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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family

The Afro

I got brave the other day and decided to leave my six-year-old daughter's hair in a beautiful, natural afro. I had not allowed her to wear her hair "out" (not braided) in several years because it requires much more care and maintenance than keeping it in a protective style, like cornrows or braids.

However, about a year ago, I started following a couple of great adoptive momma bloggers who are gurus when it comes to African-American hair care: Keep Me Curly, and Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care. With tips and encouragement from those communities, I decided to try a process called "shingling," in which you apply product to wet hair in layers, then let it air dry freely. The results are breathtaking, and Isabel looked so pretty with what she calls her "wild" hair.

At first, though, she was uncertain about her look. She had not seen herself with an afro since she was a baby, and she could not remember what it looked like. She felt it was too big. She worried she looked silly and she was concerned about going out to run errands with me. As I pinned a bow to her tresses I tried to encourage her, telling her how beautiful her hair is and how it is designed to be styled in afros or cornrows. I reminded her that my hair cannot effectively hold either style, so her hair was special and created just for her. Finally, I told her we would look around together and find other black people wearing afros, so she could see not only how pretty they look but also that other people enjoy their natural hair.

She was excited and we were lucky to find a woman in the first store we entered who was sporting a short, yet full, afro. Isabel pointed and smiled and I winked at her from across the aisle. But that was that. Sadly, we were unable to find anyone else. Everywhere we went, little girls had their hair in braids and older women had hair that had been chemically straightened. Moreover, we kept getting good wishes on detangling the hair later – and what seemed to be looks of pity or concern -- from black moms.

Isabel noticed a display of boxes of chemical straighteners and asked me why black women want to do that to their hair. I told her that many women feel that keeping their hair or their children's straight is easier because natural hair requires a lot of care (as she knows very well!). I explained that everyone has different beliefs, and some people feel like they are more attractive if their hair is straight. I told her that, while there is not a right or a wrong way to feel about hair, I would not straighten her hair for two reasons: because the chemicals can cause damage to the hair; and because I feel that her hair is a big part of who she is, part of her ethnic background, part of what makes her beautiful and unique, and I would not alter it until she was old and informed enough to make that decision herself.

In her excitement about shopping, Isabel, thankfully, forgot to look for other afros for the rest of our outing. I noticed, though, and was disappointed. While we did see plenty of children with styled natural hair out and about, we didn't see many adults with it, and we didn't see any hair "out." The next day at church, an older African-American friend of mine commented on how beautiful Isabel looked and how soft her hair felt. She told me she had never felt such a soft afro and asked what I put in it. She mentioned, off handedly, that for most women of her generation, seeing a child with an afro meant the mother did not know how to style the hair, but that she knew this was not the case with us. Then I began to understand our experience around town the day before.

Joining the two communities I mentioned before has turned me into an advocate for natural hair. The number of people who follow natural hair-care websites has grown exponentially since we adopted Isabel and I began styling her hair. Even more interesting, a number of those joining in are black moms of black children. I have at least two African-American friends who are making the transition from straighteners back to natural hair, and many others who are thinking about it seriously.

Knowing all this, I had expected to see many more afros in the stores than we saw. I'm not sure why exactly. I think, for me, that would have been a clear sign that times are changing. But I have to remember that I live in a small town in the South. Change happens in waves, and it seems to start in larger cities. It will trickle down to us. Who knows? Maybe our family can get something started.

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Love this post!  I, too, keep a watchful eye for natural hair when I go out, and I try to compliment it if it’s at all socially appropriate.  We see a lot more straightened hair than natural where we are in Texas, and most of the children we see have their hair styled in braids or twists or puffs.

By Thalas'shaya on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm.

I know! It is hard work to leave it “out” so we do it for special occasions but now I’m more aware than ever of when we see one.

By Gaby on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm.

Absolutely gorgeous!!

By Esther our WPG on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm.

What products (shampoo, conditioner) do you use for your daughter.  My son is biracial, and I am letting it stay curly vs a buzz cut, but all of the products that I have used have kept his hair awfully dry.  Any good brands you like?

By akjalthoff on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 5:20 pm.

She looks beautiful!  Good for you for putting so much care into her hair!

By Danielle Pennel on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm.

First let me say how beautiful your daughter looks! I just wanted to thank you for sharing these sites. My daughter does not have much hair yet but I will definitely need help with styling it and your suggestions are very helpful!

By katphotogirl on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm.

@akjalthoff:  We use Curls brand cleansing conditioner (no shampoo unless we have gotten something super-messy, like paint, in the hair), and either Curls brand cream styler or Shea Moisture brand Curl Enhancing Smoothie as a leave-in after washing.  Lots of folks have great luck with the Suave Naturals Coconut formula, but it has milk-based ingredients in it and my son is allergic.  For hold in a style like the shingling shown above, Kinky Kurly Curling Custard or Curls brand Goddess Curls or Gel-les’c (prounounced “jealousy”) is great.  I’ve also heard great things about Eco Styler gel.

Then we do a daily spritz with water (for moisture) and coconut oil (to seal that moisture in).  For my kids, a 4:1 water:oil ratio works great, but you’ll have to experiment to find what’s right for daily moisture for your own kiddo.

Check out the blogs she mentions above, they have good product recommendations and reviews.  Also good for product recommendations and reviews are: Untrained Hair Mom and Love Your Girl’s Biracial Curls which is not just for girls or biracial kids. smile

By Thalas'shaya on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 6:31 pm.

Thank you, Esther and Danielle! To Katphotgirl and Akjalthoff, I cannot stress enough how helpful has been for me. She can give you all the suggestions you need to care for your little one’s hair. Thank you to Thalas’shaya for her suggestions. We also use the coconut oil/water mixture and we use Kinky Curly products (can find them at Target) and we strive to use natural products (few ingredients and ingredients you can pronounce).

By Gaby on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm.

She’s beautiful!

By TracyRaz on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm.

Your daughter, her hair and that whole outfit are adorable. (I love that your daughter is wearing a bow and that Hello Kitty dress…It’s very meta.)

It seems like you are doing an excellent job of taking care of her hair and her esteem. A couple of thoughts /  reactions to your disappointment in not seeing more big, flowy natural hair on black women, though. I’ve been natural since 1999 and even in NYC, I’ve gotten tons of stares, looks and comments—good and bad—and while natural hair is much more common and accepted than it was 13 years ago, it’s obviously not without its detractors.  Your daughter will have to learn at some point that being natural is normal but it is still not normaTIVE so she is going to stand out to a degree and she should embrace that.

The second observation is about your professed ‘disappointment’ in not finding afro-wearing black women on your outing. Please don’t make other women’s hair about you—or even about your daughter. Expectations of asethetic expression are a vicious cycle, whether they are Eurocentric or literally afro-centric and it is going to be much important for you to continue to look for allies than to look for afros and nervously count how many of your Af Am friends are transitioning to natural.

I have a range of emotions when a transracial adoptive parent tries to make my big hair an object lesson for their black child. On the one hand, I support their overall mission to raise a kid who is aware of natural black hair. On the other, I’m much more than an afro and to some degree, pointing me out is an objectification that I do not always appreciate. And I frankly nearly exploded when a white neighbor gasped with disappointment when she thought I had relaxed my hair (for the record; it was just a blow-out) and said that her (curly-haired mixed-race) daughter was going to be “so sad” when she saw me with my new, sleek style.

It’s an alienating feeling when you realize that someone outside of your ethnic community is so invested in the racially-loaded ways in which you style yourself, even if they have good intentions. So I would advise you to maybe take a fresh look at your expectations and make sure they are both healthy and helpful at maintaining good relationships with black women.

In the end, natural hair may or may not ever become ubiquitous where you are so continue to give your daughter the strength to stand out. I think you are doing a good job so please take this as it is intended.

By brooklynlilies on Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm.
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