When one thinks about it, the issue with the type of hair that African Americans have remained such a conundrum is fascinating. One realizes that many folks in American society need glasses, common sense, or lessons in observing and actually “seeing.”
When Africans were forced into slavery in the Americas in the early 1600s, the Vatican, 100 years before, had already issued a Papal Bull by Pope V to the Portuguese king that all Saracens shall be put in perpetual slavery. Then the negative propaganda started relating Africans and African Americans as “less than human,” with our skin colors and hair targeted and made akin to animals.
In the 1960s, if you walked into any local grocery store, chances of finding an aisle filled with hair products were slim to none. Yet as the Civil Rights movement opened people’s eyes, hearts, and business markets, more products focused on Afro-textured hair. People’s hearts went along different lines also. To have Afro-textured hair in any configuration means there is a learning curve to deal with its maintenance. This experience is handed down through our Black sisterhood, which includes mothers, grandmothers (great-grandmas, too!), aunties, sisters, and even friends. The act of sitting in the floor at some female’s feet or male, as many Dads can lay some serious hair too – that act of caring about one’s presentation is one we all African Americans have experienced. It builds essential familial connections, love, and care.
Yet, as many Black folks have become involved in interracial liaisons and marriages, if the mate of the group is white and a child is born, that Afro-textured hair becomes the elephant in the living room. Whether you pretend it’s not there, that elephant/hair issue can bring some families to their collective knees.
As a young social worker dealing with multi-ethnic families in communities and schools, I had many a bi-racial girl coming to me in tears…due to her hair. Two things often happened; 1) A bi-racial child’s hair was unkempt and not cared for (properly) 2) Black and white schoolmates judged the bi-racial girl negatively due to her hair not meshing with general standards of beauty (Black or white). For example, I had one child’s hair coming out in clumps. As I asked her what was happening, the child tearfully told me her white mom had been putting hair lotion in her hair because it was so dry. Of course, this made the girl’s hair unmanageable, and the mother was trying to comb the child’s hair with the same fine tooth the mother used in her own hair! Of course, this meant a very uncomfortable meeting with the mother who sobbed uncontrollably about wrestling with her daughter’s hair. It was turning into WWIII at home with screaming matches, fights and Black Dad throwing up his hands with both wife and daughter.
I learned that many non-African Americans were ill-prepared for their progeny with highly textured hair. As a result, I was giving social work support and hair support. Networking with local beauty salons that had expertise in dealing with Afro-textured hair became a common handout from me and a list of common products useful in detangling and nurturing our hair. Basic instructions were part of the handout, too, along with websites for further education. Thankfully through the last decade, many hair companies have begun to make products for highly textured hair.
But what was missing us was the human ability for just pure observation. If it ain’t straight but nappy, wouldn’t that cause one to deduce that a larger tooth comb would be needed? If hair is dry, lotion is not the key, but a heavier conditioner is needed, especially one without alcohol in it, as alcohol is very drying to Afro-textured hair. If hair is dry, no, you don’t wash it every day like Caucasian hair, which puts out a lot of oil. I realized that many of us don’t use our eyes for watching, observing, and using common sense.
One white mother tearfully told me that if she had known her children’s hair would turn out like her Black husband’s; she wouldn’t have had kids. Now in most Black families, someone, Mom, Grandma, looking at your date night, have muttered to you, “Guuurl, he’s handsome, but you WILL have to wrestle with some hair if y’all have babies!” In talking to my white friends, I realized that hair subject rarely came up, except for color.
So, as we go about our lives, connecting with our loved ones, be observant. Be resourceful for your children or any kids in your family. Appearances DO matter, especially for children of color. School rooms’ pecking order and hierarchy start as early as 2nd grade. Your child’s peers WILL judge the care your child is getting at home via clothes AND hair care. If you decide to step into the African American family system, understanding the categories of hair patterns from 4a to 4c and their required types of maintenance is essential. Be curious because it means a lot to your child’s self-esteem to see themselves as a beautiful person inside and out. Wander down the aisle with Black natural hair care products. Write down some titles and research them online and people’s comments about them. Most hair care products have copious info on how to use them and for what hair care types they are recommended. Please stick to your budget, ask your friends what works for them, and pay attention to their hair or referrals to helpful beauty salons.
You owe it to yourself and your children and teens. Self-esteem for children of color starts with love….and hair care.
Christine “Liz” LaRue is a clay artist and illustrationist. She is known for her intricately textured figurative sculptures and emotionally illustrative drawings. Chicago born though also raised in Utah and Idaho, Ms. LaRue is of Creole/Cuban descent. Her art has been influenced by her Afro-Latino heritage. Ms. LaRue’s interests has been in Pre-Columbian art of the Olmec, Maya of Mexico, Nazca and Moche face pots of Peru. This also includes the bronze sculptures of the Ife of Nigeria, and Tā Moko tattoo art of the Maōri.
Ms. LaRue got hooked on ceramics at the age of 10 at the Hull House Art and Music Camp. She earned a B.A. in Latin American Studies with a Ceramics Minor from the University of Denver. She has a Master’s degree in clinical social work specializing in multi-cultural families.
Though she lived briefly in Mexico pursuing ceramic art studies, she brought the knowledge
back to Chicago to teach wheel throwing and handbuilding a various ceramic studios in
Chicago. Ms. LaRue’s art work spotlights the beauty of the African American portraiture so
ignored in American mainstream society.