If you are reading this as a non-African, what do you know about African hair?
If you are like I was one year ago, the answer is “practically nothing.”
Since we are adopting African kids, one of whom is an 8-year-old girl, this is a problem. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I was very happy when my good friend Helen told me about an ethnic hair care class. Helen and her husband Larry have a biracial son they adopted from foster care. The class was technically designed for foster parents, but I sweet talked my way into attending.
The class was held at a local hospital on a Saturday morning. I went into it with high hopes that I would graduate as a braiding, weaving, skull capping expert. I left slightly disappointed as we were severely limited by time and really only touched on the basics, but that was okay because it was basics we needed.
The instructor was a biracial woman who had hair horror stories from growing up with a white mom.
(Excuse the horrible picture, I didn’t want to be the creepy girl taking phone pictures so I took it on the sly).
We learned about how African hair is very dry. Most African hair has tight, kinky curls, and the moisture from the scalp doesn’t usually make it all the way down the hair shaft. You are supposed to use a moisturizing shampoo about once a week and condition regularly between. Natural oils such as coconut oil help restore moisture.
We learned to sleep on silk pillowcases with a hair cap on to avoid frizzies around the scalp. Once you style the hair, you can leave it in for several days- but failure to use the cap can ruin the style.
We learned that many African women use chemical relaxers to tame their hair, but that this damages the hair and is not recommended for children. We also learned that African women have strong opinions about hair! Several transracial adoptive parents we know have had comments or tips given to them in public. Chris Rock even made a movie about the importance of well-maintained African hair. It’s sort of a big deal!
So, the class was a good start- and I even won a raffle of some styling products and tools!- but we still have a long ways to go. Any tips from readers? If you know of other classes, please pass along.
To be honest, I think I’m more nervous about styling hair than I am about having kids. I can barely do my own easy to manage hair. My goal is for our kids to not be the ones others look at and smirk “You can sure tell THEY have white parents.”