Meditations on an Afro
I got a hair cut from my hair guru, Ahmed this week. This man has been instrumental in sanity retention on more than one occasion, like the time I was on bed rest during hideous Pregnancy Numero Tres and he came to my house to remove the vast majority of my unwashed hair. He is good.
During said trim, Ahmed reminded me that his awesome Moroccan self would be able to help cut Tsega's hair should he ever need it. Tsega is my third child and a particularly beautiful 18-month-old Ethiopian. I wouldn't trust Tsega's hair to person who didn't know how to deal with African textured hair (read: white girl at Super Cuts) and I had not yet found a barbershop, so this was a great relief. He also suggested based on his personal knowledge of 18-month old-Africans (he is raising one, so it's a small sample size) that waiting until Tsega holds still could save him from an untimely death by barber shears. I was pleased to find another reason to keep growing his 'fro out.
But there has been a lot of talk in the adoptive mom blog world about cutting or not cutting little Habesha kids' hair and it has been a thought provoking discussion. Many white Mamas around the country are receiving feedback from their African American and Ethiopian communities that it is improper to not properly care for, or grow too long their AA children's hair, especially boys. Gulp. And we Mamas are trying to listen. It's not something that is comfortable to contemplate, especially when I work very hard to take good care of Tsega's hair. I can look like I haven't showered in three days, probably because I haven't, but So Help Me his hair will be moisturized, combed, coiffed and lovely when we go out. I know this stuff is important, and due to the fact that we don't match like most Mamas and Sons do, we are under scrutiny from people of all races. But cutting his hair? Years before his father says we have to so it will fit under a football helmet? Be still my heart.
To confuse the matter even more, I am getting a consistent message from every.single. African and African American I've met while out with Tsega and that message does not match what I am reading online. For example, last week at my daughter's soccer practice an AA mom approached me and told me how awesome his hair looked and to hang on to those long curls as long as he will let me grow them.
For heaven's sake, what is a White Mama to do? Are the commentators not being honest with me? Trying to not be rude? Am I hurting his ability to integrate with other brown people because his hair is long and most little AA boys I see running around don't have afros? Believe me, ever since reading about this topic I have been taking notice.
Do folks tend to keep kinky curly African boy hair short because that is what is culturally appropriate, or simply because it can be time and cost intensive to keep it long, not to mention the kiddos start fighting back when they don't want it combed out? Are those things one and the same? Is it different if he's ten years old and decides he wants long hair, versus being a baby and me subjecting him to lotions and potions and combing and braiding, etc?
A part of my heart also whispers the question, is it "OK" for Tsega to sport huge hair because his curls are a little looser than some African textured hair and thus more "acceptable?" I've been told by Black and White people he has such good hair. I cringe every time and want to tell them to stop perpetuating that phrase and ideology.
As for the answers to all my questions I humbly submit: I don't know. I think I must keep educating myself, I must be sensitive, open, take everything with a grain of salt, be willing to be taught, be willing to admit it might be better another way that what I am doing, and above all, realize that almost everything is someone's opinion. No person represents anyone but themselves. That woman at soccer, she isn't and wasn't trying to be the Voice of All African Americans on the Issue of White Women Growing Out Black Kids' Hair. She just liked his curls. For now, so do I.
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