Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Unprepared For My Kids' Hair

After I gave birth to my daughter, Callista, I was not prepared for motherhood or being the mother of an bi-racial child, but the biggest obstacle was what to do with her hair. I suppose other people would think that I had bigger things to be concerned with, like how to deal with a child who has a different shade of skin than both my husband and myself. However, every day, I had to figure out a way to take care of Callista's hair. At first, it was this short fuzz, but by the time she was nine months old, her hair was long enough and thick enough so that I had to think of how to arrange it.

My daughter inheirited my soft, fine white-person hair and her father's tightly kinked black-person hair, the worst of both. She has soft, tightly kinked hair that is difficult to comb out. I also did not know that I should have sent her to bed with her hair done up and take it out, comb it, and rebraid it in the morning. It took me a while to figure that out, and sometimes it got hopelessly tangled anyway. I used to give her a towel to scream into when her hair was a mess.

I tried cutting it short, and thought that it looked adorable. We picked out little barrettes or bows and put them in her hair. White people did not comment on that, but many black women would stop and lecture me about making my daughter look like a boy, comments that still bother her. Callista is a beautiful girl and always has been, so those mean comments were aimed at me, to put me in my place. I felt out of my element and insecure until I decided that my kids are brown, not black and not white. Who says that they have to wear their hair a certain way?

My son, Toliver, has hair that is a little more wiry than my daughter's. It was easy to cut it short when he was younger, and I learned to do it myself with a pair of clippers. When he got into high school, he started growing out an afro and still has it. It looks great on him. Since he attended a predominantly white school, kids were not used to having someone with an afro, and his hair is soft to touch. Toliver was constantly picking it out because kids would not stop touching it and making 'dents' in his afro. I never observed white kids touching other white kids' hair. Some of the people on my side of the family had a problem with his afro, and asked when he was going to cut his hair.

Once Callista got a little older, she grew her hair into what amounted to an afro but tied a scarf around it close to her head, so it was pulled tight around her face, making a 'ponytail' about four inches across at the crown of her head. Kids would not leave her hair alone, either. They liked to stick their fingers in her ponytail, where her hair was compressed together in a soft, curly mass. She found it distracting when she would be in class and kids would not leave her hair alone.

I took my daughter to get her hair relaxed when we lived in Puerto Rico, and the ladies at the beauty parlor knew what they were doing. She loved having 'slippery' hair, which is what she called it at the time. When we moved to Maine, I took her to a beauty shop where they promised that they knew how to relax her hair. They did not. The beautician burned Callista's hair off of her scalp in several places and she had to go to the doctor to treat her damaged skin. In addition, they were not going to give me my money back because they said that she combed her hair too hard. (!)

My kids now wear their hair in its natural state. Callista has short hair and Toliver has his afro. Now that they are adults, no one bothers them about their hair anymore, but Callista is still sensitive about having short hair and Toliver does not like anyone to touch his afro. I don't blame them. People forget that hair is a personal thing.


  1. Chaz, I am sitting over here laughing and crying at the same time. I am African American but I have been mistaken for "other" quite often. I grew up in the time where you were lucky if you had "good hair" or what is known as white people's hair.

    My mom's hair (She looks Native American but is African American)was curly, silky. She could grow it long or keep it short. She had wash and go hair.

    I unfortunately like your daughter inherited a funky mix of my parents hair. All of us kids did. Things were easy for my brother. Wash and go, he could wear a fro or he could wave his hair with a do cap. My sister, tender headed with finer softer hair but more kink. Me...well I had the length but I had severely thick coarse hair with some softness around my edges.

    My mom used to close the door whenever she combed our hair out (in the dry state-gasp). It was so painful. She didn't know that it would hurt less to comb it while wet. Then came the pressing. We had Afrosheen pressing grease to fry our hair. We were not allowed to go out after this process for fear of sweating our hair.

    Up until the age of 10 (14 for my sister) we endured this process until we found an over the counter relaxer called Vigoral. The most stinkiest, vilest thing on the market. BUT we had silky hair!

    I have through my lifetime, had my hair burned off, cut off, chemically process until it fell out. One thing I have learned is that it is very rare that I will let a person who is not of color touch my hair. I also will only go to a mixed salon because a reputable place should know how to handle all types and grade of hair.

    By the way, you should have sued that salon. You had the medical bills as proof. I had a similar experience a fews years back. I had to go to a new salon because my hair dresser was out on disability. Finding a new place was a terror. I went this high profile salon on the recommendation of a friend.

    The man I went to who touched my hair was not a person of color. He not only cut all my hair off (not of my request) because he said I needed a style, but he also left the relaxer on too long! Then pushed me off to a wash person who didn't wash all the relaxer out (I ended up doing it myself) then when the wash person blew me out he attempted to curl my hair and burned me three times! (this was done by a person of color, also male). I also had to curl my own hair.

    I marched up to the receptionist told her I was not paying $200 dollars for cheap shoddy service. I showed her my burned ear, neck and face. I then went back to the hair dresser and told him off and the washing person. Neither should be allowed to touch anyone's hair, black, white or other!

    The bottom line is, regardless of what type of hair you have, ignorance reigns no matter where you go. You need to find a person you can trust. Just like you search for the right doctor, a good hair dresser can make all the difference in the world.

    Great post!

  2. This was kind of an issue for my wife at first. I'm the black part of our bi-racial black/white marriage, but as a guy, I'm pretty clueless about women's hair care, so she had some issues with my daughter's hair at first. Fortunately, there are now companies producing non-harsh product lines specifically targeted for bi-racial people.

    Thus far actual hair dressers we've taken her too have all been POC, but it just kind of worked out that way, not by active design.