The Unfortunate Consequences of Interracial Adoption

*Chants*

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.

“Oh my!”

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 know…”

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???

  • No you weren’t wrong Malaka. Not entirely.

    • Thanks, Heath. That means a lot coming from you.

  • TD

    Not at all. You tried, and that’s more than what a lot of people would have done. At least you gave them something to think about- the more offended, the better. Lack of ignorance is no excuse, black hair care products are all over the place and they should have researched black hair care the same way they researched getting a new car/school/job/house…..hello, internet ??? BS !!!!- people of any race know when someones’ hair is fucked up- and matted hair is inexcusable for any grade of hair. I wish I had been there…..So pissed right now!

    • TD. Even the BROTHER’S hair was messed up. There was no excuse for that. You could tell the only time they comb or brush it is when he goes to the barber, however often that is. He was definitely due.

      The sad part is, is that if that had been a Black woman out there letting her child run around in a sleeveless, faded cheerleader outfit with her hair looking like THAT, someone might have called DFCS. The girl looked neglected. But in this case we are all very understanding because after all, this pair has done a “wonderful thing”, haven’t they? Like you said: do the research!

      This one hit a real nerve in me!

  • David S.

    given your description of the state of her hair, I suspected the mission would be a fail. Letting someone’s hair get into that state takes more than just ignorance. It takes a considerable amount of apathy as well.

    • A considerable amount meaning total. They don’t love that girl. She’s just a trinket.

  • Kerry Wilkinson

    Hi guys. this is an interesting read. Im from the UK and in my third year of my social work degree. Our prime minister has announced that he wants social workers to be less concerned with race. He wants white families to have more freedom for adopting black children – rather than the children being brought up in care. I am wanting to research whether interracial adoption has a negative impact upon the child’s black identity. I was wondering if anyone could point me in the direct of academic research, interviews, stats etc… Thanks all 😀

  • Dee

    Malaka, I have 3 very different points to share:
    1) I understand your angst and ire completely. Ignorance is no excuse especially since they must see other youngsters with well groomed hair. It isn’t cute to be unkempt.
    2) I’ve long admired a former co-worker (German, naturalized US citizen) who told me she intentionally made Black women friends after adopting a Black child in the 80s (she married a Black GI, who frankly was not happy she made a point to seek out these friendships). She said that she realized she needed to learn how to care for her daughter’s hair, etc. so she asked. But friendships with Black people became critical after they divorced because she wanted her daughter to have a positive sense of her African American culture; she also wanted her child to have friends that looked like her (although they didn’t initially live in a diverse community).
    3) Nearly a decade ago an African teen asked a White volunteer to adopt her. (We were an American team performing a service project abroad.) That evening I talked with him & shared my strong views against it (and discouraged him by asking him if he & his spouse EVER considered adopting an African American youngster & he admitted, no, never. I asked additional questions including did they have any Black friends.) I eventually had a talk with the teen; she just wanted to be saved, she deserved to be spared untold hardships. But neither was ready for that cultural or racial divide and misunderstandings. However, I have since changed my mind. I think interracial adoptions can be a seriously good options for many children provided meaningful issues about race & culture are addressed. We can survive some of our ignorances, let’s not deprive children of loving homes .

    • Hi Dee,

      I share your admiration for your former co-worker. I think it was a wise step to seek counsel in an area that she had no previous experience. That’s precisely what intelligent and well-intentioned people do.

      I wanted to address one theme that you and Kerry brought up, and that’s the issue of “Black culture”. As far as I and many other people are concerned, there is no such thing as Black culture. There are only cultures hewn out of geographic locations, circumstances and artistic expression.

      For example, 60-100 years ago, hip-hop music didn’t exist. Rag time and bebop were the popular musical expressions of the day. In fact, when hip hop came around, many elderly Black people were appalled by it. They found it crass and lowly. How could so many people find a defining element of their “culture” so despicable? Because hip-hop is not a culture that is not universally shared by Black people, although that is what the mainstream has ascribed to us. On the converse, just as many White people eat fried okra, fried chicken and greens in the South as Black people do, because it’s a part of our shared geographic culture. Okra grows abundantly in the South. To add to that, I’m sure Black people in Germany do things very differently than Black people in Alaska.

      I don’t want to write a whole new blog on the topic of non-existent Black culture. I truly hope you catch my meaning. 🙂

      I 100% agree with you in this: We shouldn’t let fear of not understanding a certain culture keep up from providing kids a good home. Love is love. A child should be able to explore all that the world has to offer, even if it appears foreign to what’s “normal” for their race. I think it would be amazing if a Black person wanted to adapt and Asian kid, or an Asian family wanted to adopt a Mexican kid. Mia Farrow had a Rainbow tribe of adopted kids, and I’m fairly certain that she made sure they were ALL bathed and had well kempt hair.

      • Dee

        Yes, you’re right, the subject of …culture could be another blog topic. But I wholeheartedly disagree that “there is no such thing as Black culture.” I subscribe to the fact that there WAS & is Negro/Black/African American & even Black southern CULTURE. It’s more diffused with onslaught of mass media, the state of families and communities, but the question of whether or not it was realized, acknowledged, and/or valued and esteemed is the better discussion point.
        # # #
        On another note – Malaka, please continue to share what’s on your mind (WRITE) and thank you. You are so engaging and it is a pleasure to share your pieces with women here & abroad.

        • With that response I’m concerned that you are using the concept of culture and stereotypes to mean the same thing. I hope that’s not the case! 🙁

          I will keep writing, and thank you for adding your voice to the discussion.

  • siaj won

    @Kerry Wilkinson…email Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock peeps..perhaps you will find your answer.

  • M.B.

    Hi Malaka…I love your writing and this blog. You really have a way with words! 😉

    Some thoughts as a person of mixed race (not adopted but I was teased relentlessly sometimes for my “ashy” skin and “wild/nappy” hair)…I see it from both perspectives. As a Black woman, you viewed the little girl as unkempt and neglected because her grooming needs weren’t met, at least not by the standards of most Black people. I can understand this to an extent because when I was growing up, certain Black folks were quick to talk about how somebody’s hair looked crazy or how this person needed some lotion. Sometimes Black people and non-Black people see things differently when it comes to stuff like this. My skin is very fair so ash wasn’t that visible on me, but sometimes people noticed and they would talk trash. Now as an adult, I can’t live without my body cremes and various oils/butters for my hair. 🙂

    So I agree with the basic premise of what you’re saying and I know you were trying to be helpful. You obviously meant well and it came from the heart. And I understand how frustrating it might have been to see a pretty little girl with hair that was most likely dry/brittle/damaged…you wanted to help them out. But the thing is that some white folks (bio parents as well as adoptive parents) can be very defensive when approached about their children, especially the way they are approached. I can see how some people would feel like they are somehow being criticized or attacked, even if the person giving advice is knowledgeable and well-meaning. No one wants to feel like they’re doing a bad job with their children. Not everyone can take criticism, even if it is constructive. Latoya came off a bit too blunt but I think you handled the situation very well. I’m trying to imagine what the girl’s hair looked like based on your description. My hair is very dry as well, so I know what it’s like to be judged that way.

    There is a blog (I forget the name of it, but I think the woman’s name is Nancy) and the author is a white adoptive mom of biracial/Black kids. She wrote a post about this very issue but from a “white” perspective. She complained about all the Black women sharing unsolicited advice with her on her daughter’s hair. Well, my take on it is that the approach is what matters most. Some people can be a bit, *ahem*, rude and uncouth in the way they do it and this is what turns some white parents off from accepting the advice. Other parents might not see anything amiss with the child’s hair or skin so they simply ignore any advice that comes their way…to them, the kid is fine the way she is. And then there will be parents who might be clueless but they’re truly grateful that somebody took the time to recommend certain products/techniques for their children. It took me years to find products that worked for my hair and skin, and I still continue to search for more.

    Hopefully the parents will figure out that no harm was intended and that although I’m sure they love their daughter, it is very important to keep her (and her brother) looking presentable because that is a big part of self-esteem. I definitely agree with you on this. It was tough on my self-esteem as a young girl because no one taught me how to take care of my skin and hair. My Jamaican mother combed my hair in two plaits when I was little, but once I hit puberty, she slapped a relaxer in it. So essentially, interracial adoption isn’t the terrible thing it is made out to be…but some white parents of brown children need to understand the importance of proper grooming and hair/skin care.

    • Thank you so much for your insight! I know that interracial girls have it equally tough coming up. Until recently it was hard for a number of my friends to find quality products for their hair.

      I will admit something to you. I’m not a very “good” Black mother. Neither I nor my girls have a standing appointment at any salons in the area. Today my second born went to class with 3 braids undone. My feet are covered in ash as I type.

      My concern about the little girl goes far beyond that. Have you ever been to the zoo and seen those sheep with the matted, knotted wool on their spine or around their genitals? It looked like THAT. This was far beyond not meeting “my standards. ” This was unholy!

      Still, this should never deter one race from adopting another. Conditioner and a stiff brush can cure a multitude of sins!