I get asked a lot about Caroline's hair. It's something of natural curiosity. For beige-toned people, they want to know what it feels like and how hard it is to do. For brown-toned people, they want to know who does her hair and if I'm learning to care for it appropriately.
When Caroline first arrived in our lives, I knew some about caring for her hair. Things I had picked up along the way from friends and from living mostly among black Africans while in Mmametlhake, South Africa. But I had no idea about the history. I had no idea about the identity. I had no idea how important a black woman's hair and the care of her hair is.
In what first started out as an attempt to simply be able to care for Caroline's hair, I started researching. I read blog after blog, watched YouTube videos, scrolled through websites, talked with friends, listened to podcasts, and even read a few scholarly articles. I've researched products. I've practiced braiding and twisting. I've put in extensions and taken them out. I've tried different hairstyles of all sorts - sometimes they turn out beautifully and sometimes they don't.
Deep into a conversation about proper and improper worship in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul asks the Corinthian believers if a woman's hair is not her glory. For my own hair, "glory" is not a word I would associate with it on most days. Nuisance, straight and fine seem more accurate. But hair as a black woman's glory, yes, in my limited white woman understanding, I believe it fits. Not because her hair is any more or less beautiful than my own, not because it is more or less manageable, but because of this history. The history of struggle connected to a black woman's hair.
I am not a person who can do justice to this history. I cannot tell you of the oppression, the stereotypes, the racism connected to a black woman's hair. I cannot tell you of the bitterness and the hurt behind words like nappy. I cannot tell you about the societal pressures to straighten and weave and dye. I am not qualified.
But occasionally I get a window into her world, into the history of a black woman's hair, when some well meaning (white) person asks me if he/she can touch Caroline's hair (or they just reach out and do it) adding some comment about "I just love her hair," or "Oh it's so thick", "soft", "kinky", etc.
These are hard moments.
I understand the natural curiosity. But what I don't understand is why a practical stranger - and it almost always is a practical stranger or someone who has relationship with myself or Andy and none with Caroline - feels it is ok to reach out and touch a child's hair. It's always strange to me. I often wonder in these moments, if I where a black mama with my black child or visa versa, would you have asked that, would you have done that? I believe something about my whiteness and her blackness makes it ok for occasional inappropriate questions and inappropriate actions. It makes it okay for curiosity to cross the line.
There's nothing wrong with the curiosity, and I fully encourage people to understand. I encourage people to make friends across racial lines and in the security of friendship, ask your black girlfriend about her hair and its history. Ask out of a desire to tear down racial stereotypes, out of a desire to tear down words like nappy, out of a desire to build up the beautiful diversity God has made. But please be sure your curiosity is based in relationship. Because it is her glory and it is her history. Do not diminish her glory to satisfy your curiosity.
Caroline's hair is her glory, and I'm doing my best to help her understand it. To help her understand and love every beautiful curl on her head. To know the history of struggle connected to her hair. To know how to care for it. To embrace the many, very cool things she can do with her hair thanks to its curl and to not resent the extra work it sometimes takes.
It's a hard thing for this white mama. There have been many lessons learned, and there are still so many more to be learned. It's a hard thing for my black daughter to be taught to care for her hair by her white mama. I often say in the midst of some new lesson, "we're learning together." And we are.
Caroline's hair is her glory. It's a beautiful ebony - thick, and curly. It's growing, and for now we're choosing to keep it natural. I tell her when she gets older it will be up to her if she wants to relax it or straighten it, but for now we're keeping its curl. And we work on loving her hair (both of us) just as God made it. It's sometimes difficult when even black Barbie's hair is straight these days. It's sometimes difficult when she sees mom combing her hair and the comb glides so easily through my fine hair. It's sometimes difficult. But we're learning. And we're loving. And we're embracing her history and her future as a black South African American woman.
Sesame Street created a new character a few years back specifically because one of the creators was learning the same history along with his transracially adopted daughter. He developed a great skit called "I Love My Hair" which has been a wonderful encouragement for Caroline.
I also owe big thanks to the website Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care. While there have been many black women who have advised me, this site has been a great resource to me, really getting into the details and putting it down in an easy to understand format. If you, or someone you know, are a white mama carrying for chocolate hair, I highly recommend it.