Sunday, June 24, 2007

An opinion on bi-racial hair

The long-winded commenter strikes again...

I was reading a post by Afunkykindaglow this morning and I posted a comment that got so long, I decided to make it a post of my own.

I could draw fire for saying this, but I've had a lot of mixed race friends where the mother was white, and the child (daughter) grew up in a predominantly white environment. I have felt better for the children who have hair more like their mother's because if it is very afro-textured the mothers often don't have a clue how to style it. The poor little girls are already somewhat different from everyone else and then their hair looks like a hot mess for the first 15 - 20 years of their lives because no one knows how to style it. And that's sad.

I would never say that our hair is horrid or difficult, but it is SO DIFFERENT from theirs, they don't know what to do with it. And I understand. I have white friends who admired some of my braided and twisted styles and asked if I could do the same to theirs back when we were teenagers. My hair was easy because it would just stay wherever I put it, but I got terribly frustrated with theirs because it was so slick and slippery. The curls fell and big pieces kept slipping out of the knots and twists and braids. I gave up on it very quickly.

I imagine it is somewhat the same experience when a white woman tries to do her black daughter's hair. She may not know anyone to teach her how to make her daughter's hair look good. Our hair textures can be very time-consuming and high-maintenance compared to theirs.

Of course, this is not to say the problem is with our hair. The problem is with education about what to do with it, and access to professionals, products, styling techniques and/or individuals who are informed and experienced about what to do with our hair type and the myriad variety of in-between textures that result from biracial unions.

So many of us spend years of our lives trying to figure out how to care for our hair and getting frustrated; there's only so much I can fault someone of a different race for having apprehension about facing the challenge, or being relieved about not having to.

Preference doesn't always stem from prejudice. My niece is hispanic and black and she has hair that is super curly in its natural state, but it straightens easily into soft waves the way mine does simply from pulling it back in a ponytail, but it is nothing like mine or my sister's. It is a texture that is considered desirable in both cultures because it is thick and long. Although it was thick and long and silky to the touch, somehow it was also very coarse and wiry strand-by-strand. Therefore it was an extreme challenge to my sister for the first few years. It behaved nothing like our hair or that of anyone in our family.

My niece was always in braids - something like 8 to 12 at any given time - for the first 12 years of her life because my sister couldn't do anything else with it. It was just too big! They were neat and cute enough on a little girl, but it was really a choice that stemmed from not knowing what else might work. My niece finally started experimenting with different products and styles when she got to be a teenager and I took her to a stylist who specialized in cutting curly hair and it began to look better and more age-appropriate. Plus she gained more styling options and versatility. So, it works both ways.

If I had a mixed race child, there is a possibility that I wouldn't be able to do some of my favorite little-girl hair styles like twists and afro-puffs. Knowing the fine, straight textures and light colors that run in my family it is entirely possible that she would have hair that would be too straight to look good in locks. This would certainly disappoint me. I would prefer for my child to have hair that is similar in texture to my own. Because that's what I know.

I freely admit that I was not there and there could have been an entire climate of ignorance, condescension and subtle racism (because I know all about that too) that permeated their words and actions. If I had been there I might have bristled and gone into silent hysterics myself, but I also felt a need to say that on some level I understand the comment about the hair.


Carmen In NC said...

At one point I said I wanted a child with hair just like mine, nappy but not too nappy. Regardless of texture I would use the same products, tools, and do the same hairstyles - plaits, twists, puffs, and cornrows. And if her hair is like mine - it will be out, un-combed, and big - that's the prettiest style ever.

blackrussian said...

This post makes me seem like I feel much more strongly about my preference than I actually do. I wouldn't be terribly dissappointed.

It would be more of an, "Aww..Oh well. It is what it is," kind of thing. Because that's how I react to most situations.

And I am determined that whatever hair texture my daughter has, I will teach her to love it and NEVER think it is inferior to ANY one else's regardless...

But as for saying: I'll just do to hers what I do/did to mine, you can't. You don't ever know what you'll get even if you stay within our race.

And it really becomes a mixed bag if you step outside. Really Carmen: I KNOW! You would assume you could use the same products, tools, etc. But that's why I included the story about my niece. My sister discovered that sometimes you cannot.

muslimahlocs said...

hmmm..."bi-racial hair". given the proliferation of so many "black non-bi-racial" folks with hair that sounds a lot like what you are describing as "bi-racial hair", is there really such a thing? or conversely, the bi-racial folks with tightly coiled hair that would make mutabaruaka's (played "shango" in the movie sankofa) curl pattern look loose? like a lot of us, i have examples of all of these in my family. and at the end of the day we are just glad to still have some hair after all of the damage taht we have done to it over the years.

Brenda said...

Oh, please tell me what your sister did with her daughter's hair, and who she got to cut and style it??! My niece, who's about to turn 20, is also black/Latina and has hair like you describe. She's talking about perming her hair and it sounds so much like your niece's. I didn't want to be totally disapproving, but I did tell her about Afrobella, Mixedchicks and Miss Jessie for ways she might get what she wants, but still keep it natural.

Anonymous said...

My white co-worker's grandchildren are bi-racial (black/white). And let me tell you her daughter can do hair, she gives her little girls cornrows, twists, braids and anything else she can think of. She didn't want to deal with the comments or stares she would get when visiting salons so she learned how to do their hair herself. I applaud her for that!