Black Hair in a Not so Black World

I just dropped my son off to school for the day and my son’s teacher did something that left me feeling slightly offended. She touched his hair. I’d like to put this in context for you …

Liam has a curly Afro! He has a serious and tedious hair routine that some parents might find ludicrous but to me, it’s a very important part of his hygienic routine. I start off with shampoo and follow up with a deep conditioner. I then pat his hair dry and moisturize it with a cream. I seal that cream with an oil. His hair is really dry so his curls appreciate the extra love. Some mornings when I drop him off to school, his hair isn’t fully dry. You’re able to see some of the product settling into his curls and it may look a bit odd. Never the less, by the time I pick Liam up from school, the product can no longer be seen and his hair and curls are full of life!

I’m assuming that Liam’s teacher unfamiliar with black hair, was confused as to why his hair was coated in a tan looking liquid? She patted him on the head and asked, “did you wash your hair today?” I immediately followed up with, “yes, he sure did!” She was left awkwardly holding out her now damp hand.

A couple of thoughts crossed my mind. One, why the heck did she think it was ok to touch my son’s hair? It’s an unwritten but known rule since FOREVER to NOT TOUCH A BLACK PERSON’s HAIR. Periodt! Secondly, why did her face turn to distaste when she realized her hand felt damp? Her face looked as if she had just accidentally touched the wet rim of an overfilled trashcan.

Her face brought me back to a childhood memory. Once in 3rd grade I was practicing braiding in my Caucasian friend’s hair. This was after school and I had no combs or hair products just my 8 year old hands. I remember after finishing up with what I thought was a braid masterpiece, my friend’s mom walked into our classroom. She looked at her daughter’s new-do. My friend’s mom touched the braids both in astonishment and disgust and said, “eww what did she (me) put in your hair? It’s so greasy?” Even as an 8 year old girl I understood what that comment meant. My friend’s hair wasn’t greasy. I didn’t use any products or utensils. What her mother meant was that her daughter’s hair looked “too black,” which she felt was disgusting.

Back to Liam. So when his teacher’s face changed after running her hand through his hair my heart dropped. As a mother I don’t want my child to experience any hurt, especially hurt I enabled! I chose his hair style. This is my fault! Immediately after dropping Liam off, my mind started racing. I sped to a local beauty supply store. I had just recently changed his shampoo and conditioner and his curls had been dryer than usual which is why he had EXTRA product in his hair this morning… The hair store was closed. I thought, “maybe it’s time to give up the curls? Should I cut off his hair?” A mired of things ran through my mind. I preach, live, stress black pride in our house because growing up in a predominately Caucasian area as a child left me feeling ashamed of my blackness too often.

I ask Liam daily does he like his hair. I don’t want white society shunning my baby because his hair is different. That. That alone is enough to break my heart. So here I am sitting outside in my car with anxiety because I don’t know if Liam noticed or felt what I felt. I’m unsure of how his day will go. I’m unsure if his teacher has the gall to change his hairstyle so that it’s more appeasing to her. I’m unsure if I’m over reacting. Am I over reacting?

I decided to drive back to Liam’s school. My body wouldn’t let me do anything else. I drove back. I walked into his classroom. I walked him out of his class. I whispered to him, “You are a handsome, strong and intelligent brown boy. Your hair is the coolest hair in all the world. I love you and Jesus loves you. Do you understand?” Liam replied, “yes.” We hugged and kissed.

This moment reminded me of how impressionable children are. My experience as an 8 year old made me feel like braids weren’t cool. I never told my mom but shortly after that incident I refused to wear braids in my hair. She thought it was phase but in actuality I wanted to detach myself from anything my peers thought was bad or different—even if that meant disassociating myself from my own culture. Because my son is 3 years old, and I wasn’t sure if he understood what had just happened, so to combat any of my doubts I decided to remind him of what I’m sure he already knows– his black is beautiful. xoxo,