Monday, August 24, 2009


Mommy, Why is My Hair Different?

I can recall, as a young black girl, wondering why my hair was different from all the other non-black children that surrounded me at school. I can also recall yearning for the long, straight, flowing locks that many of my peers possessed. With white dolls selling like hot cakes, and there being very little if any black dolls to choose from, it was very difficult to not buy into one brand of beauty. Luckily, over time, I learned to accept my hair and beauty for what it is. Unfortunately, even with the images of black beauty we now have to look up to, there still exists a large number of black children that struggle to accept their hair and its unique characteristics.

While discussing the topic of "good hair" with my parents recently, my father explained how the concept of "good hair" vs. "bad hair" was born out of slavery, which was a system devised to destroy us as a people. Light skin vs. dark skin and "good hair" vs. "bad hair" were just some of the distinctions that were made in order to tear us apart. After all, if the slave owners could pit us against each other, that would weaken us as a united force. Apparently, that plan worked, because hundreds of years later, our children still wonder why our hair is different -- and not just different from that of other races, but different from each other's. Instead of simply seeing such differences as unique qualities that are neither good nor bad, they're often viewed as inferior. Yet, our hair, as my father pointed out, was uniquely designed to be curlier and kinkier than that of other races because of the climate from which we originated. Basically, our highly textured hair served as great protection from the sun and harsh heat prevalent in Africa.

Coincidentally, the day following the discussion I had with my parents regarding black hair, I purchased the September/October issue of Sophisticate's Black Hair Styles and Care Guide only to find the very same topic being discussed within the pages of the magazine. In "Coiffing Kids," cosmetologist and beauty professional Jacqueline Tarrant states that, "Children's hair care sets the stage for a lifetime of self-esteem." She continues that parents should "Make children feel good about their hair, no matter how it looks, feels, or how much of a struggle it is for you, as a parent, to deal with. You can't make the child feel [the hair] is a bad or ugly thing because they will carry this into adulthood." The article goes on to discuss a few facts about children and hair care. The fact that caught my eye and the one that coincides with the words spoken by my father is as follows:

"Fact: Kids should understand why their hair is different. Part of developing a child's self-esteem is explaining why there's a difference in his or her hair from the hair of children of other races, Tarrant shares. 'It's really all about our origins on the planet,' she details, describing what parents should share with their little ones. 'People of color come from the continent of Africa, which is a very hot climate, and our hair was created with this highly textured form as protection for our scalp.' Once children understand the cultural perspective of their hair, they'll, in turn, begin to take pride in their appearance, she says (page 100)."

I realize that knowing something and truly believing it are two different things. Thus, once we teach our children about their heritage, it is important to constantly work at helping them believe that their unique qualities are in fact beautiful and to be respected. I know this isn't an easy task, but hopefully things will get easier for children who are growing up today. After all, to be able to see a president and first family that looks like them, young black girls may finally be able to relinquish some of the inferiority issues many tend to hold onto well into adulthood, and truly learn to love themselves.


Avillacorta said...

I love the way your father explained that. That is definitely something children should hear. We have to start teaching them at home how to care for their hair so that they can embrace it and love it. Something I need to do myself. :-) this blog entry reminded me of a video my husband emailed me the other day. I'd like to email it to you for you to post on PYCG for us to discuss as well.

Beautifully_human said...

When children are young the last thing they want to here is that they are different, not matter how beautiful their difference is. My mom always surrounded me with black dolls and i can easily remember my fav. childhood show being gallah gallah island. A show about an african american family with so much love and culture to share. they taught alot of african languages much like how now there's Dora the explore with spanish (only these were real people not cartoon characters). With my sisters they had more animal characters, and then little bill. I did watch full house growing up but i never idoled them . because my mom had such a darker complexion with short hair and was terrorized for it as a child, she made a point to raise us loving ourselves. Also she would show us that everyone was different from us not the other way around. And i had an hispanic best friend i grew up with and i remember her always admiring my hair because of all the beautiful colors my mom always put in my hair to match my outfits. So i always felt so lucky. She would ask questions about the different oils and when my grandma would press my hair. I would ask about things in spanish and the food they ate. but i can't remember admiring her locks. in fact i admired my older cousins hair. her skin looked so smooth like a dark chocolate Hershey bar and her hair thick and long like rudy hustable. i was a lil on the lighter side growing up and my hair was red and almost blonde brown. both parents african american. I still saw myself very pretty even when admiring my cousins locks. I guess i was lucky because of my mom, for having so much love in my looks and respect for my culture. She gave me the eyes of my beauty, and more parents need to realize it is them who can paint the picture. We have more sources at our finger tips that we didn't have 15 or 20 years ago. I am only 19 so when i do have children i will embark the same knowledge and more, that my mom single handily put in me. And this all while my mom considered herself ignorant to our beauty and being a young single mom (at 15) without anyone to guide her on those thoughts. if she was able to do it with little resources, so can others. We give society too much power.

jamiewamie said...

ohh my friend told me about why our hair is the way it is.. and i learned about our heritage. & its funny becuz i got a negative feedback about my hair twice this weekend becuz i am transitioning and i did a bantu knot set. Saying you gonna go out with ur hair like that & ohh you guys should straightened her hair. I was just like wow! i didnt think going natural would be this crazy. but i love my choice to go natural :) no one can ever change my mind. ugh! some people can be so negative sometimes