Though much more common these days, back in the 2008 day, when we began our adoption process, we were considered an anomaly. It was strange enough to most people that we were pursuing adoption as a means of expanding our family when we already had a biological child, but add to that the fact that we were intentionally seeking to parent a child of another race was mind-boggling to so many. Rather than being encouraged, the two questions we would get right off the bat were “But WHY?” and “But what in the world would you do with her HAIR?”
They “why” question didn’t bother us, and was easy to answer. The hair question did bother us, not because it wasn’t easy to answer but just because it wasn’t easy to answer without the heavy use of sarcasm. Because obviously, yes, we are about as white as white can get, but we are also not idiots. I was not born understanding nor raised to know exactly how to care for the hair and skin of someone of another ethnicity, but I am both willing and eager to ask for help from those who are the experts: black people and professionals trained in the care of all types of hair. So this question bothered me not because it didn’t have a simple answer, but that so many people considered it a legitimate hindrance to transracial adoption.
Because, yes, hair is important and an essential part of who a person is, regardless of race. But is hair that is different from yours really a reason to leave a vulnerable child as an orphan? “Yeah, I see those starving children who have no parents and no one to protect them or advocate for them or love them, but nah…think I’ll pass. I just don’t know how to fix their hair.” Bless.
Hair is important. Hair in the black community is considered a hot-button issue because of the history of racism in this country (yes, that article is BBC-UK but I like it anyway because it’s thorough). My Pearl Girl’s African orphanage shaved their babies’ heads on the reg as a cultural tradition (and to ease caring for so many children). In that country, even teenage girls keep their hair shaved as part of the schools’ dress code. So when we first met her, she was almost totally bald. My goal – then and now – was/is to keep Pearl’s hair as healthy as possible (natural products, no chemical treatments, etc.) until she is old enough to make up her own mind about how she wants to style her hair. Pearl’s hair also grows very slowly, is 4C on the hair texture chart, is extremely thirsty, and has weak edges. We have tried several methods of styling over the last five years and her favorite (and mine) is to moisturize well, detangle, and then leave it loose and free. She typically wears a head band (her sensory needs dictate that it must be soft), but on days she doesn’t feel like the band she wears earrings.
In some pockets of the Birmingham-metro area we see lots of other little black girls wearing their hair loose and natural, and in others there are none. Though we see this natural hair trend growing, Pearl’s hair looks different than many other black girls her age…and I have caught some heat about that in the form of the side-eye, unsolicited advice, and Lord help us if we have to go in the Wal-mart after a long day of playing at school.
One online community (of several) I subscribed to a few years ago that advertised support for transracial families is disagreeable to any kind of hair style that is not “typical” of black American children. There are frequent frantic submissions of parents wondering if their kids’ hair looks black enough. I understand their reasoning but question the obsession over what makes a hair style “black enough.”
Is it really honoring to the black culture or culture of adoption to pour all your parenting efforts into making sure a child looks “enough?” Or is there a way to honor those cultures within their current confines while also allowing room for the expectation of the culture’s growth and evolution over time?
Those are big questions to which I don’t have the answers. I will not speak for the black community or the adoption community. I will only speak for the Team Wilson community.
One of our goals as parents is to raise these little girls up to be who THEY were created to and choose to be, rather than shaping them after someone else’s ideology of what makes them black enough or white enough or girl enough. It is not in our nature to look to other people to determine what we like about ourselves, and I love that we are starting to see that in our kids as well.
Recently Pearl Girl was asked to describe some of her favorite things about herself. The first? That she likes her short hair. The second was that she is from Africa, and the third was that she is adopted. We have a long way to go before all these little birds are out of the nest, but for now, even our shy little Pearl values who she IS, not who anyone thinks she is supposed to be.
And that is more than enough.