Last night, my mom invited me and my younger brother out to a work event that involved drinking. My mom is a very serious engineer manager for an Oil and Gas company. We agreed nonetheless, because we have learned over time that sometimes her work colleagues are really fun once they start drinking and also because: free beer. And we were having fun. It took us almost an hour to find the table where her coworkers were hanging out.
When we did, it wasn’t long before the coworker across the table started staring at me, as if he couldn’t look away. Finally, he tells us his “youngest adopted daughter” is “biracial” and looks just like me. Of course she does. Unable to stand it, he comes around to the other side of the table and sits what I feel is a little too close to where my body is housed on the bench seats.
“So, everything is the same with Ava except her hair. We just don’t know what to do with it. And it’s just like yours-I mean you look just like her!” I smile. Politely I tell him it’s different talking care of my hair than my mother’s.
“You wash your hair every day?” I ask my mom.
“Every other day.” She responds.
“I wash my hair like once a month, ” I tell him, “otherwise it gets dry.”
“Malika knows a lot about this. She does a lot of research online.” This is true. I am the black daughter of a white woman, so I’ve done a lot of research into many things to do with being black.
Months ago, my good friend Courtney and I went to out to eat and catch up at the only Ethiopian restaurant in Oklahoma and were overwhelmed by a table filled with white adults and noticeably Ethiopian children. As we ate, we broached the topic of white people with babies from other countries. As I began to explain my belief that it was a current manifestation of the white man’s burden, a young girl came over to our table. She was about 4 or 5 by looking at her and she was touching Courtney’s hand as if she couldn’t believe that it existed. The same color as hers! Here were the people that had been hidden from her world, right before her eyes.
Her parents came over and apologized, explaining she was awestruck by Courtney ‘s natural hair, because she had never seen hair like ours.
Here’s the problem I keep facing as punishment for wearing my hair natural, for being black born of a white mother: I am the easy way out.
Yet, I give away my hard earned secrets. As if the knowledge is owed to them. I am now a black hair expert in the flesh, available for all the white folks adopting little black girls who look just like me because America has run out of white babies no one wants. I am the neighborhood know it all.
I want to stop playing nice with white couples who believe that raising black children is the same as raising white children, except of course, their hair texture. The very idea is offensive to people who have spent their lives being black, and know intimately that our hair texture is the least of it. I want to tell them that google is available on all electronic devices that can connect to the internet. I want to yell at them that if they can’t start looking for answers like it’s important to them now, then their little Avas’ will notice some day.
But I worry. If I don’t tell the white people the way to keep their daughter’s hair styled, combed and moisturized, or convince them of its importance, how will the young girls fare? I always get frustrated thinking of the little girls who play in their mothers’ hair and cannot feel themselves in it. I worry about the hearts and self esteem of little girls who look up to women who look absolutely nothing like they do or will.
White people, this is your sin. Always swooping in and saving us with black skin. the best meaning intentions. Yet you deny us access to the things our hearts need in “our best interests.” You are always the hero teacher who saves us from the ghetto just in time to get into your colleges. You are constantly casting yourselves as the savior and us the tragic victims.
I want the little girls to learn how to take care of their hair as they grow. I want the people who raise them to understand that this matters. If they grow up learning only to lament the color of their skin, and the texture of their hair, it will be such a long journey to healthy self esteem. And that will not make you saviors at all.