How to Care for a Black Child’s Hair in Three Easy Steps

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Black hair

A few months ago, I mentioned that my friend Michelle, who’s white, was planning to adopt and, because she’s been open to getting a baby of any race and the system is gorged with black children, particularly in the D.C. area, the chances of her having an interracial adoption were pretty high. Fast forward to the week before last. She was beaming when I saw her.

“Guess what?” she grinned. “We got a baby!” We hugged. We cried. We squealed. We threw together a list of necessities and started a registry for the rest. Even though I used to be completely opposed to interracial adoption, I was thrilled for my pal.

After I gave her a little time to bask in her new mommyhood, we chatted about the transition for her and her hubby. “Dave’s a little disappointed. He was expecting the baby to have an Afro,” she joked, “but his hair is really fine and straight.”

“Oh, that’ll change. Trust me,” I assured her. 

For the first few months, most black babies have this unassuming, wispy stuff on their heads that looks nothing like the tresses they’ll be working with for the rest of their days. That’s not to say that all of us have the same grade of hair. We don’t. I think folks outside of African America think our hair comes in one brand: nappy. In conversations with non-black folks, including my dear Michelle, I’ve seen the surprise at the variety of differences.

The range of hair textures is another one of the beautiful spectrums in our community, just like the assortment of our brown complexions that go from toasted vanilla to coffee bean. But you don’t have to comb color, so that makes one issue a little more — shall we say, interactive? — than the other.

Love may be blind, but hair care is not. I’ve had white folks come up to me with bewildered expressions on their faces and black babies by their side, asking me for suggestions on how to maintain their little one’s mane. Know this: the same tools and products you use on your hair are more than likely not going to be received well by the child’s. In fact, you might make their hair angry if you even try.

Taking your child to an African-American hair salon may be an easy option, but that can get expensive. (Trust me, I know. Two girls in the Harris household means two heads to get done and two stylists to pay, which usually means too much money.) So to all of my other friends out there in Readership Land who have an adopted black, biracial, or Afro-Latino child, or are in the process of opening your home to one, here are a few insider tips:

Black hair doesn’t receive frequent washing very well. Oils weight white hair down and make it greasy-looking but our hair, which is much more susceptible to being dry and therefore prone to damage and breakage, needs that build-up of natural oils. I wash my and my daughter’s hair every two weeks, but depending on the child’s level of activity and sweatiness, you may want to make it weekly. Just not daily. 

Walking into a beauty supply store may overwhelm you. Heck, it overwhelms me sometimes and I am black. Although there are literally thousands of products for our hair, which is big, big business, these are three tried-and-tested fail safes to help you avoid buying a whole bunch of crap you really don’t need: the Mixed Chicks line works wonders, Hair Milk from Carol’s Daughter is a godsend, and Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer is a miracle-maker. My mother used it on my hair when I was coming up and I used it on Girl Child until she grew dreadlocks. Rub a quarter-size amount in the palm of your hands, smooth over their hair, and brush through. Magic. 

Braids and twists not only keep little black girls’ hair under control, they protect it from wind and sun, which are also drying. Your straight-haired white or Asian child may be able to rock her hair out but it’s in the best interest to keep your black daughter’s hair tucked away and accented with cute barrettes or bows to snazz it up. On the other hand, black boys’ hair can’t be cut against the growth pattern. A trip to a black barber or one knowledgeable about black hair is almost a must, just to avoid the possibility of the child coming out looking like a spotted leopard.

Black moms, do you have any haircare tips to offer?

Image via stevendepolo/Flickr

boys, girls, racial issues