Thursday, December 31, 2009

All-natural Hair Relaxer

A new non-permanent hair relaxer is on the market: Diva Smooth. Instead of an alkali solution that strips the hair's natural curl pattern from within the cuticle, this product uses coconut oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, honey, and molasses. Use these natural ingredients along with a flat iron, and your hair can be straight and still remain healthy and natural.

It's probably also great for transitioning divas who hate that two-textured, in-between look.

Here's the topper: you can buy it online for only 50 bucks.

How I wish I would have known about this years ago!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Rock the Short 'Do

Speaking of Miss Jessie's Grow-Out-Challenge (see 12.22 post), I've been thinking a lot about Big Chops these days. Big Chops, as in, chopping relaxed hair down close to the roots to start over and start natural. Or maybe you just want the short look. Solange Knowles did it earlier this year, causing an uproar from the media. People made nasty comments such as, "She look like a man" or "She looks like a cancer patient." I say she looks great.

Here are some pics of my cousin (a new cousin!) Carla's super cute short look. I think her short hair accentuates her face and brings attention to her eyes. She can play it up with accessories--big earrings, etc.

Love this short hair. I say, Rock on, sisters!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What if you discovered your birth father is Charles Manson?

That's what happened to adoptee Matthew Roberts (read more and see photos here). After he found out his father's identity, and that his father had raped his mother, he went into a depression. Naturally! What a shock.

If we want to have the right to search and find out who our birthparents are, we have to be ready for not-so-pleasant surprises. Knowledge hurts sometimes. But I believe secrets can hurt more than knowledge, and most of the time knowing is better than not.

It sounds like Roberts did not have support--an adoptee group or therapist trained in adoption issues--when he began the search. Searching can be such a lonely, terrifying experience (let alone if something like that happens!) Reach out, all you searching adopteds. Reach out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Calling all Women Who Want to Stop Relaxing Their Hair: Miss Jessie's Grow-Out Challenge

Miss Jessie is having a hair grow-out challenge over on Share your story of growing out your roots, and you could win cash and other prizes!

Colorado Allows Some Access to Adoption Records, but Fear Still Looms Large

A Colorado Court of Appeals decision opened access to original birth certificates and adoption records for adoptees born between 1951 and 1967 (see Denver Post). Adopted children born post-1999 have some access as well, but for those outside these short windows of time, forget it.

Secrecy still rules in the world of adoption. Access varies widely, unfairly, state-to-state. Only 9 states give full access to records or OBCs for the adoptee, and some with tight restrictions attached. Lots of control, lots of fear. The Denver Post article details the many fears people have about this issue. Check out the reader comments too--many are explosive.

When your very existence is surrounded by fear in this way, it can be emotionally confusing or damaging. To insinuate that adoptees are "dark secrets" whose presence will "destroy lives" is hyperbolic and hurtful.

In Colorado, record numbers of people filed for their original birth certificates following this court decision. Isn't that evidence of how important this is?

The question on allowing access is always this: Whose rights matter most?
  • The adoptive parents'? They might fear that their child will reject them if s/he is allowed to seek information about or contact with birth families...let me tell you, the possibility of rejection is MUCH higher when they are denied the right to this information.
  • The birth families'? The birth families might fear lack of privacy and therefore not want an adoptive child to seek. Often that's not the case, but sometimes it truly is.
  • The adoptees'? Many say that access to birth certificates is a civil right that belongs to every citizen and should therefore belong to adoptees as well. Many also say that access to information about heredity, etc. is also a basic human right.
Perhaps all parties should have the right to say "yes" or "no," but what about when interests conflict? Does the adoptee's rights supersede the birth mother's? Does the adoptive parents' rights count more than the adoptee's? How can we make everybody happy?

Not everyone can be happy unless it's a perfect world. And let's face it: adoption is often evidence of a broken world. When a mother is in a situation where she must give up a child, when a couple cannot get pregnant, when a child has to be removed from a dangerous situation and become property of the government, this is not perfection. Adoption can be a wonderful thing, but it is a human thing so it is flawed and emotional and complicated.

It appears that things might be moving in a progressive direction in Colorado. Hopefully this will encourage further retroactive provisions. When people see that the world doesn't end when access is granted, more draconian laws will be lifted.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Language of Adoption

My friend Rachel recently wrote a wonderful blogpost about the language of adoption, and it got me thinking again about the terms we use to describe our situations and label our family members.

People take issue with certain terms used for mothers and fathers:
  • "birth" or "bio" mother/father: too cold and unfeeling, only acknowledges the role the mother played in the birth, when there's much more to it emotionally and post-birth
  • "first" mother/father: this qualifier can be silencing for the adoptive mother, as "first" can mean not just order but "top"..."she comes in first, you're second"
  • "adoptive" mother: again, a qualifier that by its very essence seems to undercut how this person is simply a mother
(I can imagine this is also an issue for families with children from previous marriages who use the term "step-mother")

BUT the problem is, if you just use "mother" or "father" in all situations, people won't always understand what you're talking about.

In my head and heart I call both my mothers simply "mother" and both my fathers "father." Though rarely do I think of my first parents with the more familiar terms "mom" and "dad" because, for some reason, to me those connote a certain experience I did not have with them. When I talk about my situation with people who don't know much about adoption, often I end up using terms that they will immediately understand, such as "birth/biological" mother-father, though I know by doing so I am leaving out many nuances of the language for this.

Both my birth mother and birth father and their families referred to me as simply their “daughter” right away when I contacted them. How might I have felt if they had said, “I’m so glad to finally hear from my birth daughter”? I don't know...maybe a bit slighted. We must acknowledge the shortcomings of our language, because always using terms that exclude no one and offend no one and hurt no one in the adoption triad is impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Healthcare Reform: Tax Credit for Adoption

Christmas, Birth, and Healthcare
Every year on Christmas Eve, millions of Americans celebrate the birth of Jesus.

This year on Christmas Eve, approximately 31 million people will have the birth of something else to celebrate too: the chance for healthcare coverage. Healthcare reform legislation is scheduled to go through the Senate early this Thursday.

It appears that birth and adoption were on the minds of lawmakers when they drafted these new policies.

The abortion issue
PA Senator Bob Casey had a big part in changing the language of the bill to satisfy fellow Democrat senators who took issue with how taxpayer dollars might be spent on abortion. The revised bill requires an accounting system that separates private from public funds and ensures that public funds do not support abortion. Casey also added programs aimed at reducing the number of abortions, which includes support for pregnant teens and victims of abuse and--horray!--tax credit for adoption.

How this relates to adoption legislation
I definitely like the idea of adoption getting more support, though things can get tricky when it's directly linked to abortion. People who oppose the open-records and original birth certificate legislation for adopted persons often cite fears that abortion rates will go up if there is more transparency with records. They suspect birth mothers will opt for abortion so they don't have to live in fear that their relinquished child will come knocking on their door one day. Truth be told, this is just not the case. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and the AAC have done numerous studies on this, and have found that the majority of birth mothers actually welcome the idea of transparency and the possibility to know later on that their child is doing okay. For many this idea reduces the demonization of relinquishing a child. Plus, in states that have always allowed access to original birth certificates such as Alaska and Kansas, abortion rates have either stayed the same or gone down in recent decades.

Everyone has the right to medical care, and it's about time we make that a reality in America. I'm happy to see that this new legislation is allowing multiple options for pregnant women, including adoption. But I do hope that along with these breakthroughs in policy some changes can be made to the way adoptions are handled in regard to original birth certificates and records. Let us not forget the rights of mothers--and children--when it comes to healthcare reform.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Broken Flowers: An Unexpected Birthparent Story

A few days ago I came upon the movie Broken Flowers and was surprised to find a birthparent story. Bill Murray plays a Don Johnston, middle-aged bachelor who one day receives an anonymous letter on pink paper informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him.

Johnston embarks on a journey to visit the women of his past and possibly find his son. Some women greet him happily, one slaps him in the face, etc. To each he comes bearing a bouquet of pink flowers. He does not state his reason for visiting right off, but rather begins looking for clues as he spend time with each woman. He begins to notice young men while traveling. Pink items pop up everywhere. This so brilliantly captures the kind of heightened awareness that takes over when you are searching so fervently.

I saw this as an adoption story, of course.

More generally it is a gentle story of looking for family, looking for likeness in every passing person. Looking for clues of connection. I appreciate that it is told from a perspective that is often silenced. A father who was never informed that he was a father. We prioritize the woman's role as mother (in an adoption context and otherwise), and often I think when the man isn't around the assumption is that he would rather not be involved. Murray's character wasn't exactly ecstatic about discovering that he had a child, but yet he was compelled to find the child and know who he was. This story is especially touching for me because of my own recent encounters with birth family.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Minstrelsy Alert! Be on the lookout for racism on SNL

A recent Saturday Night Live skit starring Kenan Thompson was called to my attention today. Prepare to be offended when you click here to view on Hulu.

Thompson plays Virginiaca, an overweight, obnoxious black stepmother of an equally obnoxious white girl. They are shopping at a store that sells high-end apparel. Virginiaca assures the salesclerk that she could purchase the entire store. She's rich, you see, because her white husband is loaded. (Golddigger? Materialistic?) "Where you is?!" mother yells at daughter. "Where you is?!" the daughter yells back. They continue in exaggerated blackspeak as they peruse the store. The daughter insists on trying on a teeny-tiny skirt 'cause it's perfect attire for her to "get her booty go round-and-round." Begin erotic humping. They finger wag at a mannequin because--surprise!--they're too dumb to realize it's not a real person.

It all culminates at the end when Virginiaca mounts the table and says to the white salesclerk: "Do you see this position I'm in?" She inches toward him, ass in the air. "I want you to imagine this with no bottom and no top!" She is literally throwing her sex at him, enacting the stereotype of the licentious black female that dates back to slavery. Thanks for bringing it back, SNL. It's really, really funny.

If SNL were trying to poke fun at stereotypes--to show their absurdity--they missed the mark. They could have shown the white salesclerk having these preconceived notions based on stereotypes and made him look like an idiot. They could have had Verginiaca and the daughter leave the store and suddenly drop the act, showing how they fooled the racist salesclerk that took them seriously. Instead, the whole thing was plain buffoonery. Buffoonery that fed upon--no gorged upon--terribly painful, racist stereotypes of black females.

Modern minstrelsy. Instead of the black and white characters in blackface, the white girl has an imitation black hairdo (a poor rendition, I must say), and Thompson gets to dress in drag.

I'm impressed (and appalled) with how they were able to roll so many stereotypes into a 3-minute skit! What a deal! And to mimic the long tradition of minstrelsy so accurately! Step right up folks, it's time for a show!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hot New Hair Ingredient: Carrot

Every so often the hair industry decides to endorse a new "hot" ingredient. It's like how acai is suddenly the superfruit of the decade, and everyone at Sephora is obsessed with grape for the skin. Right now I'm hearing lots of hair buzz about carrot.

We all know the nutritional value of eating carrots--they're chock full of nutrients such as Vitamin A, C, D, and B1; potassium, carotenes, etc. Good for the body. Good for eyesight. And, as with many things that are good for the body, carrots are apparently wonderful for your hair and scalp too. Some people think it's odd to put live nutrients and vitamins on hair because hair is dead, but it really can make a difference. Your hair can be the part of your body most subjected to the harsh environment--wind, sun, free radicals. Why not use natural fruits and veggies to bring it back to life? I've tried various edible concoctions on my hair in the past --peaches mixed with potato water, fresh squeezed lemon, mashed avocados with almond oil. Fruit is where it's at, folks.
Today I tried Carrot Oil Hair Food by Salon Pro. It has jojoba oil (remember when that was the big thing?) and added keratin. The top of the bottle is slit like fins because you're supposed to squeeze it onto your scalp first and then comb it through. (The label actually says to brush it through your hair, but brushes are a big no-no in my world.)

It smells like V8 Splash on my head, which I think I'm okay with. As for oil, it works well. Nothing too special. Moisturizing. Slightly sticky, but overall kept my hair feeling healthy and nourished even though it was a disgustingly rainy day today. Seems to dissipate after about seven hours. I'd say the best thing about it is that it cost me $1.99.

I've officially jumped on the carrot bandwagon. Now I'm waiting for acai hair mousse to hit the stores.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Speaking of Reunions

I haven't been sure how or when to post about this, but I'll just say a little for now.

Last week, right before Thanksgiving, I made contact with my biological paternal family. They...sort of...found me. It's complicated, but probably the most unique thing about it is how the connection was made: through Facebook.

Out of respect to the family (my family!) I'll refrain from going into too much detail at this point. It's all very fresh and new, and these things are always tricky at first. I'm not sure what will come of this. I do know that there is a sense of relief because I have answers to things that have always been important but yet persistently remained unresolved because of that "secret" part of closed adoption--my family health history, my racial heritage, more pieces of the puzzle.

If you pray, think of me and these newborn connections as we navigate relationships and what exactly it means to be family. Thank you.

Adoption Reunion Show on ABC

Apparently ABC is taking a new interest in adoption--well, reunions that is--for its new show Find My Family. (Reunion is only one part of the life of a person who has experienced adoption as an adoptee, a birth parent, or an adoptive parent, but reunions provide good dramatic fodder for the big screen and always get all the attention.)

People in the adoption community are waiting to see how the show's producers will treat the complex issues surrounding adoption. Hopefully the show won't merely sensationalize what are often highly emotional reunion events. Hopefully it won't over-commercialize these personal experiences.

The show's host, Tim Green, is a reunited adoptee, so his personal involvement in adoption might abate some of these fears, but we'll have to see. A preview of the show aired last week, and Tom Shales of the Washington Post found it to be a touching tear-jerker in his review. If you caught the show last week, what did you think?

If you haven't seen it yet, the next show airs tomorrow (Monday, Nov. 30) at 9/8c on ABC.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Adoptions Finalized in Pittsburgh

Today I read an uplifting article about 49 foster-care adoptions that took place in Allegheny County this weekend, a celebration of National Adoption Day. Check it out on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette site here.

Mixed Chicks Chat Radio Podcast Update

The radio show I was featured on in October is available for listen online, if you're interested :) Or you can select Episode 123 below. I read a section from my manuscript about the first time I encountered blackface.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interracial Couples: White Guys Can Understand Kinky Hair Issues

A recent Naturally Curly article discusses how one black woman's white husband totally gets her hair issues. Well, he might not totally get them, but he understands. He knows to tread lightly when she asks him about new 'dos. He would never shun her for doing a "Big Chop" (AKA cutting it super short to go natural) or for deciding one day to get microbraids. This is more than some can say for their mates.

We all know many black men have hair issues--issues with women's hair, that is. Some women might think that only a mate from within the black community would understand the importance of hair, since it's often such a big deal within the community as a whole. But there's something to be said for guys who have no prior hang-ups. And for guys who will truly love you for who you are--no matter your hair's natural texture or the way you decide to style it.


On another note, I found this article refreshing, not only because of the "hair freedom" topic, but because it emphasizes a particular interracial coupling: the black female with a white male. More often, you see white-woman-black-man couples (especially in Hollywood--but perhaps they just get more media attention and those depictions don't necessarily match reality?) There are people in the black community who get quite upset about this trend. They say there's already a lack of available black men, and it's just a slap in the face to see them step outside the race like that. Then there's the statistic that 60-70% of black female professionals are single. Essence magazine often prints articles about how to keep your man from wandering. The incarceration rate for black men compared to any other demographic in this country is overwhelmingly high. These facts are distressing, to say the least.

There's something to be said about dating someone within your community, whatever community that is most important to you--religious, racial, political, hair (ha!). But at what cost? What if a person is part of one of your communities but not all? What if he's part of your community but there are other problems, problems you aren't sure negate your commonalities? Isn't it more important that you find someone who loves you for you and will support you through all of life's toils and joys?

Easier said than done, I think. At least for me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Adoption is the New Pregnant"

Check out this hilarious T-shirt, which apparently--based on my perusal on Google--is pretty popular.


November is National Adoption Month

November is national adoption month. If you've ever considered adopting or fostering a child, think about doing it now. If you know an adopted person or there is an adopted person in your family, celebrate! Talk to friends about your experiences. Find community. Read up on current adoption issues and legislation.

Whoever you are or whatever your connection to adoption, there are lots of resources out there for you. One that I find particularly helpful right now is the American Adoption Congress: It's a national organization, with resources for adopting, searching, reuniting, state laws, etc. They host at least one conference per year, and actively continue the dialogue about adoption, from the perspectives of all members of the triad. Membership is discounted during November. Check it out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nappy or Not Hair Salon

While in Oakland last week I decided to get a haircut. More often than not lately my head has been a frizzball because I've been avoiding cutting the split ends.

I thought, Sure, I can go to a totally new salon (provided that it's an ethnic one). I'm not so protective of my hair or worried that something will go awry. My hair no longer carries the weight of hiding. Plus, it's easier to be adventurous when you're traveling somewhere new.

After asking for a few recommendations from Lisa, I picked the Nappy or Not Hair Salon, partially because I love the name.

I should have known.

A bored-looking girl in her early twenties reluctantly stopped text messaging and led me back to the shampoo area, which was a dingy corner half-partitioned off from the rest of the room. Dirty, unmarked tubs of various creams and shampoos dotted the shelf above the washing sinks. I'm not a snob, I told myself. A little salon ghetto is always comforting to me anyway.

The girl lathered my hair with about ten times as much shampoo as I normally use. It was the real sudsy kind, which meant it was full of irritating chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate and laureth sulfate. She scrubbed my head with her fingernails. I wanted to tell her, "You know, more does not equal better. Lather is NOT good (signals stripping away of nutrients, and it's the kind of soap that doesn't fully rinse out of hair). You should use the pads of your fingers instead of your fingernails." But I didn't. She smoothed a minty oil all over my head and attempted to start combing it but then gave up quickly and stepped into the other room to finish text messaging while the conditioner oil did its work. I combed my hair myself. The oil was good--it smelled of essential oils (hooray for natural ingredients!) and felt tingly on my scalp. That was something, at least.

After the rinse the beautician finally got to me. I told her I wanted a trim--not much length taken off, and maybe some shaping near the top. She smiled and began to cut, and my nervousness set in. I wanted to nibble my nails with every snip. I tried to concentrate on the Everybody Hates Chris show that was blaring from the TV. Girl was paying too much attention to it herself and not enough on my hair, I thought. She laughed, and doubled over several times, taking my hair with her. Oh Lord, please let it be over.

I did not bring up conversations about ethnic hair, about the natural hair movement, all the conversations I've been obsessing over for years. I am able to just get a simple haircut without considering the political implications of hair, race, etc. It's just hair.

And then a man who obviously knew the stylist came into the salon and began watching Chris Rock's show.

"You all know that movie Good Hair?" he asked innocently.

Oh Lord.

No one had seen it but me.

"What did you think," he asked.

Here we go.

Well, I told him. It was funny, but didn't really get too deep into the issues behind--


I sighed. Apparently I cannot escape this. It is my life. The man stood up.

I explained that what Rock didn't talk too much about was why black women are obsessed with hair, that some people think they're trying to attain a Eurocentric notion of beauty...


The stylist spoke up and said that more and more people are going natural and--


I looked from the shampoo girl to my stylist. We shared a knowing look. It wasn't worth it.

At last she finished by smoothing my hair with some sort of grease concoction she claimed to have created herself out of mayonnaise and egg. My hair looked incredibly short, but I knew it would look okay tomorrow. I paid her (girl charged me an extra $20 because it was a full cut instead of a trim, which was baloney) and left, shaking my head.

Hair. It never ends.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

AFAAD Gathering

The long-awaited AFAAD (Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora) Gathering took place last weekend in Oakland, CA. Friday through Sunday between ten and 30 mostly transracial adoptees (TRAs) gathered to share stories, discuss the myriad of issues we face in our uniquely bi-cultural positions, exchange notes on the shape of adoption in our various states, and share advice and support for those who are thinking about searching or are in the midst of searching for birth family.

It was refreshing, just as I knew it would be. To be around people who understand wholly the experiences I've been through--and have often experienced them in some form or another themselves--is still something new, something I didn't have for my first 25 years. So many of us TRAs grew up feeling tremendous isolation, within our communities and often within our families too. I wasn't the only one whose racial heritage was withheld from the adoptive family for one reason or another. I wasn't the only one who struggled with her hair. :)

Many of us never realized the impact our adoption would have as we moved into adulthood. It's annoying to face these issues, to deracinate our identities and admit that when things have gone wrong in our lives it might be a ghost of that first broken connection with the birth mother. Exhausting. But--like all things frail and human--full of hope.

Personally I've come so far this year alone. No longer do I have inexplicable, blooming anxiety every time I see my parents. No longer do I feel overcome with grief that I don't understand. I have found peace about my incomplete search. It's okay I'll likely never have a true relationship with my birth mother, that we might just keep exchanging occasional letters and phone calls that rarely move beyond pleasantries. It's okay that I might never find my birth father. I might never see his face and measure it against my own. Hold his arm next to mine and weigh our skin tone. Get a good look at his hair. Tell him if only I'd known growing up that he was black it would have made all the difference.... It is safe now.

As for adoption-centered gatherings as a whole, I think I prefer ones that include all members of the triad--adoptees, adopted parents, and birth parents. It can be helpful to remember the perspectives of all parties involved, to see the struggle of others too. The voice of the adoptive parent does not have to drown out the voice of the adoptee or the birth parent. No one's struggle supersedes another's. It takes more work sometimes to get there though, patience too. Fierce compassion when you might just want to go off and cry instead. And for those moments sometimes it's important to just be with others like you.

So, I urge anyone out there who is adopted and has never met another adopted person to find a gathering or a conference or a support group of some kind. Depending on where you are on your journey it is comforting--and sometimes downright crucial--to have someone you can talk to who will just get it.

Some say the devil's greatest trick is convincing the world he doesn't exist...I say his biggest trick is convincing people they are alone in their suffering.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Hair (Spoiler!)

I finally saw Chris Rock's documentary "Good Hair" this weekend. Reviews have been mixed but mostly positive. A great article about it can be found here. My opinion of it is, like everything else that has to do with this subject, complicated.

The frame of the movie is the Bonner Bros. hair show in Atlanta, at which hundreds of hair product manufacturers and vendors set up sprawling display tables in the giant auditorium, beauticians and hair enthusiasts from around the world flock to the site, and several extra-talented stylists compete in stage shows involving dancing, scantily-clad women, gymnastics, and a bit of haircutting. At the show Rock interviews vendors and highlights the issue of how Asian Americans currently own most of the hair supply retail stores in the U.S. He discovers weaves, and is amazed to find out how much money women spend to weave foreign hair into their own, to get that "long, flowing look." He travels to India to follow the supply chain, finding that the hair is taken from temples where people sacrifice their hair to God, then it is cleaned, sewn, and shipped to the U.S.

The irony he highlights is that African Americans are giving money to Asians to get Indian hair in order to put it on their heads to achieve a certain look (a "white look," many would say, though he didn't really go there).

Mostly he interviews his Hollywood friends Eve, Raven Symone, Nia Long, and Tracie Thoms. These are women who admit to spending thousands of dollars on weaves.

Not a realistic depiction.

He interviews AA men about the subject, how these men know they are in a serious relationship when they start financing a woman's hair (this notion was mildly offensive, in my opinion), how they know not to run their fingers through a woman's hair if she has a weave. How they have to accept the presence of hair in their relationship, and even sex has to be modified to allow room for it. I found these opinions on the matter shallow and rude.

He interviews a few (very few) women in regular, everyday beauty shops and asks about relaxers. Some women say using a relaxer makes their hair more "natural." Hmmm. Rock is amazed at the young age at which many African American girls are getting relaxers. One small child had her first relaxer at age 3. Talk about getting started on the creamy crack early!
image source:

Here was the one part that started to highlight the negative side of this hair pathology. The other part was a brief interview with some college students who say that in order to get a job they definitely wouldn't go for the natural, mini-Afro look that one of the girls had. It just wouldn't be "professional."

Critics are saying they're surprised by Rock's solid reportage. I would agree that he did a full-on immersion, traveling to India to find out where all the weave hair comes from, chronicling the hair show, etc. But there were big issues he only barely touched upon. He failed to mention how many other women (white included) wear weaves and are also obsessed with their hair. Why do women feel the need to look a certain way? Could men themselves be perpetuating this? And what about the growing natural hair movement? By not mentioning that, I felt in some ways he was taking a step back while so many of us are trying to move forward.

Perhaps part of this is because his angle was humorous, and I suspect he also didn't want to offend anyone. You can only go so deep while keeping a laugh track, which is actually something I've found myself when writing about my experiences with this subject. The obsession with hair is so extreme that the ridiculousness is just plain funny (think: tumbleweaves), but there can be very painful things at the root of that obsession that aren't so funny.

Rocks ends the documentary with the necessary conclusion of all these circular hair discussions: ALL hair is good hair. Let us do away with the parsing of positive and negative terms.

Black hair (and why black women spend ten times as much on their hair as white women) is an important conversation. It's not a new one for black folks. For whites, I suspect, it might be, and in that sense perhaps this documentary's mainstream presence will indeed do a service to the community. Though, because the movie shies away from many of the deeper issues, I worry that people who are new to this subject will leave the theater shaking their heads and thinking that black women are just simply crazy about hair. They might just chuckle and forget to ask what's under the weave. They might not be spurred to recognize the media's preference for a certain look, or question dominant standards of beauty.

But maybe, hopefully, not.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Have You Heard? Mainstream Media Cares About Black Hair.

Apparently mainstream media has become interested in the age-old Black hair debates. Newsweek recently attacked Angelina Jolie's daughter Zahara, basically saying that it's obvious Angelina has no idea how to care for ethnic hair and nor does she care. And in no simple terms said that little Zahara looks "unkempt." Fury arise! Oh boy. The blogosphere is blowing up in response.

The thing is, folks, it's all in the way you talk about this issue. Because black hair can be all tied up in racial issues, female identity, etc., you have to speak with compassion and with a full understanding of all the issues. You also must take care not to make assumptions about what issues or motivations individuals have, because you're probably wrong.

A blog post about the Newsweek article that does just that can be found on What About Our Daughters. Check out the 130+ comments too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Michelle Obama's Roots

image source:

Everyone who pays attention to the news has heard about last week's headline regarding First Lady Michelle Obama's roots. (Detailed coverage by the NYTimes can be found here.) I've been thinking about this issue for a while, trying to figure out why it's so touching. Of course, as the writers and commenters say, it is a truly American story, emblematic not only of our country's sad history of slavery and miscegenation but also of triumph. Look how far we've come, from a (probable) non-consensual union between a white slaveowner and his slave, which represents the many cruelties of slavery that ended not yet 200 years ago, to the most esteemed position in the country: the White House.

But I also saw within this story other important themes close to my heart. The not-knowing of roots (a relative of Michelle's great-great-great grandmother Melvina, the slave who bore four mulatto babies wrote "don't know" in the blanks for the names of her parents on her death certificate, suggesting Melvina likely didn't know her own heritage). Melvina shared her last name, Shields, with her owners. What may have been her African name? No one can be certain who on the plantation impregnated her, so her son Dolphus, Michelle's great-great grandfather, probably didn't know who his father was. What do these mysteries and pains of heritage remind me of?

An adoption story, in which roots are a mystery, shielded from the adoptee as s/he takes a new name and family when adopted. Adoption's getting better--transparency is more often a goal than it was before--but the history is there.

I hope people will see, with this story as an example, how important it is for people (incl. adopted people) to know their roots.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License

It's 2009. Some people say we live in a post-racial society. I wonder if those optimists have read the recent story about the Louisiana judge who refused to marry an interracial couple. His reasons were that he's found those mixed marriages "don't last long" and he thinks the "children will suffer."

The story speaks for itself, so I don't have much to add except that there's no doubt in my mind those children will indeed suffer if people like this judge stay in power. Wow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mixed Chicks Chat Live Radio Podcast

Tomorrow I'll be a guest on the award-winning Mixed Chicks Chat radio show at 5 PM EST. It's hosted by Heidi Durrow and Fanshen Cox, two multitalented artists doing important work in maintaining a dialogue about the mixed-race experience in America. They are also the ones that bring us the Mixed Roots Literary and Film Fest held in Los Angeles every summer.

Tune in via Talkshoe here:

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Excellent Hair Documentary

Check out this hair documentary on youtube about the Black hair industry--who controls it (not Black people!), what goes on behind the scenes with manufacturers, distributors, etc. It illustrates how Blacks can unite in this issue. Very informative and well done. Note: there are six parts. Thanks, Aron, for your research!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Un-Fun Facts

For every two deaths in Iraq, there is one death in Pittsburgh.

Three-quarters of those dying locally are African American.

We cannot be blind to the wars going on in our own backyards.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Good Hair Documentary

Did anyone make it to see Chris Rock's "Good Hair" documentary? It was released last night in "certain cities" (which I take to mean New York, Chicago, Montreal, and Los Angeles--not Pittsburgh). If you did, tell me all about it! I can't wait to see it when it's released everywhere Oct. 23.

Get this. Apparently a woman named Regina Kimball is suing Chris Rock for copying elements of her 2006 film "My Nappy Roots." Her film, which traces the history of black hair care, has only been shown in educational settings and at festivals. I'd like to more about this, because in some ways it's confusing. Rock's film is based on his daughter's experiences, at least initially, right? And did he go to all the same salons and hair shows, etc. as Kimball did? Perhaps the projects are similar, but when it's an individual journey it gets tricky, I think. How can someone copy someone else's memoir? How much style mimicking is okay, and when does it cross the line into plagiarism? I guess I can't speak definitively in this case since I haven't watched either film, but if anyone has feel free to chime in.

Either way, I think the film is worth checking out, as it adds to the conversation about hair that never ends...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

National Adoption Month

National Adoption Month is November. National Adoption Day is November 21. Consider planning an event to raise awareness of the 129,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families. An unprecedented number of courts and communities across the nation will come together to finalize thousands of adoptions of children from foster care and to celebrate all families who adopt. Check out ideas and info from the Dave Thomas Foundation:

A National Initiative Takes Hold
National Adoption Day started small in the year 2000, with events in nine cities. Over the years, it grew rapidly, until by 2006, more than 300 events were held in all 50 states the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. A total of 26,000 children have been adopted from U.S. foster care at National Adoption Day celebrations, and millions of Americans have been touched through local and national media coverage.
The success of National Adoption Day is a result of the hard work of local event planners, the generosity of national and local supporters, the promotion of collaborating organizations, the participation of government representatives and the attention of the media. Congratulations to each of you for making a difference in the lives of children.

142 Events in 42 States Already Registered
National Adoption Day planners across the U.S. are on the ball: 142 have already shared details of their event to post on the web site; 132 have joined the online event organizer community to share ideas and enthusiasm; and 5 have already securedproclamations from their governor or mayor.
If you are planning a National Adoption Day event and haven't registered yet, or if you would like host an event in your community, visit today. You will be listed with others across the U.S. on the map page and eligible to order a free plush bunny for every child being adopted at your event, generously provided by Nestle. The web site also features toolkits, media materials, collaborating organizations and information on adoption. Registered events can also order teddy bears at a discount from Fiesta Toys.

Order Discounted National Adoption Day Items Online
New this year, you can purchase National Adoption Day logo items at a discount. Visit for banners, mugs, pens, bags, shirts, stickers, signage and more. Some items carry the National Adoption Daypublic service announcement "One Day" messages: 4,500 children will be adopted on ONE DAY; more than 120,000 children in U.S. foster care are still waiting for ONE DAY; and ONE DAY, every child will have a family.

Become a Supporting Organization
Generate awareness of National Adoption Day and let us recognize you on our web site:
  • Encourage your members to participate
  • Distribute flyers at your events
  • Include an article in your newsletter or e-news
  • Post a link on your web site
To get everything you need, contact
Follow Us On Twitter
Use the power of the internet to help National Adoption Day grow. Get live updates and pass them on at

National Adoption Day is led by a Coalition of six organizations, working together to draw national attention and support local events: The Alliance for Children's Rights, Casey Family Services,Children's Action Network, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Freddie Mac Foundation.

Literary Magazine Hot Metal Bridge Call for Submissions

Hot Metal Bridge

It’s that time of year again writers, readers and friends. We here at Hot Metal Bridge are ready and willing to pore over your finest literary submissions in preparations for the sixth iteration of Hot Metal Bridge, due to be released later this fall. Below you’ll find the updated call for submissions from the various genres. So whether it be fiction or criticism, nonfiction or poetry, send us your work by Tuesday, November 10th. We look forward to it.

Submissions Guidelines:


Hot Metal Bridge is interested in your well-crafted literary fiction, whether short story, flash fiction, or novel excerpt. What counts as literary? Just don’t send us a story about spaceship-flying dinosaurs. That said, we like aesthetic diversity, from realism to surrealism, maximalism to minimalism. We accept submissions as Word attachments sent to Please keep submissions under 7,000 words and make sure to include your name and contact information.


We are many, and our tastes differ, but as this is an entirely online journal, there’s no reason not to read the past issue before submitting (it’s good, we promise). If you can smell what we’re stepping in, then send something our way. Down to business. We welcome poetry submissions of five (5) pages or five (5) poems, whichever comes first. Please attach your submission as one document (we prefer .doc, but .docx .rtf or .pdf will all work) with your name appearing at the top of the first page. E-mail subject heading should read “Spring Poetry Submission” and in the body, you may include a short bio or cover letter, if that strikes your fancy. Send your work our


For this issue (and this issue only) all creative nonfiction submissions must be brief: 1,000 words or less. If you think of creative nonfiction as organic material saturated with potential energy—ready fuel for reflection, insight, and action—then brevity is a diamond. Alternately, think of creative nonfiction as a magnifying glass held over some aspect of human experience; brevity focuses that lens until your writing ignites.

As in past issues, we’re still looking for nonfiction in all its guises: essay, travel writing, literary journalism, satire, memoir, etc. We want to hear about dirty kitchens, ill-mannered exchange students, and hydrogen bonding. We will read about decaying vineyards, heroic mall guards, disenchanted cartographers, and sweet potatoes. If it’s new and true—and under 1,000 words—send it our way as a Word or RTF attachment.


Hot Metal Bridge is looking for innovative critical work from graduate students and scholars across the humanities. As a forum for a variety of approaches to cultural criticism, we want your seminar and conference papers, your unpublished chapters, your articles and miscellany. Our aim is to create a space for previously unpublished pieces that may not find an easy home elsewhere. Because critical work is inherently creative, we encourage interdisciplinarity and hybridity in both form and content.

For the first time, our Fall 2009 issue will feature articles constellated around a specific theme. The increasingly digital manner in which we engage with the world—what Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker call “network being, a Dasein specific to network phenomena”—gestures toward the impending declaration of the “death of analog.” We are interested in exploring some of the implications of near-ubiquitous digitization, especially the implications this has for work in the humanities, a field that has been dominated by the analogical since the invention of the pen. So for this issue, we specifically invite submissions loosely gathered around themes of the digital (for instance, but not limited to):

–Literature read through a digital lens

–The materiality of the text and textual apparatus of the book

–Digitality and poststructuralism: fragmentation in practice

–Modes of composition: digital pedagogy, multimodal making

–(New) Forms? New Form(alism)?

–Digital effects on the production of literature

–Networks and network theory

–Digital ecologies

–The posthuman and the machine


–Digitization in the academy

Send articles and papers, 15 to 30 pages in length, to before November 10, 2009. A 200-300 word abstract should be included in the body of your email, in addition to a brief bio. Please note your name and title in the subject heading of your email—your name should not appear in your attached submission (Word file .doc, .docx, or .rtf). MLA style is required; submit other citation styles with the understanding that a conversion to MLA will be required for publication.

And finally, good luck to all of you and we hope you’ll stay turned for upcoming book reviews, podcasts and our glorious sixth issue.

Sal Pane
Hot Metal Bridge

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New African American Barbies

Mattel has introduced a new line of African American Barbie dolls, created by a Black designer. The collection is called So In Style (S.I.S.), and the dolls come in pairs--there are 3 young women paired as "mentors" to 3 girls. Michelle Bryer wrote an interesting article a few months ago about them here. I think the concept of selling the dolls in pairs is neat, and I appreciate Mattel's efforts for more multiculturalism.

Some say that yet again the doll manufacturers have created the standard Barbie only with darker skin, that her features do not otherwise reflect what African Americans look like. And, of course, the dolls' hair is a source of debate. Only one of the adult dolls and one of the girl dolls have natural 'dos. The rest have the long, straight hair, and critics complain that this just perpetuates the accepted "white" aesthetic and reinforces the old good hair/bad hair issues. They say that more of the other various hairstyles African American women wear should be represented too--braids, etc.

It never ends.

I can see their point, but I think we should give Mattel some credit for trying at least. The truth of the matter--please don't hate me for saying this--is that little girls like dolls that have hair they can comb and style. It's more fun. A TWA or short natural 'do made out of synthetic hair (see the irony there? No matter what the doll's hair is going to be fake) might not be as pliable or allow for braids or ponytails, etc. I can see that perhaps this can lead to dangerous internalized racism if the girls want to look like their Barbies and don't elsewhere find positive reinforcement for the way they look (see the Kenneth Doll studies), but is it always that way? And what if the girls' mothers relax their hair or wear weaves, as a large percentage of AA women do? Maybe these dolls represent their mothers or the AA women girls see day-to-day. This goes back to the question of whether doll makers and media should strive for representation or positive progressiveness. To me, the media (print advertising, movies, etc.) play a strong role, and I'm more inclined to complain when they mess up or shy away from positive, realistic representations of real, live Blacks. Furthermore, I think the responsibility falls above all to parents to tell their daughters again and again that they are beautiful, that their hair is acceptable in its natural form, that dolls are just dolls.

My question about the new line of Barbies is this: Where are the African American male dolls? What might their absence communicate?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora--2nd Annual Gathering

What: 2nd Annual AFAAD Gathering
When: November 6–8, 2009
Where: The Washington Inn, Oakland, CA
Theme: Growing and Organizing Together: Creating Our Own Identities

More information here. Please share with anyone you know who might be interested in this event.

I'll be there. Will you?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Local Salon Advertisement Reinforces "Good" Hair/"Bad" Hair Pathologies

I do not appreciate what this advertisement is saying about acceptable hair. What's wrong with a fluffy Afro, and why does it seem to indicate rebelliousness? Why is a more "tamed" look attached to an A+ grade and docile smile?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Van Jones Resigns

Van Jones resigned from his position as green czar/environmental advisor to Obama on Sunday. It appears the biggest reason for this is because of right-wing defamatory campaigns against him citing his prior brief involvement with the radical group STORM and for signing a petition for that questioned the official story of 9/11 in 2004. True, Van Jones says he regrets this. But do these things really trump all the work he's done pioneering "green-collar economy" initiatives? I find this news diappointing.

Any little thing you do your entire life leading up to top politics will be placed under a microscope. When I run for mayor of something someday, I hope the fact that I cheated on a test in third grade and in 2008 gave $20 to won't mar my record.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dyeing Black Hair Blue

This weekend we attempted to put blue streaks in my roommate Adri's black hair.

She had a kit made by Splat which included bleach and the blue dye. First we used the bleach on about fifteen 1-inch chunks all around her head (protecting them from the other hair with aluminum foil), erring on the side of style-caution by not bleaching streaks in the top layer of her hair. We figured hints of blue peeking out from underneath would not only be classy but subtle too. Because Adri's hair is SO dark and she knew from previous experience just how resistant it is, we left the bleach on her hair for an hour and a half instead of the recommended 50 minutes.

Still, what resulted was not the prescribed "pale blond" but rather shades of rust to apricot orange.

Ah, well. We moved on to the dye and coated her entire head with blue (what's to lose? we thought--her hair has a slight blue cast anyway, so we figured it wouldn't show up in the dark parts.)

After 40 minutes, Adri washed the dye out of her hair (it took nine washes!).

Guess what you get when you dye dark on dark? Dark! So dark you can't even tell it is dyed at all! The beached orange streaks did not, in fact, show up a sexy electric blue as we hoped.

Turns out the blue wasn't so "electric" at all. It's a dark blue, which just simply didn't show up in her hair. After 5 hours of separating, bleaching, washing, blow drying, dyeing, and washing again, we've got nothing to show for our trials except a few mildly blue-looking strands, and that's only if you dig and squint your eyes. Boo!

This endeavor was largely unsuccessful, but I discovered that it's fun to learn about and play with other people's hair. I've always struggled over the particular challenges of my own hair and rarely touched others' (as a kid I feared my hair wretchedness might contaminate theirs), but now I want to get my hands on as many heads of hair as are willing. In fact, I'm putting together a Web site on "hair compositions" for my multimodal composition class this semester, so there will be many more hair adventures to come!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Movie with Background Theme of Adoption

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Gigantic starring Paul Dano as Brian, a single 28-year-old mattress salesman who has always dreamed of adopting a baby from China. He’s going through the process of getting approved, and at one point reveals to his maybe-girlfriend Harriet (Zooey Deschanel from Elf and the music group She & Him) that it’s difficult for him because he’s not an ideal candidate.

“I’m 28 and single, not married in my thirties.”

This is fairly true to life. Though it’s easier for single people to adopt these days, it’s still not an ideal placement for obvious reasons. I’ve also considered of adopting after I turn 30 regardless of whether I’m married. Then I thought about all that would entail and changed my mind. Hopefully family and adoption will come my way differently.

When I read the description of the movie before watching, I was under the impression that Brian stopped his adoption quest when he started to fall in love with Harriet, and I was all ready to get riled up about this on behalf of the orphan. But it didn’t exactly happen that way. He does indeed fall, clumsily, in love with Harriet, though I’m not sure why—she’s a total train wreck/ditz and constantly wears a deer-in-headlights look on her face. Perhaps he wants to save her? Then, does he want to adopt the girl from China because he wants to save her too? Viewers never really know.

A good bit into the film we learn from Brian’s father that Brian decided he wanted to adopt from China at age 8. My question is, why? What made that so attractive, especially to a young kid? I wish this would have been explored a bit more, because this crucial detail would really flesh out Brian’s character, as he is a fairly reserved person in general. If he saw some advertisement or heard a story of the sad state of Chinese orphanages in the 1990s and made a commitment to do his part, then that says a lot about who he is. If he just thought that was how babies came about, that makes sense too. Or maybe he decided that he’d been single for so long and getting so close to 30 that there was no point in waiting any longer (that’s my suspicion).

As with many indy films, the overall character development is pretty good otherwise. The characters are quirky but real, hopelessly human enough to fall totally in love with in less than 2 hours.

SPOILER! At the end Brian does bring home an infant. In a powerful scene he comes around the corner from his kitchen leading a tiny dark-haired girl as she tentatively steps in front. You get the impression she has just learned to walk. I found it significant that he allows her to walk instead of carrying her. This makes me think he did not adopt her in order to have a token Asian child, and that perhaps he’ll be a good dad.

Some rules for watching adoption-themed movies with your kids, from an AAC handout.

1. Know your child's developmental level. Be attuned to their reactions (and yours). Be prepared to answer questions and deal with possible grief responses.

2. Give your child permission to react.

3. After the movie, address any issues/questions that arise. Acknowledge feelings. Don't shush or scold.

4. Share with other adoptive and foster parents when you see an adoption-themed movie. Look for the lessons inside the "fluff."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Non-Biological Resemblances

The other day my friend Cottrell e-mailed me a photo of him and his adopted brother. He said people who didn't know they weren't related kept commenting that they look alike, which didn't make any sense. Naturally I've always been obsessed with phenotypical resemblances and note immediately the way in which features echo each other throughout families--the same jawline, slope of the chest, hair. Traits of my own I've never seen reflected in anyone else. There are non-physical similarities in families, of course, such as mannerisms, temperament, facial expressions. But some likenesses don't fit in either category, and it's probably those that people saw in Cottrell's picture. There's probably some sort of scientific explanation for this, but I prefer to see the poetic side sometimes.

I have a tiny theory about the strange phenomenon of how couples who have been together for a long time, adopted and biological family members, and even dog owners and their dogs start to resemble each other. It's something subliminal, invisible, perhaps similar to the pull of pheromones in the air. I believe it is the look of love--worn and polished--in the heart where no one can see, like a pearl in a clam's embrace.

I think perhaps these quiet forces, the ones that reside in our souls, connect us all. You can't look at them directly. You can ignore them if you want. They are bonds that transcend race and blood and are the color of humanity, which James McBride's mother says is "the color of water." Barbara Katz Rothman, who writes about mothering her adopted black child as a white woman in Weaving a Family, describes how over time she perceives herself "darkening" as she continues to ingratiate herself into her daughter's ethnic culture, as though this search for understanding motivated by love displays itself physically too.

If our own beauty is a measure of our love for others, how might this change our hearts?

And when we begin to resemble those we love, regardless of blood, what could be better than this?