Hair Issues That Aren't Child's Play
By LaKenya Finley
My kids and Blue Ivy have something in common—people are obsessed with their hair. A total stranger hasn’t started an online petition to have their hair combed. It’s quite the contrary. People can’t keep themselves from commenting on my 4-year-old daughter’s elaborate braids and beads (courtesy of a Grenadian hair braider; I’m not that talented) and my 18-month-old son’s bountiful fro. “Her hair is amazing.
” “Your little boy is soooo
cute with all that hair!” It’s constant. At the grocery store. At church, the park, the mall. And it comes from all kinds of people—white, black, Latino, Asian, those not-even-a-box-on-the-census. So what’s wrong with people complimenting my kids’ hair? Nothing? Everything? Depends? The more troubling question is when it comes to my babies’ follicles, is there something wrong with me?
I was acutely aware that my daughter and son were coming into a world that still politicizes black hair in all its kinky, coily, wavy glory. A world that rewards what it deems beautiful—a standard to which kids are not exempt. So my response has been to keep them neat, pulled together, paying particular attention to their hair. But it dogs me every time I run the Tangle Teezer over my son’s afro before we get out of the car whether I’ve succumb to the ugly pressures of pre-approved cuteness. And I’d be lying if I said my daughter hasn’t missed a few playdates because it was braid take-down, wash and rebraid day.
I wonder over and over whether my commitment to their appearance is a holdover from a time when black folks looked their best in public to help blunt the cutting gaze of a hostile white world that thought the worst about them. While I ponder, I can hear my mom’s voice, “You don’t leave the house looking any kind of way and neither should your kids.”
And when the compliments and comments about their hair start coming, the questions flow in right behind them. If a white person wants to touch my son’s hair, is it automatically offensive? Can a black person refer to my daughter’s hair without second thought or penalty? If offended, am I supposed to have and then subsequently offer a snappy comeback? What, if any, hairy situation calls for a cussing out? Kids, who are naturally and innocently curious about everything including hairstyles, are they exempt? What’s the age cutoff? A 4-year-old says something – innocent. A 10-year-old? Nah, that little delinquent should know better? And the spirit behind the comment, where does that factor in?
Here’s what I do know. I will do my very best to instill in my kids a strong sense of racial pride and identity and impress upon them that they have the freedom to express that identity however they choose, including with their hairstyles. Let’s just hope that I don’t end up with a head full of gray hairs in the process.
LaKenya Finley is a freelance copyeditor and accidental blogger who has worked at the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. She talks to herself often, but her grandmother told her as long as she doesn’t answer she’s OK.
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