Twenty three years ago today, I turned three. My family was preparing to move to Kenya for the first time, and in one of my earliest memories someone gave me a barbie for my birthday that looked something like this:
They leaned down to my level and said, “In the place where you’re going, there are going to be a lot of people who look like this.” Thank the LORD that wasn’t true. It turns out, all black people don’t look like African American Barbie. Can you imagine being surrounded by life-size princess barbies? Yikes.
Fast forward twenty-three years, and I’m part of a multi-racial family. My husband is Ethiopian, my kids are bi-racial, and I’m white. I think it’s safe to say that as far as Nati is concerned, I blew Yohannes’s genes out of the water. Nati did get Yohannes’s sweaty nose and giant luggage-feet, but he has my eyes, a curly version of my hair, and I’d say his coloring is on my side of the spectrum between Yohannes and me.
Now Lily is another story. The only feature I can say she definitely got from me is her eyebrows (poor girl.) She’s already a shade darker than Nati, and her face strongly resembles Yohannes’s sisters. It’s too soon to say for sure what her hair will be like, but by the way it kinks up when its wet, I’m guessing it’s going to trend toward her daddy’s hair.
Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair talks about the perception of black women’s hair and the industry around it. And that’s where things start to get a little more tricky for me. Hair, for women, is always a big issue. Hair for black/partly-black women is an extra big issue. It’s such a sensitive issue that I’m even nervous to talk about it. As a white woman, I’m afraid that some words will sound derogatory coming out of my mouth. I googled some (really did) and the responses were inconclusive.
I’ve decided that there are only two things I can do. First, affirm her natural hair, in whatever form it takes, whether silky or frizzy, wavy or kinky. If she decides she wants to treat it or braid it or get locs or a weave, that’s fine with me. But I don’t want her to choose to do those things because she feels there is something wrong with her hair. Secondly, I need to see what grows out of that beautiful head of hers and research it, because we will have different hair, and her hair might need to be taken care of differently than mine. Maybe by the time her third birthday rolls around, I’ll have that figured out.