My oldest daughter is named Jenna. She is a lovely well-rounded, eight-year-old who has recently become obsessed with how cute her outfits are and how good her hair looks. I’m not surprised. Hair consciousness runs in my family and culture.
For a Black woman hair styling is crucial. Whether it is natural or pressed, relaxed or weaved, our hair is our calling card. While I know many women are conscious about their hairstyle, in the Black community it is a priority. I have friends who make sure their hair is done even before their bills are paid. The same rings true for our children. Some say it is a statement, if your hair is done then you are being taken care of or taking care of business all by yourself.
Seeing a black woman, or her child, with their “head tore-up” can cause physical angst amongst our community. There will be looks, glares and immediate offers to give a friend a touch-up, or cornrow her child’s hair. Relatives intervene, and even shocked uncles have been known to drop off their nieces at the beauty shop in a heartbeat. Kempt hair is just one of the many ways we as Black folks acknowledge that our mother has raised us right. In our culture, hair is a big freaking deal!
According to the 2000 U.S Census (the first to allow multiple race designations) 21.9 % of the multiracial population in Minnesota is a mixture of African American and White. The total percent of multiracial people in Minnesota is 1.43 percent, that’s comparable to New York, which has a higher population but roughly the same breakdown of multiracial people (1.93%), proportionately speaking.
This brings me to my subject of the day. Living in the land of “Jennas” (the name my husband and I affectionately call mixed race children), hair glares are frequent. Picture the scene. Black mother drops her impeccably groomed children off at my daughter’s elementary school. I arrive with my “Jennas” and their hair is neat and tamed. We exchange “the nod” (the look that says both “hello girl” and “your girls are adorable and their hair is on point”). The first mom looks past me to see a Caucasian mother arrive with her “Jenna” with early 80’s Diana Ross hair blowing in the breeze. The first mom shoots me a look; is that a LEAF stuck in the arriving child’s hair? If I were texting this would be a SMH moment. You see, it’s not about the child’s hair being out as the curls are absolutely gorgeous. It’s the fact that the hair was frizzy, dry and HUGE! It’s also apparent that no extra homework had been done by the mother to provide proper hair care for hair that is clearly different and ethnic.
This is where my upbringing gets the best of me; I can’t just let it go. I greet the child who happens to be my daughter’s former classmate. I simply give her a hug and remove leaf from hair. To which Caucasian mom says “Oh thank you, she won’t let me touch it!” A ha! An open doorway. I said, “You know my daughter Jenna used to hate to have her hair done too. I know several great products and techniques for this type of hair. Here’s my e-mail address. Message me if you want some tips.” The mom looked so relieved and e-mailed me later that morning. We chatted a little and she asked about the glare she got earlier that morning. I proceeded to share my cultural experience with hair care and my thoughts on the importance of hair care in the Black community. I think she got it. She now understood she wasn’t being glared at for having Black children, she was being glared at for not having Black hair savvy! ow for the public service announcement portion of this post. Rule of thumb for Caucasian parents with mixed children: Diana Ross’ 80’s hair = bad, Lisa Bonet or Jada Pinkett’s tresses = good! Also, get to know Mixedchicks.net; it will save your sanity. I get nothing for recommending it. I recommend it because it works!
I laughed this week while watching Grey’s Anatomy as a Black Dr. Bailey had to give a similar lesson to an unknowing Caucasian Dr. Shepard. He thought people were staring because his daughter was Black; they were staring because the baby’s hair was tore-up!
I know you have seen a hair emergency, what did you do? Did you glare? Did you help a mother out?
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Hillery Smith Shay, is a proven leader in Visual Communications and New Media Marketing. She holds a MBA, from Bethel University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Haverford College. Shay is an award-winning photographer who has worked for the Associated Press and various newspapers. Hillery resides in West Saint Paul with her husband Jeff and their daughters Jenna and Hayden. She is also the proud stepmother of Erin, Ginger and Jack. Read more about her at hilleryshay.com and follow her on Twitter too.