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Non-Black Biological Mothers of Biracial Black Daughters: How to Build Your Daughters' Hair Esteem

It has happened twice in my life, once when I was in my early twenties, the other last week.  The first time, I was so taken aback that I didn't respond.  Last week, I did.

What is it, you ask?  It was the following:  Having a non-black woman who was dating a black man say to my face, "I hope our kids have MY hair."  In both cases, the women were Latina.

The first time it happened, I was an exchange student in Spain speaking to one of my fellow Stanford exchange students.  She was dating an African-American Stanford student who was on the football team.  While discussing her boyfriend, and while wearing a sweater I had loaned her, she made her remark.

I was stunned.  So stunned, I didn't respond.  If she didn't want her children to have her boyfriend's hair, what did that say about what she thought of her boyfriend and his hair?  Better yet, what was she thinking saying that to my face and my very visible African hair while wearing my sweater, twirling the ends of  her long, straight brown locks while saying it, no less?

The second time was last week.  Yet again, another Latina dating another black man said the exact same words: "I hope our kids have MY hair."

This time, I sprang into action, thirty years wiser.

"Oh, no you don't.  You don't get to say that, and you don't get to think it.  You don't get to make your daughter feel bad about her hair just because it isn't like yours.  You're going to be her mother and you don't get to do that."

What I was too polite to say was this:

If you're thinking you can sleep with a black man and have kids with straight hair, you're fooling yourself.  You need to prepare yourself to send that daughter out into the world with some hair esteem, no matter the texture of her hair.

And so begins this blog entry to non-black biological mothers of biracial black daughters:  You decided to marry or sleep with a black man; you don't get to make your black daughter feel bad about her hair because it isn't like yours, precisely because you are her mother.  Her feelings of self esteem and hair esteem will depend on the words that come from you, especially since she carries your DNA and probably looks like you.

I began a frank discussion with the offending woman and another woman who is a non-black mother of a biracial black child.  Here's the jist of what I had to say:

1.  Your frustration with styling her hair is not her problem; it's yours.  You don't get to degrade her or the texture of her hair because it is harder for you to manage than your own.  Your job is to make her feel good about her hair, no matter its texture, because the world is gonna do a number on her and she's going to need all the hair esteem she can get.  Even if you don't feel that way, fake it until you make it.

2.  You don't get to call her hair "bad hair" or "good hair," even if black folks do.  Especially if black folks do.  I don't allow the use of the terms "good hair" or "bad hair" in my home.  We can discuss texture differences, but I don't allow anyone to put value judgments on texture in my home.  I refuse to perpetuate that.

That isn't to say that black folks don't do this still.  It's abhorrent.  That said, you, as a non-black mother of a black biracial daughter, don't get to do that, and you need to stop anyone from doing that in her presence.

3.  Get help.  If you don't know how to style black hair, get help.  If you see a black woman whose hair you like, ask where she gets it styled.  Ask the women in your boyfriend's/husband/'s/babydaddy's family to educate you.  And ask with humility and without disdain for your child's hair.  You come to this in a position of weakness -- you need to learn how to do your child's hair, and you're probably going to have to ask black women who may or may not be too keen on the fact that you took a black man away from black women (even if he didn't even like black women) AND can't do the hair of the daughter who resulted from your theft.  That said, a gift of flowers or some wine might not be a bad idea.

4.  You can't straighten your daughter's hair by pulling it back tight; you'll only end up pulling it out.  I've seen this time and again -- non-black mothers of black biracial daughters trying to fake the appearance of straight hair by putting tons of hair products and water in the kid's hair and pulling it back tight in rubber bands, barrettes, you name it.  Ever heard of traction alopecia?  That's when you lose your hair around the sides of your head from pulling it back too tight.  Don't do that to your daughter's hair.  Work with the texture she has, not the texture you wish she had, which leads to my next point:

5. If you don't know what you're doing, don't put any chemicals on your daughter's hair.  I'm talking kiddie perms, Brazilian blowouts, you name it.  These chemicals are usually some variation on sodium hydroxide (lye) or calcium hydroxide and can burn the child's scalp if left on too long.  I wasn't allowed to get a relaxer until shortly before I left for college; my mother didn't believe in putting chemicals on her daughters' hair when we were young.  She pressed a lot of hair for a long time, but to this day my sisters and I have full heads of hair and not a weave between us.  Thanks, Mom.

6. Instead of emphasizing what she can't do with her hair, emphasize what she can do with her hair.  There are a multitude of styles black women and girls can rock that people with straight hair can't -- braids, cornrows, twists, locks, pressed hair, relaxed hair, afros.  Make it fun for your daughter and change it up so she can take pride in her hair's versatility.  If you make getting her hair done a beauty ritual and add to it other beauty rituals like a mani-pedi, she'll feel beautiful all around.

7.  Use hair care products that are good for black hair and wash black hair less frequently than white hair.  I, for one, don't use Pantene -- it strips the crap out of my hair and leaves it feeling dry.  I've switched to Wen, which doesn't strip my hair's oils.  I've also heard good things about the Carol's Daughter line of hair care products.  I also don't wash my hair daily and neither do most of the black women I know because of the drying effect that most shampoos have on our hair.  Get advice on hair care products from your daughter's relatives on her dad's side of the family or from a stylist who specializes in black hair.  If you're in the Sacramento area, I highly recommend Miasha Helton of It's My Hair -- she has done segments on "Good Day Sacramento" on styling biracial children's hair. And finally:

8. Give your daughter permission to tell people not to touch her hair.  If she's outnumbered at school by kids with straight hair, her hair is going to be a curiosity to them.  That doesn't mean that she should be some de facto museum exhibit that they can touch and feel.  You need to empower her to tell people not to touch her hair just because it's different from theirs.  She doesn't have to be mean about it, but she shouldn't be subjected to unwanted touching because she's different and in the minority.  The analogy I make is that if you wouldn't touch Queen Elizabeth's crown, you shouldn't touch mine, and my hair is my crown.

With this, I hope I have empowered you to love your biracial black daughter and her hair, no matter it's texture.


Anonymous said…
I agree. They get too comfortable, thinking that they can just say anything. Her daughter might have her father's hair, and if she has children by a Black man, don't be surpissed if they have his features.

Those women are disgusting.

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