Black, White and the Cornrow Inbetween

Last night I was up late cornrowing my middle daughter’s hair.  It is an activity usually reserved for Saturdays, but daily time spent in the pool had taken its toll and a style that started out incredibly cute a few days ago had gone south very quickly. 

I am white, and new to this skill, so unfortuantely for my girl a process that would take a long time anyway takes even longer. 

“Come on, Baby,” I called.  “It’s time to do your hair.”

She scurried off to find toys to entertain herself for the first stretch of taking down the old style and combing through a multitude of tangles while I gathered the tools of the trade: wide tooth comb, rat tail comb, detangler, spray bottle filled with water, and a pair of tiny scissors used to cut the elastics free.

I sat on the sofa with her in front of me in a small chair and got to work.  Soon, three of her siblings gathered there with us and began to play as we settled into one of the comfortable expressions of our family culture “doing hair”, just one way this family morphed into a new entity when our girls came home from Haiti.  As a African American friend once told me, “You are now the white mother of a family of color.

Later, after I washed my daughter’s hair and began to cornrow it,  my children passed the time by watching the BBC’s DVD of Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, leaving me time to think and as always, I found the process of styling my black daughter’s hair profoundly humbling.

It is not that I am bad at it, I am actually pretty good to be honest.  Each Sunday, I receive the highest praise possible for my efforts from the people who should know:  African American women.  Still, each time I pick up the comb and place my hands on one of my daughters’ heads I feel a little nervous.

“What if I don’t do a good job?  What if my baby is ashamed of her white mother’s creation?”

Because I know hair matters.

It matters because it is such a definitive expression of the African race and all their descendants scattered by the diaspora across the globe.  It is both the pride of heritage and so often the focal point of the pain of discrimination.  It is at once a deep heart’s cry to be validated as the unique creation of God but at the same time to not be defined by any one characteristic of one’s race.

It matters because as a white family, we had a choice to make when we brought these Haitian daughters home.  Would we strip them of their culture and force them into our white world, or would we lay aside our own and meet them there.  Black, white, Haitian, and American.  Descendants of the oppressed and descendants of the oppressor woven into a family.

And a white mother with a cornrow in her hand.

“I am not my hair.  I am not this skin.”  India Arie

8 Replies to “Black, White and the Cornrow Inbetween”

  1. I sit here with a big smile planted on my face….the more i get to know of you via your postings the more I am endeared to you….:)

    this post melts my heart in such a way I am sorry but i cannot explain.

    Would be good to see one of your creations ( hairwise that is)

  2. I love that you learned to do hair for your girls. That is surely God’s love in you.

  3. The fact that you took the time to learn to do your daughters’ hair speaks volumes about your love for them. In the African American culture the belief that “a woman’s hair is her glory”, rings true. I am an African American woman of a daughter and I can tell you that you are helping to build her self esteem. Thank you for not only adopting these future women, but for demonstrating that they are valuable. I pray God’s richest blessings on you for your labor of love. It is not in vain.

  4. touched so very deeply by your posts about your girls. As an African American woman, I am deeply indebted to you and those like you who not only take in girls of color but encourage their culture along with loving Him…God Bless.

  5. I am a white mother of biracial girls (2). I also learned the art of cornrowing my children’s hair. It is a blessing. I included our family blog so that you could check out some of the different styles you can doo. I have gotten more creative and my oldest daughter who is in Kindergarten in a predominantly white community suggests styles for me to try. Enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

  6. Thanks so much for being so open to share this with the rest of us. I have often had the same thoughts and feelings while sitting down to do my daughters hair. All the crying, fighting, and utter stress of it all is worth it when she says “mommy, i wanna see my hair in the mirror.” Her face lights up and my heart melts…

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