December 30, 2010

White People Raising Black Children.....

.....that don't properly take care of the child's hair make me want to scream.  Literally.  It makes me genuinely angry when I am out in public and I see a white family that is raising a black child and the child's hair is a hot mess.  I had this experience again today while shopping with the Hot Little Number at a local jewelers.  A white couple came into the store with a black daughter, probably age 10 or 11. Her hair was nappy, unkempt, uncombed and altogether terrible looking.  A black family with any standard about personal appearance would NEVER allow their child in the street looking the way this young lady looked. Other black people observing such a child within a black family would regard them as trifling in the extreme for taking such poor care of the child's hair.  I assume the white families I see like this love their children and want their children to of course look their best and always present their best face to the world. I also assume that as incredulous as it may seem, they simply don't know what or how to appropriately take care of a black child's hair and quite possibly live within a personal circle devoid of other black families who would be a resource to them in this regard or from which they would get a clue on the issue of hair care.  You have to make that assumption when you see a black child out with their parents and their hair looks that atrocious, because there is no other way to reconcile it. In lieu of a picture of the family I saw, I included in this post a picture of Angeline Jolie out with two of her children (for the record, I think both Zahara and Shiloh's hair look a mess, so Jolie catches a break from me for being an equal opportunity unkempt maternal hair stylist). This pic generated serious discussion at the Love Isn't Enough blog, with some people making the case that we need to get past cultural strictures about black hair care and embrace the natural hair look. To those arguments, I say, I hear where you coming from, but that's a bunch of hooey. Just like you can't roll into a job interview with your pants sagging, you can't roll through the world with your hair a hot mess.  Going natural doesn't mean going uncared for or going unkempt.

It makes me angry at the parents, because I feel like they don't have a good excuse not to know better.  This is especially true where middle class and affluent white parents are concerned.  You see other black people and their children. You can buy a magazine like Ebony or Essence and look at the pictures and see black women and girls with attractively styled hair.  You can investigate how to get your child's hair taken care of appropriately. There are white parents who have done this, so there is just not an excuse to be so neglectful in this area.  In some places, local stylists have taken a proactive approach to this issue and God bless them.  There are resources out there to consult.  White parents who have CHOSEN to raise a black child have no excuse to not be educated on this front.

I have to confess to cowardice in the face of this issue.  Every single time I have encountered such situations, I have wanted to approach the couple in question, broach the issue with them and offer to connect them to a hair stylist who could appropriately care for the child's hair.  I have never done so out of fear of giving offense and because I felt at a complete loss as to how to even begin such a conversation without giving offense.  In every case, I come away feeling the way I do right now, a hour or so after this most recent siting; angry, embarrassed (for myself and on the child's behalf) and that I have failed this black child, that I have left her in an esteem destroying situation because I didn't open my mouth. Particularly for a black female child being raised in a white family and in a predominately white community (this child was from Carmel, In), to be permitted to walk around with her hair unkempt and uncombed is simply not acceptable.  People are judged on their appearance and those judgments have consequences and generate behavioral outcomes. That child is being shaped in part by the responses of the people around her and her hair is an important part of her personal presentation.  Its a woman's crowning glory for Pete's sake.   All of which seemed lost on the parents I saw this evening.

Think I'm out of line? Well, give me your take. Assuming this situation makes you feel the same way, how would you handle it, or if you did handle it, what did you do?   I need a protocol, a way to broach this issue with total strangers in public where my window is probably 120 seconds or less.  Because I just cannot bear to fail another black child growing up in a caring, loving but clueless white family in this way.