Hikes and Hair

 This is the view from the playground by our house. We love standing on the hill and looking out over the rolling prairie and farms. It’s like a picture book scene: a little town in the distance, trains chugging by in the valley, livestock dotting the distant grass by miniature barns and houses. The ridge always catches a breeze, and hiking trails lead off through the long grass and wildflowers. We stop by as often as we can to savor the changing seasons. Last week I took the big three while The Man stayed with the napping baby. After playground time and a short hike we switched off duties so The Man could take Jack to the barber.

Though we have much to learn yet adoption has already forced us to grow, change, and challenge our own assumptions. For example, before adopting African American kids we had no idea how important hair is in black culture. Hair must always be moisturized and well-groomed. Girls typically wear their hair in protective styles like cornrows or twists. Putting girls’ hair down in a twist out or an Afro is for special occasions only. Many white adoptive families (us included before we learned better!) keep their black daughters’ hair loose and dry. However, that choice leaves kids outsiders in the black community; unkempt hair outside the home is on par with wearing filthy clothes, not brushing your teeth, or never bathing. Likewise, many white families  just buzz their black sons’ hair at home – after all it’s cheaper and easier than heading out. However, black barbershops are a community cornerstone for black men and boys. Many black males get their hair lined up by their barber every week. Black barbershops are a place to socialize, develop inter-generational ties, share news, and learn skills for thriving as a minority in our society. Many adult transracial adoptees regret a childhood of standing out everywhere as the only representative of their race in white communities. They remember being the token black student in their grade, the only non-white kid at the park, and so on. Later, as independent adults who’ve lost the visible connection to their parents and token “white card” black adoptees often find themselves on the fringe of the white community, but unfamiliar with and uncomfortable in the black community as well. As adoptive parents, we believe adult adoptees are one of the best resources for learning pitfalls and plusses in adoptive parenting.

Although we have several African-American neighbors, on average our new town is much less racially diverse than our old town. Since moving we’ve been hunting for church, school, commercial, and social opportunities with positive racial mirrors for our kids. Thanks to a recommendation from friends we finally found a great black barbershop. I grew up oblivious to racial issues and assuming that racism was rare or non-existent in our Midwestern town. Most neighbors would have said they didn’t see or care about color. But there, as anywhere, overt and systemic racism was all around us. My kindergarten teacher sent the only black students to the principle constantly because she didn’t want them in her class. Police stopped black boys just for waiting in their cars in predominantly white areas. A large group of young black men would have been viewed with suspicion by people in the community. What a healthy adjustment now, after lots of hunting, to find a barbershop full to bursting with black teenage boys sent by their parents for fresh cuts before church on Sunday, dads with young sons, businessmen, seniors out to socialize on a weekend morning. Where, for a change, our son blends in with the majority and my husband is the sole white guy in the room. Jack came back bursting with pride in his sharp looking bald fade (and delighted with the three lollipops he scored for a haircut). We’re happy to have another great resource for our son as he matures. That’s not to say he’s so mature right now. This is what happens when I ask him to smile for a photo with his sister:


4 thoughts on “Hikes and Hair

  1. Oh wow thanks for explaining so much about hair. I thought the cornrows were because it was easier to look after hair that way, didn’t realise there was social/cultural reasons too!!
    and I think you are so amazing to be considering and acting upon your children’s heritage! and yes it’s good for us as Caucasians to experience being the minority. Perhaps through your barbershop you can find the other connections in your new neighbourhood you seek.
    Are the men/boys at the barbershop supportive of The Man and Jack?

    • You’re right that cornrows and similar styles do make black hair easier to look after as well. Because it is so curly, it becomes tangled and dries out easily when left loose. Keeping hair neatly groomed has extra importance since black children and adults are more likely to face scrutiny and negative assumptions in the workplace, etc. I’m honestly not sure how many of these social issues extend beyond the U.S. Social norms (and hair norms) can differ region to region here, let alone continent to continent. I know Australia has its own unique racial history and makeup Is there much adoption/international adoption or much of an African diaspora population in your area?

      Yes, we hope the barbershop will be a good way to build connections in the community. So far so good. We took Jack to black barbershops in our old town, but I think in some ways the community may be more close knit and supportive here since the shops are fewer and farther between.

      • Sarah
        Adoption is very rare in Australia. Our foster system rarely allows adoption although some children are in permanent care till 18 they aren’t often ‘released’ for adoption. Also it is very hard to adopt internationally, our country doesn’t allow many international adoptions. They were allowing with China but I believe now it is taking about 10 years from there!!
        Very rarely too are cross cultural fostering allowed. ie Indigenous children are meant to be fostered by other indigenous families, though of course that isn’t always practical.

        Australia has long had many people from other countries migrate to here but most tend to stay in the city, country areas are still predominately Caucasian, which is where we live. Of course there are many Indigenous people here.

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