Oh Heavenly Father on the Throne, please imbue Black people with a spirit of adoption or at least wealth oh Father, so that we might properly educate people of other races who wish to adopt our babies. Aaaaamen!
I hardly know where to begin. What would you do in this situation?
Today my kid’s school hosted their annual International Festival. It drew an impressive crowd, with at least 30 nationalities represented. We have families from all over the globe that attend the school: Lebanese, Bahamians, Jamaicans, Somalians – you get the picture. And this being the South, we have a number of interracial couples and bi-racial children. It’s wonderful to see so many cultures converge on one place to show case what makes them beautiful and special; beautiful that is, until ignorance supersedes goodwill in an expression so vile that it leaves you breathless.
And MOM Squad, I nearly stopped breathing today.
In the carnival portion of the festival, I saw a beautiful mahogany skinned child running wantonly around the bouncy castle and various games. She barely filled out the tiny gold and burgundy FSU cheerleader outfit she was sporting. She had wide brown eyes that shone with wonder, rimmed with curly eyelashes. She was nearly perfect. But she was marred…completely destroyed from her temples to the nape of her neck.
Who let this child out of the house with her hair looking like this?
No one is more condemning of Black hair than Black women. Lest you confuse my intentions, this is not one of those blogs that disparages a parent for choosing to let their child’s hair grow in its natural state. Children have no business getting perms until they are well past puberty anyway. No, no. This is a blog about neglect.
I looked around for the little girl’s parents and saw no one. Oh great. Now they were just letting her roam unattended as well. I wouldn’t have to go far to call the police. With such a high concentration of Arabs in one spot, there was a visible police force guarding us. (You might remember that whole contentious affair our school had late last year when the city of Alpharetta didn’t want us any closer to their suburbs than we needed to be.) I scanned the crowd and finally pinpointed her parents. She skipped over to a silver haired Caucasian man who offered her a sip of water and a nibble of the blue cotton candy he was holding. He pointed her to the back of the line to get back into the bouncy castle and smiled fondly. Aside from the fact that her skin was ashy and her hair beyond redemption, she appeared to be a happy child…as did her brother who was also sporting a mass of buckshots all over his scalp. I was utterly distraught. I had to say something. But what?
I looked around the crowd for an ally and finally spotted a woman whom I thought might share my anxiety. I approached her gingerly.
“Hi,” I said with my hand outstretched. “My name is Malaka. What’s your name?”
“Latoya,” she said with a half-smile.
“Nice to meet you,” I whispered. “Look. I need your help with something that only another Black woman would understand and appreciate. There is a little girl over there. Her hair is JACKED. I feel compelled to do something about it. Like today.”
Latoya looked in the direction I was surreptitiously nodding in. She had the same look on her face that you probably have on yours right now, Reader. She thought I was being nosey and over-exaggerating. When the full scope of what we were dealing with hit her, she gasped.
Are you from Africa? Have you seen those mad women walking around? Ahaaa. Then you know what I speak of. The child’s hair looked like it had not been combed in MONTHS. It was matted on all sides, save for the front where someone idly pulled it upwards. The tips of her hair had gone light brown and red, as though they had been exposed to too much chlorine and not enough oil, or any oil for that matter. In short, the only way to fix this girls hair would be to apply veritable bottles and bottles and bottles of conditioner in it, and that would be just to part it, let alone comb it. If that failed, shaving it off would be the only remedy. It was that severe. I hope I have conveyed the severity of it.
I asked Latoya, who now shared the same spirit of concern what I should do and say. Should I just leave it alone?
“No, no!” she cried. “You can’t leave this alone. You should lead in with ‘I hope this doesn’t offend you, but…’ and then go from there.
“Yeah, but if I say ‘I hope this doesn’t offend you’, they are automatically going to be offended.”
She nodded in agreement.
“And what’s all this ‘you’ stuff,” I continued. “Girl I need you to come with me!”
She laughed and agreed to act as back up. We formulated a plan.
“Who should we approach?” I asked. “The mom or the dad?”
“The mom looks like she’s no nonsense,” she surmised. “I think we should go with the dad.”
He seemed affable enough. I lead the way and caught his attention.
“Hi!” I said, smiling brightly. My voice was a little high from the nervousness I was feeling. “I saw that you have a beautiful little girl over there.”
He smiled and nodded.
“I wanted to know if I – errr, WE – might offer you some assistance with her hair.”
“It’s gotten to the point where you’re going to have to shave it off if you don’t get it combed,” Latoya said, barging right in.
That’s not what we had rehearsed, but she did warn me that she was direct. I smiled and hoped that our offer didn’t sound as crazy as I knew it did.
“Perhaps you might talk it over with your wife and see if she’d like us to do her hair?”
Today, right now! I added inwardly.
The man raised his eyebrows but never lost his smile.
“Sure, I’ll talk to her,” he said in measured tones. “If you leave me your card, we can see about setting up a time.”
A card? What was that supposed to mean? Latoya bristled.
“I don’t do hair for everyone,” she said tightly. “But these are my girls, and these are the types of styles I do for them.”
Her two daughters happed to be walking by at that moment. One had cornrows and twists and the other’s hair tinkled with bright beads. Fearing that he might be intimidated, I pointed out Aya’s hair. She had 12 simple plats. Nothing grandiose, but it was parted and neat. We asked how old she was and he answered that she was 3. We chatted about the ages of our kids and the classes they were in as well in an attempt to appear less troubled. Inside however we were individually chomping at the bit. At that point he seemed to just be enduring the nagging of two Black women and thanked us dismissively. We smiled back and went our separate ways.
“That was a fail,” Latoya whispered.
“Yeah, tell me about it!”
“We should have gone with the mom,” she concluded.
“Yeah. Probably,” I agreed. “The dad just didn’t have a sense of urgency.”
“Well, we can’t go back and try and fix it now. We missed our shot.”
I was heartbroken. That poor, poor beautiful baby.
At that moment his wife walked by. Latoya smiled and waved.
“Hi! Did your husband talk to you?”
“Yes he did,” she smiled broadly. She was such a good actress. Women over 40 always are.
She made a beeline for another older woman with a bob hair cut and khakis. Their demeanor spoke volumes. She was offended. I could imagine their conversation now.
“How dare they! What business and place is it of theirs to question how I raise my child!”
What business indeed? After all, I didn’t go down to Haiti, or the Southside of Chicago, or wherever they collected this pair from and save them from poverty, destitution, prostitution and gang life. But I still care enough about anyone’s child to say something if I know that willful ignorance is going to harm them. And these parents are being willfully ignorant.
Look: here’s the truth. The American media monster is a powerful thing. As often as I tell my girls that they are smart, beautiful and talented, my words are still not powerful enough to combat the messages and images they see every day on TV, magazines and billboards. They still want skin like Beyonce and hair like Rapunzel. Compound that with uncombed, unkempt hair and ashy skin, and you’re just begging for a future of dreadful bullying and thousands of dollars spent in therapy. The American marketing machine is not a Black woman’s friend, and mere lofty utterances of “love yourself no matter what” are not enough to combat it! We have to aid our children by keeping them socially presentable. It’s just the world we live in. It just IS.
So White people I say this to you. I think it’s wonderful that you want to adopt Black children and give them happy homes to live in. But if the torment that Gabby Douglas (keeping in mind that there was actually NOTHING wrong with her hair in this case) went through was any lesson to you, it should have been this: Black women’s needs are very particular and unique.
You can’t wash our hair every day.
You have to wrap it in a silk scarf at night.
You must oil and/or keep it moisturized frequently…daily in some cases.
You can’t use all the stuff you use on YOUR hair on our HAIR.
You can’t use a fine tooth comb on natural hair. Go to the dollar store and get a wide tooth comb. PLEASE.
And please, please hear me. If you are the mother or guardian of a Black child and a Black woman approaches you about their hair, please hear our heart even if our mouths say the words in ways that are not so becoming. We only want the best for that child. We know that dealing with her hair can be nerve racking. We all have Saturday morning horror stories featuring a hot bomb and a jar of Dax. But at the end of the day, a Black girl’s hair is her crowning jewel and it must be tended to with care and love. Find a good hair dresser, invest in some cocoa and/or or shea butter, and spare that child a life of regret and an identity crisis.
Has anybody ever said anything to you about your child that you didn’t appreciate? Did you see the value in their concern, or were they over stepping their boundaries? Do strangers have a right to opine where your kids are involved? Was I wrong???