After my family returned home from Africa with our little bundle of joy, we settled into our new routine with our child in rural Tennessee. The orphanage had shaved her head, so she was practically bald. This is what my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter looked like the first moment she was placed in my arms . . . more like a baby than a toddler.
As you can see, I didn’t have to worry much about hair care. I simply oiled her head and stuck a bow on. Everyone oohed and ahhhed over her. Thankfully, as time went on, she began getting healthier, stronger, and bigger. Plus, her hair started growing so quickly!
Within months, I started getting stares from other black women in public. If they were brave — and many were — they’d casually mention good hair stylists I could use, tell me which websites had good information, and suggest effective products I should buy. One lady at the store actually walked me to the hairstyle aisle and showed me exactly what I should do. Another very kind woman sent products to school and left them in my older kids’ locker to help me learn how to care more effectively for her hair. And these were not isolated incidents. Far from it.
A very bold black cashier at the mall asked, “Why do white people go to Africa, pick up kids, throw a headband on them, and think that’s okay?”
I took a look at my cute little baby, with her little fro and her pink bow.
“I fixed it,” I said.
“No, that’s not a style,” she said. “She’ll never know how to fix her hair if you don’t.”
Another cashier took one look at Naomi and asked, “Who’s doing her hair for you?” Her look of contempt told me that I needed to get someone to do her hair for me. I wasn’t having a good day, and I almost burst into tears. When she saw my face, she said, “I mean, you’re doing an okay job, you just might want to fix it.”
This never stopped. It got to the point that I’d try to scoot through public places in order to avoid letting other people see Naomi, for fear that I wouldn’t respond to their criticism in a Christ-like manner. (It’s not their fault. They, after all, didn’t realize they were the sixth person to come up to me at the grocery store.)
Finally, I had a heart-to-heart with a couple of black women who were honest enough to tell me the truth about the different perceptions of hair between white and black women. It was eye-opening, perplexing, and troubling. One friend told me that black women invariably make fun of white women with adopted black children because of the “hair issue.” Another told me that the afro I was letting Naomi wear was “not age appropriate.” All of these awkward social situations caused me to really start thinking about Naomi’s hair. After all, I certainly don’t want to create an “us versus them” mentality between my daughter and other people we happen to meet. A website called “Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care” helped me realize how important it is to help develop a healthy and fun relationship between my child and her hair.
The above trailer for In Our Heads About Hair, which is directed by Hemamset Angaza, “examines with candor and humor Black women’s issues regarding hair and self-esteem, and advocates for the acceptance of all hairstyle choices.” After seeing that video, one night I realized I wanted Naomi to grow up loving her hair, and that I’d do whatever it takes to make sure that happens! I’m totally still learning and am making many mistakes. However, here are some photos of what I’ve done:
(A version of this article appeared on Patheos.)