Hair. Most of us have it and over time learn to manage it. In the 15 years I was a CEO of colleges around the country, I knew that my hair could not be beyond a certain length. That expectation for my current work is no longer true, and I have a simple approach that requires very little time. Some who know me might think I’m too old for long hair, but their opinions no longer matter to me.
I’ve been called the Breck girl and in my 20s to mid-30s, strangers in public meetings would compliment me on my hair. This column is not about me, however. This is about my white second cousins who have adopted two black children, Silas and Elsie, my third cousins (son Silas was born June 20, 2010, and his adoption was finalized in February of 2012; daughter Elsie was born June 20, 2010, and her adoption was finalized in January of 2015).
The subject of black hair has entered America’s courtrooms, and if you’re interested , just Google “black hair and discrimination/prejudice,” and you will probably find more commentary than you care to read. My assessment of the subject tells me that when company policies attempt to define acceptable hairstyles, those policies are likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on blacks — except on the few who have hair texture that is naturally smooth without the time and expense involved in having their hair chemically treated and straightened.
Many would not agree with the validity and reliability of a “Good Hair” study done in 2016 — and perhaps I’m experiencing an attack of confirmation bias — but the survey revealed what I’ve thought for a very long time: black women “perceive a social stigma against textured hair” and white women rate it as “less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.”
The survey found that “almost all women worry about their hair to some extent” (ain’t it the truth, girls and women?), but that “black women experience high levels of anxiety” about theirs.
Amber is in charge of hair in the family, and she says, “I was living in my white-privileged world where it’s a ‘thing’ to purposely have messy hair,” something denied to black children and adults.
Son Silas has his hair cut by a black man, and daughter Elsie’s hair is more complicated. Amber argues that “ hair is important to my daughter’s self-esteem in a world that continues to be whitewashed and will always make her feel less than.”
It is, she maintains, unacceptable for her to say that she doesn’t have time to do Elsie’s hair any more than it would be acceptable not to bathe her.
As a teacher, Amber has witnessed her black students telling her how embarrassed they were when they were younger and their white mothers didn’t do their hair and they had to walk around “looking like a hot mess while everyone else had their perfect hair.”
Further, Amber concedes that she has a LONG way to go and still sucks at braids — until she looks at older photographs of her daughter’s hair and what she once believed was acceptable. She then sees how far she’s come.
Amber continues to invite her friends to call her out so that she can learn, can fix her mistakes. She doesn’t want her Elsie to grow up thinking “her hair is anything less than perfectly beautiful.”
You might be asking the following: Vivian, why in the world have you written a column on hair?
My response: Our world is changing rapidly, and yes, white folks are adopting black children, and the reverse is also true. It behooves all of us to be cognizant of what these changes mean and honor them as we attempt to create a world where we celebrate our victories. Yes, learning to braid hair is a part of one such victory.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.