REPOST: How My 6-Year Old Protested her Natural Hair & the Aftermath of the Tiana Parker Incident

Just when I thought I could get a breather from discussing black hair . . .

7 year old, Tiana Parker was sent home for wearing locs

7 year old, Tiana Parker was sent home for wearing locs

On September 9, my 6 year old had a melt down about her hair. The night before, I had taken her braids out and didn’t have time to wash and style it as I thought I would, so I brushed it and put her to bed. When we awakened the next morning, we got ready for work and school as usual. I wet her hair, put some styling cream in, and slicked it back into an Afro puff. “How cute!” I thought.

She looked at herself in the mirror and was not pleased. She screamed and hollered about her hair. She hated her hair! She told me that had she known I was putting her hair in an Afro puff, she would have protested sooner.

It was a rough morning! When hubby took her to school, she was still crying and tugging on her hair. She was a hot mess when she arrived at school: both she and her hair had a complete come-apart! Daddy tried to soothe her by telling her that she was beautiful, but she was not having it.

It bothered me all day at work. How could I (Ms. Say-it-loud-I’m-black-and-I’m proud!!) be raising a daughter who was ashamed of her looks? I thought I failed at making my child feel comfortable with who she is.

It is now time for me to invoke race into this conversation: Yes, I am certain that it is difficult for parents of all races to teach their children to recognize beauty beyond size 0 blonde models, but it is important to recognize that even that image is racialized so that black female bodies (including hair) then become the antithesis of that standard of beauty. This is why it is important for us to constantly offer black/brown children alternative images of beauty and to even deconstruct the power that beauty should be given in the first place in treating each other with dignity.

But, I digress . . .

When I got home that evening, I told Nina to come have a chat with me. We stretched out on the sofa, with her leaning on me. I stroked her hair, comforting her so that we could be relaxed when we talked. I pulled out my tablet and showed her a picture of a little girl.

“Nina,” I said. “Look at this little girl. Do you notice that she doesn’t have any hair?”

“Yes,” Nina said.

“What do you think about her? Do you find her beautiful? Look at her smile?”

“She has a pretty smile. I bet she is really nice.”

“I bet she is, too. Nina, this little girl has been really sick for a while. She had an awful illness called cancer. In order for her to get better, she had to take some medicine to make her feel better. Thank God she is feeling better. Unfortunately, that medicine made all of her hair fall out. That beautiful smile you notice on her face is there because she is thankful that she is feeling better and because now she can go home and be with her family. Pretty soon, she’ll be able to play with her friends. That’s beauty–the fact that she can have a smile on her face, despite what she has gone through, because she knows that God will take care of her. You have so much to be thankful for, and that hair on your head is only a small portion of it. Your meltdown this morning was a bit outrageous. What was going on?”

It was what she said next that broke my heart and it proves that we should never underestimate how much our children understand and even internalize what they hear.

“I was afraid that if I wore my hair in an Afro puff,” Nina began, “they would send me home.” She then told me that she overheard me talking about Tiana Parker, the 7 year old girl at Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was sent home for wearing her hair in locs. Their school policy stated that “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Nina asked me why wouldn’t they let her go to school.

I looked at her and I said, “Sometimes, adults say and do mean things. That school was wrong for making her feel like something was wrong with her for wearing her hair in locs. Her hair is beautiful and Tiana is beautiful and smart, too.”

I then told Nina that she is more than her hair and more than her beauty. I told her that she is a funny, smart, loving, caring, and kind little girl who is loved by many who are happy to remind her that she is just fine the way she is. We also looked at the collection of pictures put together by Dr. Yaba Blay to help Tiana Parker feel confident about how she looks. This digital picture book also includes inspirational words to comfort her.

I am glad that this occurred so that we can begin the conversation of the importance of Nina valuing herself, because it is never too soon to do so. School-aged children learn a lot about themselves once they start school. When Nina was in preschool, her teacher would always make comments about the various hairstyles that she wore. It was unwanted attention, as my Nina, the only black child in the class, did not seek to be the center of attention.

As for Nina, she is back to loving her Afro puff.

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How My 6-Year Old Protested her Natural Hair & the Role Tiana Parker Plays

Just when I thought I could get a breather from discussing black hair . . .

7 year old, Tiana Parker was sent home for wearing locs

7 year old, Tiana Parker was sent home for wearing locs

One week ago today on September 9, my 6 year old had a melt down about her hair. The night before, I had taken her braids out and didn’t have time to wash and style it as I thought I would, so I brushed it and put her to bed. When we awakened the next morning, we got ready for work and school as usual. I wet her hair, put some styling cream in, and slicked it back into an Afro puff. “How cute!” I thought.

She looked at herself in the mirror and was not pleased. She screamed and hollered about her hair. She hated her hair! She told me that had she known I was putting her hair in an Afro puff, she would have protested sooner.

It was a rough morning! When hubby took her to school, she was still crying and tugging on her hair. She was a hot mess when she arrived at school: both she and her hair had a complete come-apart! Daddy tried to soothe her by telling her that she was beautiful.

It bothered me all day at work. How could I (Ms. Say-it-loud-I’m-black-and-I’m proud!!) be raising a daughter who was ashamed of her looks? I thought I failed in making my child feel comfortable with who she is.

It is now time for me to invoke race into this conversation: Yes, I am certain that it is difficult for parents of all races to teach their children to recognize beauty beyond size 0 blonde models, but it is important to recognize that even that image is racialized so that black female bodies (including hair) then become the antithesis of that standard of beauty. This is why it is important for us to constantly offer black/brown children alternative images of beauty and to even deconstruct the power that beauty should be given in the first place in treating each other with dignity.

But, I digress . . .

When I got home that evening, I told Nina to come have a chat with me. We stretched out on the sofa, with her leaning on me. I stroked her hair, comforting her so that we could be relaxed when we talked. I pulled out my tablet and showed her a picture of a little girl.

“Nina,” I said. “Look at this little girl. Do you notice that she doesn’t have any hair?”

“Yes,” Nina said.

“What do you think about her? Do you find her beautiful? Look at her smile?”

“She has a pretty smile. I bet she is really nice.”

“I bet she is, too. Nina, this little girl has been really sick for a while. She had an awful illness called cancer. In order for her to get better, she had to take some medicine to make her feel better. Thank God she is feeling better. Unfortunately, that medicine made all of her hair fall out. That beautiful smile you notice on her face is there because she is thankful that she is feeling better and because now she can go home and be with her family. Pretty soon, she’ll be able to play with her friends. That’s beauty–the fact that she can have a smile on her face, despite what she has gone through, because she knows that God will take care of her. You have so much to be thankful for, and that hair on your head is only a small portion of it. Your meltdown this morning was a bit outrageous. What was going on?”

It was what she said next that broke my heart and it proves that we should never underestimate how much our children understand and even internalize what they hear.

“I was afraid that if I wore my hair in an Afro puff,” Nina began, “they would send me home.” She then told me that she overheard me talking about Tiana Parker, the 7 year old girl at Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was sent home for wearing her hair in locs. Their school policy stated that “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Nina asked me why wouldn’t they let her go to school.

I looked at her and I said, “Sometimes, adults say and do mean things. That school was wrong for making her feel like something was wrong with her for wearing her hair in locs. Her hair is beautiful and Tiana is beautiful and smart, too.”

I then told Nina that she is more than her hair and more than her beauty. I told her that she is a funny, smart, loving, caring, and kind little girl who is loved by many who are happy to remind her that she is just fine the way she is. We also looked at the collection of pictures put together by Dr. Yaba Blay to help Tiana Parker feel confident about how she looks. This digital picture book also includes inspirational words to comfort her.

I am glad that this occurred so that we can begin the conversation of the importance of Nina valuing herself, because it is never too soon to do so. School-aged children learn a lot about themselves once they start school. When Nina was in preschool, her teacher would always make comments about the various hairstyles that she wore. It was unwanted attention, as my Nina, the only black child in the class, did not seek to be the center of attention.

As for Nina, she is back to loving her Afro puff.

The Jigaboos vs. The Wannabees: The War on Black Hair

Spike Lee's School Daze

Spike Lee’s School Daze. Pictured here is the scene with the Jigaboos and the Wannabees

In May of 2012, I had the last touch-up to my relaxer placed in my hair. Immediately afterward, I began considering the idea of allowing all of the chemicals to grow out of my hair. I was thinking about “going natural.” Actually, I had been considering it for a couple years before I made the leap, but in addition to the common reservations of not knowing how to manage it and the fear of how it may look on me, I also had one additional fear: I dreaded (no pun intended) being a part of, what feels like, a growing dissension between black women who wear natural hairstyles and those who don’t.

I absolutely detest the politics of black hair, but as much as I would like to say that my hair is apolitical, it is politicized with or without my consent.

An analysis of the history of black women and images of beauty will reveal how we were (and still are in many ways) made to feel unattractive if we have darker skin and kinky hair. Those with fairer skin oftentimes had access to more resources like jobs, though that didn’t necessarily mean that they were treated well. If you were light enough to pass for white, you could potentially abandon your family and community for some of the privileges of being white, and that came with the price of rarely or never seeing those darker family members who could expose you. Despite your complexion, passing for white was impossible if you had kinky hair, as it was a certain way of revealing your racial identity.

Dorothy Dandridge, Actress

Dorothy Dandridge, Actress

We have internalized this binary of pretty and ugly, where all that is beautiful is white. The converse of that perception indicates that the closer one’s features or physical characteristics are to being African, the more unattractive you are considered to be. Unless, of course, you were lucky enough to get the back-handed compliment, “You are pretty for a dark-skinned girl.”

We grew up in families and neighborhoods where the lighter child with “pretty” hair was more often doted on than the darker ones with tightly coiled hair. We heard those we love talk about “pretty hair” and “good hair” and how adorable it made one child because she was lucky enough to have it. No one had to say that kinky hair was unattractive, though many of our parents/grandparents actually did. The way that wavy textured or loosely curled hair was deemed most desirable, was enough to make the rest of us feel unattractive if we didn’t possess that type of hair. Black girls grew up believing they needed to get as close as possible to having “good hair” and, generally, it meant perming or weaving to accomplish it.

Even today, with so many black women wearing their hair naturally, I hear comments like, “She can go natural, she has a ‘good’ grade of hair” or “Natural hair looks nice on some people, but everyone can’t go natural. It’s not for everyone.” Both statements imply that natural hair is only alright if you have a particular texture hair, and tightly coiled her is never the desired look.

This is perplexing to me: anyone who wants to go natural can and should go natural if she wishes to do so. Not only is it their right to do so, but she can go natural and look beautiful. Taking that choice away from black women is equally as problematic coming from someone who is black as it is when it comes from predominately white corporations that insist on a particular look for their employees.

I certainly feel some sort of way when I hear people make comments like this because, by definition of “good hair”, the tightly coiled hair that grows out of my head is not it. Furthermore, nowhere in this conversation are people talking about the fact that straight hair (whether naturally straight or chemically straight) can be unkempt, unhealthy and unattractive.

The question that begs an answer: Why haven’t we evolved from this old perspective? What sadens me most is that these comments were made by black women in their 20s and 30s, and it does not sound very different from our grandmother’s disdain for nappy hair.

If only this was the only side of the black hair conversation that is disturbing to me.

Me and my hair, styled naturally

Me and my hair, styled naturally

I finally decided to “big chop” in January, and I was talking about the experience with a friend of mine at an event. A woman wearing locks decided to interrupt our conversation and say, “I’ve been wearing my hair naturally when you all were talking bad about me.”

First, I looked at her searching for something familiar in her face–she was speaking to me as if we knew each other. (I somehow refrained from saying, “heifer, you don’t know me,” but I digress.) When I realized that I did not know her, I understood that she was making assumptions about the two of us. For some unknown reason, she was hostile with us about our conversation about transitioning our hair. This hostility about relaxed hair is not new.

On Facebook I have read comments like, “Black women who put perm in their daughters’ hair are committing child abuse” and “Black women who wear their hair straightened or relaxed hate themselves.” The anger that is spewed toward black women who choose to relax their hair by some in the natural community is often articulated in what they call “love.” If this is what sisterly love looks like, I want none of it!

There are some in the natural hair community who are just as hostile about black women placing relaxers in their hair as women with chemically treated hair are about black women wearing their hair naturally. Once, a friend of a friend was stopped by a woman who told her that she was beautiful. She proceeded to compliment her outfit. Shortly afterward, she flipped the script and told her that she would be more beautiful if she didn’t put chemicals in her hair. She told her that she was buying into “the white man’s” perception of beauty and that doing so proved that she hated herself.

What is apparent to me is that this way that some black women choose to engage each other in regards to our hair is divisive, and it seems to me that we cannot afford to be divided on matters that don’t affect real change in our neighborhoods. If this year has taught me anything, it is that there are many issues in black communities that are still pervasive and need the attention of activists. From the violence our young boys face at the hands of racist vigilantes, to the attack on our right to vote, our current circumstances have proven that we have work to do. And, to put it plainly, “Ain’t nobody got time for that” conversation on black hair!