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[Op Ed] Why I Stopped Giving Hair Advice to White Moms of Brown Kids

Avatar • Jun 3, 2015
Source: Abigail Gray Swartz, New York Times

Source: Abigail Gray Swartz, New York Times

By Jenni Holmes, Published on NYTimes.com

When I was 10 years old, my Aunt Peggy, the fashion icon of the family, arrived at a party with her long, sleek hair shaped into a massive Afro.

Cool, Aunt Peggy!” my older cousins chimed. I was mesmerized by the shock on my grandparents’ faces. “Girl, what did you?” Granddad bellowed.

We were a “we-shall-overcome” middle-class Detroit family. The tension of that day didn’t dispel until my aunt’s Afro did, years later, creating the perfect platform for an African-American girl to begin to understand the language of black hair. Our dreadlocked, relaxed, curled, twisted, braided or Afro-ed hair becomes the first thing we say to the world, and every hairstyle choice holds a different meaning.

In college, like my aunt, I detoured from a “press and curl” into an Afro, seeking my roots. My parents reacted just as my grandparents had, for two years, until I opted to define my blackness in other ways. By 25, I began wearing my hair chemically straightened. Around two decades later, February 2010, I would take my traditional bob to Africa to complete the adoption of a child.

The cocoa color of my skin held more interest to Ethiopians than my western hairstyle. Just after I’d met my 4‑month-old daughter for the first time an orphanage worker whispered, “You look like us.” Her words offered balmy praise that I didn’t share with the other families in my group. All three were Caucasian from the Midwest. They stood out in ways no one would want, garnering stares, even in the capital city of Addis Ababa. The families ignored the gazes; I tried.

Welcome Home!” the United States Customs agent said as I approached his desk, four months later, cradling my 8‑month-old little girl whom I named Julia, after my great-grandmother. Then I pressed the United States Embassy envelope with the official seal into his hands. The man’s face shifted. We were no longer just mother and daughter.

He studied the documents then said, “Let’s see that beautiful face.” I turned Julia’s brown round face toward him.

He stared at her visa photo for the longest time, then said, “Welcome to America, little lady.”

From then on I disclosed my daughter’s adoption to some, other times, depending on the crowd, I opted to be just another black mom with a black child.

You’re lucky, you guys can pass,” a white adoptive mom of a brown boy said as our children toddled about a Manhattan playground. I blinked, hard. She probably had no idea that “passing” held a completely different meaning for blacks. Still, I understood. And if the difference between the skin tones of white parents and adopted brown children weren’t enough, the unique qualities of black hair intensified matters.

I watched two white moms who were friends try to manage their adopted black daughters’ hair as their own, with a single headband straining against the girls’ kinky hair and their parental hopes. The girls’ hairstyles revealed their otherness.

I read online tales of white moms of black daughters shamed by armies of black women offering unsolicited help. A famous black Hollywood actress reportedly sent a hairstylist to Madonna’s home after seeing the state of her African-born daughter’s hair in photos. When I heard Wanda Sykes joke on her comedy special “that you could always tell a black girl raised by white parents, because they always ran up to you with lint and car keys stuck in their hair,” I vowed that my friends and their daughters wouldn’t be viewed that way.

At the next play date in my adoption circle I approached my friend Kristin. “Hey, I have the hair oil that I use on Julia’s hair,” I said. “Try it on your daughter’s hair.”

But I like her soft curls,” she said.

Look, it’s all natural,” I said. Kristin stared at me, then said, “Have you thought about schools, yet?”

A sadness sat down in my chest. I was trying to leverage my friendship, not my blackness. For three more years, I approached white moms at Ethiopian adoption events, parties and playgrounds. No one wanted my help.

Then one day, at a preschool interview, as our children played, another black mom said, “I love your daughter’s hair.”

Twin Afro puffs, just like my mom did,” I said.

What does your husband do?” she asked.

I beamed. “I’m a single parent, I adopted Julia from Ethiopia.”

The atmosphere shifted. The woman drifted away toward other moms. So proud of Julia’s heritage, of my journey to motherhood, it never occurred to me that we held an otherness, too. The chill I perceived outed my own adoption insecurities, exposure my white mom friends confront daily.

I’ve since stopped my hair care interventions. I still wish a white adoptive mom would ask me about black hair care. It is quite different. But until then, when the brown daughters of white moms in my community want to explore the differences between a Beyoncé do and an Angélique Kidjo Afro, I’ll be there, ready to translate.

Have you ever provided hair care advice to another mother (of any racial background) who seemed to be struggling with their daughter’s hair? 

Do you think you’ve have unfairly judged (or been judged) based on the condition of a child’s hair?

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ThickNigerianHair
ThickNigerianHair
5 years ago

I think I missed something. I still don’t understand why she stopped giving hair advice.

MommieDearest
MommieDearest
5 years ago

I thought it was just me. *still scratching my head*

rt
rt
5 years ago

I also missed the point of this article

EllieLo
EllieLo
5 years ago

I’m a little confused too, but I think it had something to do with the idea of not wanting to contribute to the tension/stress caused by well meaning others when they figure out your child’s adopted. There’s a lot of judgment when it comes to those who adopt, like “well, they’re not having their own kids, so they clearly don’t know how to be parents; let’s give them some ‘helpful hints’ ”, and this is without the added level of a interracial adoption. Or being a single parent adopter. Like, people who adopt may have pitfalls (like all parents, right?), but… Read more »

NaturallySonja
NaturallySonja
5 years ago

My take on the reason why she stopped giving hair advice is because of “adoption insecurities” that she faced or faces and that white mothers have to endure daily. I agree with Erica Brock above that the mothers should learn to deal with the child’s hair differences and not be so sensitive about the comments of others because they are only trying to help.

Taqwa
Taqwa
5 years ago

Because none of the moms would take her advice and just shrugged her off. She’ll give it once the girls grow older and are able to ask her for it themselves.

Camille
Camille
5 years ago

I have 3b/c hair, so I’m approached frequently by mothers of biracial children regularly for hair advice. Almost all of them are combing or brushing all the curls out of their hair. I just give a condensed version of the CG method and show them how I get the tangles out with my fingers. I can tell it’s a light bulb moment for them. I don’t think its polite to give unsolicited hair advice, even though that Wanda Sykes joke about biracial girls has a lot of truth to it. Biracial girls with white mothers who have type 4 hair seem… Read more »

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  Camille

I don’t think 3b is the only reason they approach you. My hair is not loose curls and I get asked advice sometimes. Even got emails before. They must feel comfortable with you or get the sense you don’t mind.

@bridgetc_lee
@bridgetc_lee
5 years ago

Unsolicited advice is PART of being a mother. The only thing that makes them upset is the NERVE of black women to think they are more knowledgeable about anything. When my babies were younger it come from mother, my mother in laws and random strangers. You just take it with a grain of salt and move on.

caty
caty
5 years ago
Reply to  @bridgetc_lee

Yeah that is true. I think though that some black women in this situation seriously do want to help the child while some are annoying know it alls.

Ugonna Wosu
Ugonna Wosu
5 years ago
Reply to  @bridgetc_lee

Lots of black women are offended by unsolicited advice too, and not just when it comes to hair either, so think about that before making those pronouncements on why white women dont want advice.

DrSelina
DrSelina
5 years ago
Reply to  Ugonna Wosu

So, thank you for outing yourself. You keep defending white women, but knocking down the sisters on this site who have struggled with not knowing our natural hair because of society and society’s standards, now striving to reclaim our hair heritage and are proud of it. We see these children with JACKED up hair and understand the pain those little girls feel because their beauty is NOT BEING embraced/reinforced by their, often white, parents. There are WAY Too MANY biracial and adopted babies out there with jacked up hair. I do give unsolicited advice, but I also take the time… Read more »

Varah Potter
Varah Potter
5 years ago

I’ve been natural for years and I’ve recently had co-workers come up to me about their biracial children’s hair. I told them what I know and also suggested they talk to my manager who had three biracial children.

Adeola | www.coilsandglory.com

I agree with you. but in this day and age of social media, I dont understand why so many moms (Black or Not) are still not knowledgeable about Black haircare
http://www.coilsandglory.com

caty
caty
5 years ago

Oh my gosh yes! Its 2015, you still don’t understand how to keep healthy hair?

Ugonna Wosu
Ugonna Wosu
5 years ago

I agree, results show up pretty quickly on a Google search.

Ericca Brock
5 years ago

I do not give unsolicited information to white mothers or mothers of a different race of the child when it comes to hair care. However, i do silently judge because if you are having a child from a different culture from yours , you should learn how to deal with the child’s differences.

Frugivore Clarissa
Frugivore Clarissa
5 years ago

How hard is it to go on youtube and search “natural hair routine for kids’?? If these women have gone to all the research and paper work to adopt a black child, straight out of Africa no less, they can surely take a couple of hours out of their day to familiarize themselves with the dos and don’ts of natural black hair. ‑_-

Ms. Vee
Ms. Vee
5 years ago

Right?!

Lindsay Sanders
Lindsay Sanders
5 years ago

I know white people who have adopted black children…and they were required to take a class on black hair in order for the adoption to go through. Stop with your ignorance. You don’t know the process for them and you don’t know if they’ve done research or not. Not everything works for every black person when it comes to hair…maybe they’re trying something they did research and it’s just not working…you never know.

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

That reminds me. Some really good friends of mine are white and are foster parents here in the US. They told me they took a class on hair care that social services people put on. They gave them products to try also.

kg
kg
5 years ago

I think they’re more concerned with feeding their child and making sure they have a safe and happy home environment with great values and a proper education. Not concerned with hair styling or wearing their child as an accessory.

impassioneddogooder
impassioneddogooder
5 years ago
Reply to  kg

For Black girls, whose bodies are misunderstood and un(der)epresented by the media, hair is entirely essential to feeling safe and happy. Anyway, at the bare minimum, to love a child means you understand what they need and then provide it. So when a kid is feeling discouraged or misunderstood or othered by their hair because their parent lacks the capacity to deal with it, it is up to the parent to educate themselves to mitigate that.

Slut-ocracy
Slut-ocracy
5 years ago

Well ‘biracial’ can still be applied to people who are a quarter black, so it’s possible he’s more white than black. And the media calls Obama black even though he’s as white as he is black.

caty
caty
5 years ago
Reply to  Slut-ocracy

Nah lol he’s just ignorant. Hes half black & half white. Just doesn’t care for his black side.

Char
Char
5 years ago

My good friend is white and she adopted 2 little girls from Uganda. I have to say, that she went online and found out how to do braids, twists, puffs, all of it. Her daughters’ hair is ALWAYS moisturized and beautiful to the point that she A) inspired me to go natural and B) gives me hair care tips…lol.

caty
caty
5 years ago
Reply to  Char

You have the type of friend who actually researched! She was probably aware that she can’t do to her hair what she does to her childrens hair. I respect her a lot.

Julie C
Julie C
5 years ago

Your comment is soooo ignorant! I am a white mother of a biracial child and have never in my life thought I was better than anyone else. I embrace my son’s African heritage just as much as I teach him about his Irish roots. Not all white people are difficult. People are people, how do you know what their mother is going through? She may be struggling just to provide food and clothes for her children…don’t judge others lest you be judged by the same rules. I’m sure you are far from the perfect representative of a black person!!! Try… Read more »

Ugonna Wosu
Ugonna Wosu
5 years ago

My issue is most of those judgemental black mothers don’t know how to do black hair either. All you have to do is look at them.

Ugonna Wosu
Ugonna Wosu
5 years ago

Just because he calls himself white doesn’t mean he doesn’t know he’s half black, it means he made a choice. If his mom made a poor judgement, it’s perhaps in not telling him that in this society he’ll be considered black.

Milly
Milly
5 years ago

Growing up my mother would often do my mixed friend’s hair, as well as the hair of a black girl adopted by white lesbians. I personally wouldn’t offer unsolicited advice, but nowadays there’s really no excuse for poorly caring for your child’s hair, given that we have the internet.

SheSaidThat
SheSaidThat
5 years ago

I didn’t understand the relation of the two points in this article at all

Jacqy
Jacqy
4 years ago
Reply to  SheSaidThat

Neither did I!

violet1551
violet1551
5 years ago

I’ve seen the unfortunate hair that some white parents let their black kids walk around with and it’s just not fair to the kids. No, they don’t need elaborate styles but for heaven sake do some research or take the kid to a barber or salon familiar with black hair! I’m tired of seeing black boys getting haircuts with scissors and little black girls with dry dull matted tangled hair pushed back like Frederick Douglas with a bandu.

Sandy
Sandy
5 years ago

I’m a white woman with tight curls my straight-haired mom spent years “taming”. When my Afro-Latina-Scottish daughter was born I did with her hair the same thing my mother did with mine because I just thought that was the way it was. It was pre-internet and it never occurred to me to ask. (My daughter grew up hating her hair. Still straightens it.) It took an internet discussion about a famous actress with curls to get me researching my own hair. I’ve discovered Miss Jessie and gotten into discussions of hair products in convention center ladies’ rooms. The African-American women… Read more »

queenblacksheep
queenblacksheep
4 years ago

There is so much judgment in both of these comments. Yes, Julie, the above comment was judgy AF, but you ended up coming off the same way, which makes you no better.

Monae Diggs
Monae Diggs
4 years ago

Kudos to you!

christinanolanXD
christinanolanXD
4 years ago

This was so confusing to read lol

Leslie Sirag
Leslie Sirag
4 years ago

I’m a curly-hired Jewish adoptive mom of 5 kids, one bi-racial.I have black friends, even one who’s a beautician, who did my hair as well as hers while she was growing up. She laughs at me because my very dry hair takes more “black” hair products than hers even to look natural. But she now irons her hair! I used to be approached by black women everywhere we went with advice on her hair, but my response was always, “Talk to her! I can’t get her to do that!” Which was true, whatever it was.She always had her own ideas, and… Read more »

Trace
Trace
5 years ago

Lol, my only thought after reading this piece:

People are weird. xD

twa
twa
5 years ago

This was several topics in one.

caty
caty
5 years ago

I have a biracial friend, his mom is white so he claims to be white. Anyways I told that boy he needs to moisturize his hair, it was painfully dry & dirty. He said no one taught him how to take care of his hair, idc they still need advice. Especially if its obvious the child’s hair is in a bad state, like I understand that’s their child but it takes a village to raise a child.

Monae Diggs
Monae Diggs
5 years ago
Reply to  caty

I’m assuming his father was not in his life, so he did not get a chance to adapt and get to know his black side. Which is very shameful for him, does not matter how light his skin is he is half white half black. He can never be all white. His mother did a poor job of raising him, for him to not know he is not all white.

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

I don’t give unsolicited advice to people I don’t know. Who cares what other strangers’ kids hair looks like? I don’t. I have given advice to white and black moms who have ASKED me for it. I buy my friends and relatives products to try or give them the ones that don’t work for me.

Monae Diggs
Monae Diggs
5 years ago

I personally wouldn’t have been trying to give advice to white people with mixed children. They obviously think they are better in which they are not, I saw a little girl the other day looked to be about 9 and was biracial that was walking with her other biracial siblings and poor child her hair was so matted and untamed. She was overweight for her age also. But talking to white ppl is like talking to a brick wall.

safsdsa
safsdsa
5 years ago

I’m 17 and my mom is white and my dad is black and even he recognizes the hard work it is to deal with this kind of hair and he shaves his head every 3 weeks. For a long time I wanted to do as much. When I was younger my mom would spend hours trying to brush my hair and trying so hard not to hurt me… She asked my dad’s sister for help at one moment, which seems paradoxal as she has always relaxed her hair or made it otherwise more traditionnally “white”. She says she can’t be taken… Read more »

passiveagressiveshade
passiveagressiveshade
5 years ago

There are plenty of black mothers who don’t know the first thing about hair care too, they think a pretty style is the good even when they rip and burn the hair

Misha
Misha
5 years ago

They should give out shea butter when the parents go to pick up the adopted child.

$8319184
$8319184
5 years ago
Reply to  Misha

Lmao!
“Here’s your little angel, and a complimentary jar of shea butter!”

annebeth66
annebeth66
5 years ago

I often get approached in the “hair care aisle” of any store by white mothers of children of color. One time a white mother was asking me about how to take care of her biracial daughters hair, when another woman, that had a adopted black child, was waiting for me to finish, so SHE could ask a question. I don’t give out unsolicited advice but if someone asks me a question, then I do try to help.

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