You may have heard comments like these before:
Dang. Your baby used to have such pretty hair. What happened?
Oh her hair is so cute! Except for this nappy section right here…
That baby is so pretty! You almost don’t even notice her hair…
These are the type of comments that can make any new parent want to scream. These are also the type of comments that people seem to casually toss at Black girl babies almost without even thinking.
It’s like the unwritten rite of passage. A baby girl is born and fawned over. After the initial burst of ooohs and aaaahs, a lot of folks who still harbor an “is-she-darker-than-a-brown-paper-bag” mentality will zero in on the new girl child’s specific traits.
I call these people Trifling Commenters.
Trifling Commenter may talk about your baby’s complexion and wonder if this is her “true” color or if (gasp!) she’s going to “get blacker.” Sometimes Trifling Commenters peer closely at your new born’s finger nails to see if the color of her nail beds are darker than her hand—which is a tell tale sign that this baby’s melanin has a bit more browning to do.
A sign sure to upset Trifling Commenter.
They may pull back her hair so they can inspect her ear lobes. Because dark brown ear lobes up against light brown cheeks may also be a sign that our precious little princess won’t be quite as “light” as desired.
If dark brown nail beds don’t evoke a response then dark brown ear lobes usually will at least illicit a sigh of frustration.
Your child’s hair may be parsed and dissected much like one might pick over produce at the grocery store.
Trifling Commenter may say something like this:
“Oh, this section in the front of her hair is so pretty and straight! But that section over there, see how it’s fuzzy? Girl you gonna have problems with that section. But at least it’s better than this “kitchen” in the back of her head! Girl, this section is nappy!”
What’s a new parent to do when they see their precious darling evaluated, measured and ultimately found lacking? How can we respond to comments from otherwise well meaning family members and friends who simply have no idea how to see our babies without the veil of internalized racism?
More importantly—how on earth do we protect our children from the negative impact of Trifling Commenters? Here are some tips to navigate the negative baby inspections.
Consider the Context.
If your Trifling Commenter is an elder or someone with whom you don’t have frequent contact, you really have to consider the context. Sure, hearing your 78-year-old grandmother talk about how “bad” your baby’s hair is will hurt and quite frankly it may just piss you off. But you have to remember that dear old granny grew up during a time when this type of belief system was rampant. In fact, granny may have had these types of terms directed at her and simply may not realize how awful it is to perpetuate these beliefs.
Not to mention the fact that blowing up at Ma’Dear at the family reunion may not be the best way to educate family members on how to love Black kids (and you may be dis-invited to next year’s event…).
You may want to speak with Ma’Dear privately about how her words make you feel. Remember—you may not be able to change her mind, but you can ensure that she knows not to use this type of language around your child.
Tone Rules Everything Around Me.
I’ll admit that the first time someone said something trifling about #BabyGirlFavors’ hair, I felt my inner mama bear rise up and get ready to charge. But I had to remember that Trifling Commenter didn’t mean to be overly negative. At least not in the “I-don’t-like-this-baby-and-want-to-hurt-her-mama’s-feelings” sort of way.
Trifling Commenter was simply ignorant. If I’d flown off the handle without remembering that, the situation could have been much worse. As it stands I told her that actually #BabyGirlFavors’ hair was perfect because it was growing exactly the way that God designed it to grow. I then informed her that these types of comments can be very hurtful to young Black kids and that as adults we need to create a healthier space for Black children. Trifling Commenter was very surprised at my reaction—but respected it.
Know the Goal.
Before you respond to Trifling Commenter, you really need to be clear about your goal. Your goal should dictate the nature of your response. Are you trying to educate Trifling Commenter, protect your baby’s self esteem or something else? It may be that this is a situation in which you can teach Trifling Commenter about the racist nature of his or her words. Or perhaps, if Trifling Commenter is old, tired or one of those people who really don’t-give-a-nappy-headed-damn about your politics and “Black hair” theories, you may be casting your educated pearls before swine. In this case consider the next point.
Protect Your Baby. At All Costs.
Regardless of whether or not Trifling Commenter is a revered elder or a stranger on the street, you have to remember that your child is watching you. Your baby needs to know that you will protect her self esteem to the best of your ability and that you will not leave her out there to defend her hair or skin color on her own.
If Trifling Commenter won’t stop criticizing your child or continues in making negative comments about “bad” hair or “dark” skin, then I implore you to take your child out of that situation. We have to be our girls’ (and boys’) most ardent protector and defender. Our kids deserve to know that if the people in their community can’t respect their hair type or skin color, then the parents and care givers in their lives will stop at nothing to keep them (and their self esteem) safe.
I’ve said many times that when it comes to Black parenting, it’s hard out there! But it is so important that those of us in the natural hair community (and our allies) continue speaking out.
The next time someone says something derogatory about my daughter’s hair “turning” I’ll be sure to tell them “Yes! I am so excited about her true texture finally shining through! I can’t wait to see how many kinks, curls and twists her spirals evolve into. I’m so excited about how big her Afro is going to be!” Then I’ll toss my ‘Fro, put on our matching “Happy-to-be-Nappy” t-shirts (and onesie), grab my kinky-haired baby and saunter down the street as our naps bounce around our heads.
Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or e-book! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest youtube videos! Don’t forget to check out Afro State of Mind Radio, Sunday mornings at 10 am on iArtistRadio.com – this week we continue our month long spotlight on Black education. Enjoy!