Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hair Today and Not Gone Tomorrow

A heartbeat away from dreadlocks. 

This isn’t exactly what was said the first time we had our three-year-old daughter’s hair braided, but this was the gist, and this is my blog. Creative nonfiction offers liberties, folks.  

I don’t have an aversion to dreadlocks, by the way, but I also don’t believe this was true in the case of my daughter. Yes, I am white, and yes, the woman who braided my daughter’s hair is black. Yes, she knows more about black hair than I do. But honestly, she caught Ava on a bad day—aka the day post-bath, after she didn’t have the patience to sit for one more millisecond of hair combing. Ava has been our daughter since she was two-days-old, and somehow, two white parents have managed to not have to shave her hair off due to dreadlocks, Big League Chew or hidden squirrels. (People say their kids have a lot of hair. Sorry, but to them, I reply with a hearty guffaw.) 

Have I mentioned Ava’s hair is magnificent? If I could just have one-tenth of its beauty and abundance. If you ask me, she most certainly has “good” hair. 

I’ve discovered this is a legitimate question. Chris Rock even produced a documentary on the subject, and while some criticized him for it, it did shed some light on the $9 billion black hair industry. That’s right, I said nine billion. Rock decided to make the movie after his toddler asked him why she didn’t have “good” hair. Her hair is curly and wiry, the typical hair of many people of African descent. At three, Rock’s daughter had already taken on the perception among some blacks that curly hair wasn’t “good.” 

Before this becomes a post about race, racism and the politics of black hair, let me stop. First, that’s not my intention, second, I’m miles from a scholar on the subject, and third, last I checked, I am white and have standard “Caucasian” or “European” hair. (Note: White women do plenty to “fix” their hair, too. E.g., in my youth, I’m pretty sure I sat through more perms than Richard Simmons.) 

This is merely an attempt to point out that black hair is different. Yes, it’s okay to use the word different. These differences are wonderful, but they don’t come free of challenges, especially when you’re the white parents of a black daughter. Take braiding, for example. We’ve had somebody braid Ava’s hair twice and the results were great. Not having to detangle, comb and fuss with Ava’s hair in the mornings for around six weeks was great. How she looked was great. How she sounded was great. The sound of her beads is a sound like no other, like a clickety-clackety homing device connected to my heart. 

“Forcing” your toddler to sit for what seemed just shy of an eternity for hair styling. Um, not so great. Wiping away her tears from enduring said hair styling. Worse. 

I was torn. Braiding protects black hair from breakage. It’s an artform that’s also a cultural rite of passage. But I am also pretty damn certain that braiding hurts. No parent (at least the ones I prefer to know about) takes pleasure in causing their child pain. 

This being admitted, we’ll probably have it braided in the future. More than once. Rinse and repeat. Because as I mentioned, it protects the health of her hair and it gives her a link to her culture and race. Plus, Ava likes how it looks. 

Before this becomes a post about the pros and cons of hair braiding, let me stop. Again. First, I have subzero skills when it comes to hair styling, I give myself a thumbs up for washing and air drying my hair on most days, second, I had to look up traction alopecia on Wikipedia, and third, I’m white, in case you don’t know me or haven’t yet gleaned that fact. 

Remember, this is merely an attempt to point out that black hair is different. Yes, it’s okay to use the word different. It’s also an attempt to celebrate those differences, and celebrate that two white parents haven’t caused their black daughter to go bald. Yet. 

Trust me when I say that both my husband and I still have a boatload to learn when it comes to Ava’s hair (and, well, a hell of a lot more than her hair), but maybe we’re more capable than at first we appear. Even if my hair is always in some version of a jacked-up pony and my husband’s hasn’t been cut since the mid-seventies. 

Ava’s hair is doing fine. I promise I won’t hold it against you, but please keep this in mind the next time you consider offering helpful tips or comments of concern. In ninety-seven percent of the cases, I know you mean well. I really do. But the next time I hear, “Ooo, don't those braids hurt her head?” or “You should try X excotic coconut oil or wash with X miracle detangler" or “Have you ever considered cornrows?” I might just pull my hair out.

Or Donald Trumps’, if he has any. (Because pulling yours out would be mean.)