Thursday, March 29, 2007

For a Girl Like Mine, No Matter How Beautiful

In a recent New York Times article, one brave white dad recounts his triumphs over the whole new world of black girl’s hair care here: “I Have Taken On My Daughter’s Hair and Won.”

Somehow I suspect that in this household, the handling of hair will fall to me—especially in the case of a girl’s hair. I have only the most negligible skills in brushing, braiding, parting, and prettying (see: my head, circa 1985–2007). I will even confess that many years ago when adopting a black child was only the most abstract of concepts for us, my husband pointed out the different hair and skin care needs of black children, and I pooh-poohed it. Isn’t that a paranoid stereotype? How different could it be? “Of all the things I don’t know about taking care of a baby,” I said, “that is way down the list of things I’m worried about!”

In a sense this is still true: I still have many more basic and urgent things to learn about caring for a baby! However, this is no longer way down my list of concerns. In fact, it’s been high enough on the list that I’ve actually learned a good deal already—chiefly, the importance that I keep learning. As white adoptive parents we hear over and over that hair is important in the African-American community—for a variety of cultural reasons—and that we must keep our children looking good and feeling that their hair and skin are beautiful. We fear the unsolicited scrutiny and hands on our children’s hair even as we secretly seek the ultimate stamp of approval: compliments from black women. We wonder if we will learn to braid and twist and cornrow well enough; we wonder how to tell her that the amount of kinkiness her hair has is just enough; and in a world where every girl’s sense of self is under fire, where white girls want to be tanner and black girls want to be lighter and every girl wants to be thinner or taller or sexier . . . we wonder if it will be enough.

Please watch the award-winning student film “A Girl Like Me” at the Media Matters Film Festival website. It is #2 in the boxes on the right side of the screen. (Number 1, “Slip of the Tongue,” is pretty dang good too.) And tell a girl you know she’s beautiful for something she thinks is not, for something outside of—or rather inside of—her body.

O God,
help me
to believe
the truth about myself,
no matter
how beautiful it is!

—Macrina Wiederkehr, “A Prayer to Own Your Own Beauty,” in Seasons of the Heart
(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 71.


Anonymous said...

It has amazed me how much my mom has learned about taking care of African American hair by taking foster kids and adopting my youngest sister (although Kellie's hair is much softer curls). I'm sure you will do well!

Katy said...

Hello! I'm actually a friend of Katie's. We met last semester in Mexico and she gave me your blog address because I also plan to adopt from Ethiopia (not quite yet, but when God says it's time). I love "Girl like me" and "Slip of the Tongue" - and my professor was impressed when I quoted them in a paper last semester :) I look forward to following your journey and praying for you!

wmw said...

Hello Katy, friend of Katie! Please feel free to comment more and to contact me if you have any questions about adoption when the time comes!


Katy said...

Thank you! I'll keep the offer in mind when the time comes. I've got a couple years before they'll let me adopt and before I'll be financially stable (etc) enough to follow through, but I am pretty positive that some of my children are Ethiopian :)