We used to joke, my husband and I, long before we even thought about marriage and kids, that if we were to have a baby together, that baby would have one epic head of hair. Years later, I reclined on the ultrasound table, and saw that I would be having a little girl. The thoughts that ran through my head, in order, were, “A girl! I can’t believe it!” “My mom will be so happy!” and, “Oh my god… the hair.”
The hair, indeed.
My trepidation sprang from two sources. First of all, I am not a girly sort of girl. I have a haircut right now that requires blow-drying and straightening, and it’s almost too much for me to deal with. I’m a brush-and-go sort of person. No cute up-dos. No French braids. I still, to this day, cannot figure out how bobby pins work. The thought of having a little girl whose mane I would be responsible for taming for the next decade or so was a little bit scary.
And also… can we get real for a second here? I’m a Caucasian mama with a biracial baby. Not only is her hair texture completely new to me, it’s requirements for upkeep a mystery and a challenge, but the responsibility of caring for her hair weighs on me. Isn’t that silly? It’s just hair, for goodness sake. There are worse things in life than having a scruffy head of hair. Those class pictures where you’re frizzed out and your part is uneven (or, in my case, rocking the 5-years-too-late side-ponytail) build character, right? They give us something to look back on and laugh about.
I don’t want that for my girl, though. She draws enough attention already, just for existing. She’s going to be asked, “What are you?” and “Is that your mom?” Innocent enough questions tossed out by kids every day, but how will they make her feel? How would that make YOU feel, knowing that you drew attention everywhere you went? You’d be less inclined to throw on flip flops over your socks and run to the grocery store in sweatpants if you knew that people were actually paying attention to you, right? That’s the reality my daughter will be facing. I don’t think I’m being paranoid here. I FEEL like I’m being paranoid, but that’s from the perspective of a white American who has always been cloaked in the liberating anonymity of being part of the majority. I remember my time in Kenya though, when eyes were always on me, and people thought it was acceptable to touch me without asking, stroke my hair, tell me I need to lose weight, point out my whiteness as if I wasn’t constantly, painfully aware of it. It was exhausting, to be reminded every single day that I was different. I was the other.
If there’s one thing I learned from that experience (and from a life of being a little bit different in other ways) it’s that confidence and a strong sense of identity are essential, to everyone, but especially those who will go through life facing additional scrutiny for things beyond their control. I want my daughter to take care of herself, put her best face forward, and tackle the curiosity and ignorance that the world throws at her with grace and love and acceptance.
And I want her hair to look good. I want it to kink and curl and shine and spring from her head in wild tendrils. If someone comments that her hair is “weird” or “different” I want her to tell him or her, “yeah, that’s because it’s so beautiful,” without a second thought or shred of doubt. I don’t want her to feel bad that her blonde friends can brush their hair and be out the door in 5 minutes in the morning, while her hair requires hours of conditioning, oiling, detangling, braiding. I want her to be proud of her hair. It’s tightly curled like her father’s but soft like mine. Dark like his indoors, but lit up with my brown highlights in the sun. She’s a perfect blend of us. She is perfect.
And I’m going to make sure she never doubts that fact. Even if that means learning to braid and cornrow and use a few different kinds of combs. All I can do is my best, and hope that my pride in her eventually translates to an uncompromising pride in herself.
By Kathleen Ojo
Originally posted on http://www.myojos.net on February 5, 2014