Dear Parents of White Kids with Straight Hair,
Let me ask you this: How many times was your child’s appearance negatively commented on after she/he left the house today? This week? This month? The answer for my daughter is three. Three times today in the first five minutes.
My kid has hair that is not like your kid’s hair. My kid has hair that is curly and big and awesome. That is not to say that your child’s hair is not also awesome. It is. Your child is told her hair is awesome because she sees it on magazine covers, on news anchors, on Barbie dolls. She is constantly given the message that her hair is good and pretty and normal. But here’s the thing. My kid is not told these same things. My kid is told her hair is big and weird and ugly. My daughter gets the negative messages from the same places your child gets the positive ones – TV, magazines, the internet. And also from somewhere else — from you and your child.
I know you don’t mean to. I know you have good intentions. I get it. Most of your kids have never seen someone with hair like my daughter’s. It’s different. It maybe seems a little wild. It maybe seems a little shocking. This is what I want you and your child to know:
- Coming up to my child with a slight sneer and saying, “Why does your hair look like THAT?” is not okay
- Coming up to my daughter and touching/grabbing/stroking her hair, even out of genuine curiosity, is not okay
- Telling my daughter “Your hair is weird/ugly/gross” is not okay
- Asking my daughter, “Why is your hair so big?” is not okay
- Exclaiming to my child, “OH MY GOD! LOOK AT YOUR HAIR! I bet your mom has quite a hard time combing it!” is not okay
- Voicing your opinion about her hair is not necessary
I know your kid (heck, even you!) might be curious. But please know that there is a fine line between curiosity and intrusiveness. There is a fine line between observation and making someone feel “other”. And please know there is a huge fat freaking line between inquisitiveness and personal space. Don’t cross it. Teach your kids not to cross it.
Which brings me to another point. TEACH YOUR KIDS. It is not my job, and it is most certainly not my daughter’s job, to teach your child how to interact with someone who looks different than he/she does. It is your job to teach your child how to ask questions with kindness, how to be respectfully curious, and how to make all kids feel welcome. Please, do not just stand there smiling tightly and avoiding eye contact while your child insults my daughter. Don’t wait for me to step in. This is it! This is a teaching moment! Yay! As parents we live for teaching moments! But please remember it’s your teaching moment.
Look, I know it’s hard. I know it may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing or just plain weird to talk to your kids about big hair and skin color and differences. And that’s why I will help you, support you, engage with you, and probably even learn from you. We’re in this together after all. But do not expect me to do it for you.
And you know how I said it’s your teaching moment? Well, I guess it’s mine too. Except I’m teaching my daughter something different. I’m teaching her how to deal with rude comments that poke at the essence of who she is what she looks like. I’m teaching her how to respond to things that make her feel like she does not belong, that she’s not normal. I’m helping her find ways to stop people from touching her body without permission.
That’s right — touching her body without permission. Please, please, please understand this. It is most definitely your job to teach your kid NOT to touch my child’s hair. It is never okay. It is not okay when you tell me, “Oh, but her hair is just so inviting!” It is not okay when you tell me, “But her hair is just so beautiful!” It is not okay when you tell me, “Oh, who wouldn’t want to touch her hair!” It. Is. Never. Okay. Teach your child now. Teach it before it happens. Because when it happens it is happening to my daughter. And my daughter is not a lesson to be learned.
If you have questions, ask me. Email me. Call me. I really do want to talk to you. I want to help you understand. Just one thing though, please think about when/how you do it. What are you teaching my daughter about her hair when you say in front of her, “Well, thank GOD my child doesn’t have hair like THAT. I just don’t have the patience.”
I really need you guys to have my back on this. And I need you to teach your kids. I’d really like my amazing, wonderful, beautiful daughter to be able to get to her classroom, the soccer field, the grocery store without hair harassment.
With so much love,