Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nappy Hair Brushing Session: Child Abuse?

If you can make it through this video of a little Black girl getting a brushing from her mother without crying, you probably don't need to read the rest of this post.
Not surprisingly, this clip has been quite controversial. It was flagged for abuse, taken off youtube, put back on again.

Teresa Wiltz wrote a beautiful reflective essay about it on The Root, which will clue you in on the myriad of issues and strong opinions this video unearthed.

My personal reaction to this is not objective. Every opinion deserves space, and here's mine.

My hair is similar to that little girl's, and I have many painful memories of hair combings. My mother also used a brush on it (cardinal sin for ethnic hair!) I will bet that 99% of Black women have had similar experiences. Most do not have the pain associated with hair that I do. They do not have the situation I did--being adopted and told over and over again that you are white and that is all and meanwhile kids are spitting on you and calling you nigger and all you know is that they are doing this because of your hair. I will tell you that my hair has been a site of mourning, racial pain, self-loathing. I will tell you that wielding a brush like a weapon and treating a piece of a child as something that needs to be 'dealt with' is not the best approach.

All little girls in this world need reassurance that their bodies are pretty and worthy because they will encounter many, many forces that will tell them the opposite.

Often children of color need extra assurance because the forces on them will be greater than for white children.

Often adopted kids need extra assurance because their lives have been framed by rejection.

It makes sense that adopted girls of color may need extra assurance too, perhaps even more.

Is it fair that parents of little girls and parents of ethnic children and adoptive parents have to overcompensate for societal issues they did not create? No.

But please do it. Please.


Ronni said...

I never acted like that when getting my hair combed, but let me say that I have wanted to!

And sometimes I still do, just because I have no idea what to do with my hair these days, except get it wet and comb it that way.

Peppermint Patty said...

Thank you for your post. I won't watch the video because it will upset me and then watch out!

I had an African American brother
(3) and sister (6) in my home for 6weeks for foster care until they went to their "forever home."

I am white. I don't know the first thing about tending to an African American's hair (boy or girl).

My husband, at the time, took the little boy to a barber school that cut black men/boy's hair. My husband said he was the only white guy in the place, but he didn't care. :) He was there to make sure this traumatized little boy got a good haircut!

I called my girlfriend, who is African American, and asked for help with the sister. She came over. And you know what else? She came over and over and over again. EVERY WEEK to tend to this precious little girl's hair.

The foster care home BEFORE she came to mine, didn't care for her hair properly and there was a lot of breakage. Tammy (my friend) showed me how to wash and care for the little girl's hair during the week and then once a week, Tammy would come over to braid, pony tail, whatever style the little girl wanted.

I think it was probably the first time this child had a choice of how she wanted her hair.

All during the time we fixed her hair, we praised her beauty, her face and how wonderful she looked. She just beemed.

Yes, 6 weeks isn't that long of a time to be with someone, but I hope that deep down she at least felt loved.

I think ANYONE adopting or caring for a child of another race (whatever that race may be) needs to have directions and suggestions on where and/or how to care for children's hair.

It's not just "hair." It's someone's culture and identity! The Bible says that God knows the number of hairs on our head. That's pretty important!

Peppermint Patty said...

BTW...Liberty, I'm friends with Shannon Burke. :)

Liberty said...

Peppermint Patty,
Thanks so much for your story! I think you should get an award for being such a caring and attentive foster mom! That's amazing how you reached out for help and gave that little girl such positive reinforcement.

I applaud your husband too, for being courageous enough to go into a barber shop like that.

You are so right that the hair represents culture and identity. Your post has me thinking about some sort of booklet on various hair care regimens for hair of all ethnicities, given to parents adopting cross-culturally.

Thank you for being so aware.

It's nice to meet you. God bless...


Peppermint Patty said...

I think a pamphlet or brochure would be a wise thing for foster care/adoptive parents to have. Showing ALL the cultures hair and how to properly tend to it.

I remember Tammy telling me to NOT take the little girl to a salon to have her hair done because she was too little to have chemicals and straighteners on her hair.

See? I wouldn't have known that!

What a great resource we had in Tammy, but most people don't have that available.