Cassie’s Hair

I’m going to follow up my last controversial post with an even more controversial post: What to do with my daughter’s hair.

I’m only being slightly sarcastic. For reasons I do not understand, hair is extremely important to Black Americans, so much so that when Angelina Jolie and her daughters Shiloh and Zahara all went out looking like they had just woken up from a nap, Angelina was eviscerated for how unkempt Zahara’s hair was.

Hair has always been a thorny issue for me. As a child, I once went so long without brushing my hair that one day, my third grade teacher cut it during recess. I didn’t know how to pull my hair into a ponytail until junior high school and I didn’t know how to simply pull it back into a barrette until my senior year of high school. In my defense, these were the 80s and early 90s, when BIG HAIR was in. You had to make sure you got the right height. I don’t have any of my really BIG HAIR photos on my computer, but here’s one to give you an idea:

Best Friend and Robyn

That’s me with my best friend, who once said, “Robyn, I wish my hair had no body like yours.” Oddly, I didn’t take it as an insult.

Jackson’s hair is very thick and curly. It’s a bit coarse, but not as coarse as many Black Americans’ hair tends to be. His birthmother has gorgeous wavy hair, and his is very much like hers, only curlier. It doesn’t need any special care, which is good, because he’s refusing to get a hair cut these days. He’s going to end up with a very big head of very big hair himself soon.

Jackson and His Easter Bunny

Cassie’s hair is very different. Now, it might change when she’s about one year old. Jackson’s did; his hair used to be fine and straight, believe it or not. Around the time he turned one, it got thick and curly. Right now, Cassie’s hair is very fine and very curly. She also has a bald spot right around the back of her head. It’s kind of like a reverse monk-style cut. You know, where monks would only have hair in one band around their heads, Cassie doesn’t have hair there, but does on the top and bottom.

The Back of Cassie's Head

My sister, who did my hair all throughout childhood and is finally studying to be a cosmetologist, checked with her black schoolmates and said that I should not be washing Cassie’s hair very often. This is a common theme in black hair care. However, if we don’t wash Cassie’s hair every other day, then it attracts lint, gets very kinky and occasionally matted, and looks greasy. We can’t comb it after two days of non-washing, because her hair will break.

When we wash it, we use California Baby shampoo (old style, before they changed the formula) and calendula conditioner. (The conditioner formula doesn’t seem to have changed, thank goodness.) You can leave the conditioner in or rinse it. At this stage, we’re rinsing, since I’m not real keen on leaving stuff in her hair when she’s so little and likely to ingest it. Also, I think it would weigh down her hair, which looks quite cute when left to its own devices for a day or two.

Cassie and Sassy on the couch

It also looks nice in headbands and hair bows.

Re: WANTED: Similac Coupons

Cassie with a blue and green bow

(bow from Banana Laine Boutique)

Her hair isn’t that long on top. It’s getting long on the bottom, and it’s not as curly. I’m waiting for that bald patch to grow in, then maybe I can try some styles. Cassie’s birthmother’s hair is very fine, and she says it doesn’t hold braids. So, we’ll see what happens.

Any suggestions for what I can do are much appreciated. Also, if there are articles or books on why hair care is so important to Black Americans, I’d very much like to read them.


13 thoughts on “Cassie’s Hair

  1. Well, I’m not black. But I definitely have very curly, very dry hair. What works for me is washing only with conditioner. No shampoo. I have a book for us curly haired folk called ‘Curly Girl’. It has a section on black hair. If I can find it, I’ll share 🙂

  2. Chris Rock did a documentary called “Good Hair”, as I recall.

    My understanding (from, like, Neptune, I’m so far out of orbit here) is that natural hair gets a lot of attention from folks who are the next thing to racists (e.g. “nappy”), and that making black folks’ hair look sort of like white folks’ hair takes a) a lot of money and nasty chemicals and b) can be seen as Uncle Tomming it. Complex social class issues are at play, I gather.

  3. I am black. 🙂 And you’re right, hair grooming is an important part of black culture. But, like many things that people grow up with and therefore take for granted, it is often hard to explain to others why this is. I would probably stumble all over myself attempting to do so. But Googling “black women and hair” would certainly turn out quite a bit of information from smarter women than I am, that might fill you in on some of the cultural sensitivities at play. It’s been written about a *lot.* Like this story, for example:

    Good luck in your research!

  4. >> For reasons I do not understand, hair is extremely important to Black Americans <<

    I am not sure there needs to be a why … all cultures think appearances are important … why do white people bake themselves in the sun to "get a tan?" Why are women in Western cultures expected to wear make-up? Etc.

    That said, there may be a particular origin for pride in hair in the black community … I'd suggest learning more by actually talking w/ black people before Cassie is old enough to care about her own hair.

    In the meantime, check out the Chris Rock documentary "Good Hair." (Here's the trailer – )

    My 2 cents as a white person … I think "white privilege" allows us (i.e. white people) to go out looking like slobs (remember the grunge look in the '90s?) and have it be no big deal. I can leave my hair unbrushed, put on some sweats and go out in the world, and no one will think less of me. I don't think people of color have that luxury, as the dominant culture will judge them & their kids if they don't look nice & well-kept.

    • Have you read the Kane Chronicle books by Richard Riordan? Both of the main characters are biracial, but the older one is a boy who is dark skinned. His black father always told him to dress in khakis and button down shirts to avoid being stereotyped. Until I read that, I never thought about dressing from that perspective.
      I do want to see Good Hair. I should make it a priority.

      • I haven’t read those books.

        I have, however, worked as an educator in one school in which 80% of the students are black & Latino, and another school in which about 95% of the students are white. The students in the first school dressed very nicely — like *kids*, but their clothes were always new (or new-looking) and clean. The mostly white students in the other school would show up in their *pajamas*.

        White privilege is weird … you don’t see it until you *look* for it … another reason why it’s a “privilege!”

  5. I second both Karyn and Marian on all points they are making. Grey’s Anatomy even had an episode on Black hair for babies. And Chris Rock’s documentary drama was tragi-comic.

    As a wavy-haired “peach” mom of two “chocolate” girls (their terminology, not mine), I attempted to learn all I could about how care for the children’s hair before they moved in, and am learning still. We shampoo only once a month — otherwise, rinse with conditioner. Use natural oils, too, and creams made with them: coconut, avocado, carrot, almond, etc. I think you have to be even gentler with baby hair, because it is so very fine.

    I’m going to send you a couple of pages off-line from a wonderful book “Kids Talk Hair” by Pamela Ferrell. I think it will help, but the entire book is terrific so I recommend it. I don’t know where you would get it, as it was a present from our adoption agency.

    Good luck to you and your beautiful little Cassie.

  6. Pingback: Cassie Is 7 Months Old! « The Chittister Family

  7. Pingback: Cassie’s First Hair Cut (or, I Give Up) « The Chittister Family

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