and some children later express that they wished their hair had been kept closely-cropped so they would have fit in better with other black children.
This hair-length issue is a perfect example of things that may affect a black child that we white parents would never think about. Similarly, the literature encourages us to make an effort to take our child to a black barbershop. These are little suggestions, but they encourage me to consider things outside my typical line of vision. (However, I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere near a black barbershop until my son gets over his hair-touching phobia!)
My husband cuts R’s hair every weekend now. He is trying to learn how to do the edges from youtube videos – to make his haircut look more professional. By cutting his hair every week, we hope to desensitize that poor head of his. Also, we hope that by not letting it get long, the clippers won’t get stuck. See, we have no idea what we are doing! I am embarrassed to say that the clippers have gotten stuck in his curls before. What kind of clippers do black barbers use? Do they use attachments? What are we doing?!
And, if R had been a girl, this blog post would have been long enough to have needed its obalck wn blog website.
Are any of you considering trans-racial adoption? What are your concerns? What have you learned about hair during your trans-racial adoptions? I’d love to know I’m not the only one who is learning and growing!
This article was originally published on Beyond Infertility, a website about how parenting after infertility is different. I am a regular contributor to their website. You can find the original article here.
5 thoughts on “White Mom, Black Hair”
Love it! Make sure you oil the clippers to make sure that they are less likely to get stuck. You can get clipper oil from the beauty supply store. 🙂 I’m tackling my daughter’s hair tonight–she is preoccupied with the length of her kinky, coily hair. 🙂 The product struggle is also so very real! It took months, lots of product demos and trial and error to figure out what works for Hope. All the best!
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Phew, glad to hear another adoptive mom, especially one with more black hair experience than me, doesn’t think I put my foot in my mouth! And oiling the clippers?! Why did I not know this?! Thank you!!!!
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A lifetime experience with black hair! 😉
Congrats on the cut and it looks amazing! I am not an adoptive mom, however my daughter is bi racial and I am African American ( I prefer normally to use just american) and I still struggle with her hair. It has very long and curly and sometimes I think it has a mind of its own. I agree 100% that the products are not one size fits all, I totally wish it was because it would make life so simple.
I would also suggest going to see a barber just once, they can actually show you how to do line up and give a recommendation on the clippers to use.
I think you guys have done a wonderful job with his hair!
Thank you for the compliments, and for reading! That is a good suggestion to try out the barber as a teaching tool!! I will tell Mr Okayest!