My facebook status this morning: “I’m thinking maybe Desi and I should just dread our hair for the summer.”

And now I think I’ve done it again. I’ve put something out on the internet that I’m not sure I’m up to defend. Or am I?

The reactions I got to said facebook status were interesting. Two likes, one from my next-door neighbor who is a little crunchy herself and one from a college friend I haven’t seen in years, a dude who typically has barely any hair himself. A handful of comments whole-heartedly discouraging me from “doing that to my hair” or “being that girl.”

I was torn on how to respond. Thanks are offered to the likers, but what about the dislikers? Do I let their comments go, knowing I was probably asking for it by putting such a status out there in the first place? Or do I let my knee-jerk response rare its ugly, outspoken head? Well, I wouldn’t be writing here if I was going to keep my mouth shut, now would I? So here’s my response (and I know you dislikers read this, even if you never say anything, so know that I still love you even though everything that follows the period at the end of this sentence might not sound exactly the way you might expect love to sound).

What I find most interesting about this handful of “No, don’t do it!” comments is that they’re all aimed at me, at my hair. However, my facebook status suggested that I was thinking of doing something with not only my hair, but with my daughter’s hair, as well. So let me go there, let me pull the race card on y’all. White mom, black daughter. White mom suggests white mom and black daughter get the same hairstyle. Friends cry foul on changing white mom’s hair. Narry a whisper is murmured about black daughter’s hair.

The process for dreading hair is pretty much the same. It reacts a little differently based on texture, but the actual process is pretty much the same (according to Google–black friends, please correct me if I am way wrong). The act of dreading my hair will mean that I will need to cut it all off should I ever want to “undread.” The same is true for my daughter’s hair. Response to locking my very Caucasian hair: NO! NO! NO! Response to locking my African daughter’s hair: *cricket, cricket*

I’m detecting a lack of balance here. An understanding person might write this off under the umbrella of ignorance: maybe these concerned friends did not know that locking black hair also “ruins” it. But I’m not an understanding person. And I own that, wear it quite comfortably actually. So my response is not terribly understanding, and therefore, is going to come off sounding more like “F*@! you.”

My daughter and I do not have the same hair. We do not have the same skin, the same eyes, the same body build, the same smile. Every night, she looks at the photo of her birth family, she sees images of biological relatives that look very much like her, and she says, “I miss my birth family.”

She doesn’t actually remember her birth family. She was eight months old when she last saw them.

But she misses them. She misses them with a piece of herself that understands that physical appearance creates a bond even if circumstance and distance do not allow that bond to be a fruitful one. And we honor that. We promise to make a trip to Ethiopia, to try to find living birth family members so she can meet the people who look like her. But in the meantime, we’re going to make sure she knows she belongs here, knows she is so thoroughly a part of this family that I can’t imagine it without her.

So if I want to dread our hair so she and I have the same hair for at least a summer, then I’m going to do just that. If I want to create a space in which she looks at me and finds a connection in physical appearance here, in this house, in this family, on this side of world, then I’m going to do just that. I don’t care that it will ruin the long, straight hair I currently have. Hair is temporary; my daughter is permanent. I don’t care that you think it will somehow deter from my pretty face. My internal pretty kicks more ass than the external anyway. So should I decide to take this dreads-for-awhile route, then I am, in fact, going to be “that girl,” because “that girl” is someone who happens to think doing things to reinforce that my children are my children and I am their mom forever is good for my kids, even if it means “ruining” my hair to create a few short months of belonging based on nothing more than physical appearance. And if my daughter and I happen to get a hair care routine that is just a little easier, just a little more manageable in this house full of chaos and crazy, well that’s just icing on the freaking cake.


An old friend of mine is a social worker. After brooding over my rant for awhile, she sent me an email:

As someone who is forced to tell people how to parent their children (it’s my job after all), I have become acutely aware of how socially unacceptable it is to comment on what one chooses to do with their children. Whereas, I would totally tell my friend what to do with her hair; I would never ever tell her what to do with her daughter’s hair or comment on her parenting decisions. I know you feel that people’s comments might be racially ignorant or might not take your family’s needs into consideration (and honestly I doubt anyone thought deeply about it before they commented), but it might be as simple as feeling comfortable commenting on you, but not on the choices you make for your daughter (not to imply there is anything wrong with dreadlocks – I think they are totally rad, but I’ve always been afraid they’d be too itchy for me.) :):)

Good point! It’s true that commenting on what other people do with their kids is generally considered not okay, and so any friends expressing a negative reaction could have been aiming their reaction at me because I’m the friend and that’s the more socially acceptable thing to do. So I’ll continue to wave my race card around with this disclaimer: you should only feel chided if it applies to you. If not, I’m still going to cringe a little and perhaps suck my teeth and roll my eyes because really, why the negativity at all? Just sayin’…


Please remember that I don’t think the dislikers are bad people. A couple of them are near and dear friends that I really and truly love. I’m just trying to not-so-gently remind folks that people have reasons for the things they do, and some of those reasons are not-so-deep (they look totally awesome) and some of those reasons are very deep (I have a daughter who wants a physical connection to bind her to family).


10 thoughts on “Hair

  1. I am a “no, no, no”-er. For both of you! But that’s just because I, personally, don’t like the messy look of dreads. I whole heartedly support you and your girl having the same “do” but if I were closer I would be pusing for a neat braided to the head look, not dreads. So, keep that in mind while you refuse to understand. 🙂

    You have a gorgeous family, btw! I have two other FB friends (from HS years) with anglo parents and Ethiopian-born children (one of those families also has a daughter from Kazakstan). If you’d like to “friend” them so your daughter can see more families that look like hers, just let me know!

  2. a beautiful and thoughtful post, Jenni. thank you! 🙂 and i say do whatever you will with desi’s and your hair … as long as you both are into it. I know you’ll both be gorgeous no matter what, even if you were to shave it into a reverse mohawk.

  3. Beautiful sentiment and beautifully written. I wholeheartedly agree–similar thoughts ran through my mind when I saw your status earlier. And I miss you.

  4. Jenni, this is a beautiful post. I’m mixed race with a white mother. She’s my birth mother, but the fact that I had brown skin obviously made people do a double-take all the time when I was growing up (well, they still do!). I think the idea of having the same hairstyle as your daughter is wonderful. You acknowledge the physical difference, but highlight what’s more important – that you are her mother and willing to do anything to reinforce the love and her positive self-image. I think sharing the same hairstyle is a creative approach to bonding. Girl, go on and dread your hair if you two want!

  5. I’m really torn on how to respond. I thought about not responding, but I can’t.

    I don’t like dreads on anyone, full stop. I think dreads look dirty. I didn’t know that dreading ones hair caused the hair to be destroyed. I just think they are extremely limiting and, unfortunately, DO project to an air of unkemptness (is that a word; according to spell check, no it’s not, but you know what I mean). There is no one I know who is more together and non-unkempt than you. Unfortunately, when I see dreads, I think of itchy scalps, someone who doesn’t wash their hair, someone who doesn’t care about their appearance. It doesn’t matter what color they are, where they are from, what they do. I just don’t like dreads.

    I wasn’t totally surprised you were thinking about doing it because you are crunchy and alternative and could probably pull them off. I won’t like your hair. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, it just means I won’t want to touch your head.

    But to the part that hurts, hurts me so much that I cried reading this post? I have never once looked at your beautiful daughter and thought of her color. Facebook posts are for immediate responses, not dissertations on feelings on hair. When I posted “please don’t be that girl”, I meant please don’t be the kind of girl I look at and think dirty and unwashed. You can roll D into that comment as well. I didn’t type “please don’t be those girls”. Maybe I should have. I didn’t comment on her because it is not her Facebook page or status. If you had said “I’m thinking of dreading D’s hair for the summer” I still would have said “please don’t be that girl”.

    I have no idea how to end this. I just know that as deeply hurt as you may be that you think I’m being racist, I am as hurt that you think I am so. The thought of you being white with dreads and D being black with dreads NEVER crossed my mind. I will be more careful in my responses to Facebook posts so no one can misinterpret or misrepresent what I’m saying in the future.

    • Just the smack upside my un-dreadlocked head that I needed.

      Note to self: When one is hurt, one should not take to the internet. One should instead call one’s friend and ask for an explanation. Should one make the mistake of taking to the internet, one should then apologize for being an asshole.

      For the record: I think everyone sees not only color, but also body build, clothing, facial hair, etc., and everyone makes assumptions based on those physical appearances. Not good assumptions, not bad assumptions, just assumptions. I see a black woman, and I assume she deals with her hair in some way shape or form. Neither good nor bad, but an assumption just the same. Its called being judgmental, and we all do it based on some sort of external, physical factor. Joy thinks “dirty” when she sees dreads. That doesn’t make her racist in the way we typically define racist. But even thinking “dirty” is judgy. And I do it, too. Just not with dreads. My hair assumption: I see mullet and I think “redneck.” Just as judgy and uncool.

  6. […] I wrote a very loud, angry, and defensive post about a possible hair choice for my daughter and myself. In hindsight, that might have been a bad […]

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