Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hair and identity, part two

So where does Kenson fit in in this conversation? As we were preparing for his homecoming, D and I discussed what we would do with his hair. It had always been shaved in the orphanage. We'd never really seen him with hair. We kind of wondered what he would look like. So we decided when he came home, we would grow it out. And prior to him coming home, we talked about locks. We thought they were cute and that on older boys and men, they were handsome, especially when cultivated not left as wild Bob Marley style locs. (Nothing wrong with that style, just not our cup of tea.) And we thought longer hair on him would help me gain some confidence in hair care and styles once Conleigh came home. So we let it grow. What became clear to us was that even 2 inches of his tightly coiled hair took a decent amount of time to detangle. And that keeping it neatly trimmed would require regular trims, probably once a month. So that lead us to the locs decision. Locs, althought time consuming at first, once they mature are truly a wash and go hair style. Making that decision was not something we took lightly. (At least not me.) There were a lot of things to consider, not just the end result or the convenience of locs.

In the smaller towns where we live and work, there are only a handful of black men. And almost everyone shaves their head, does a close trim, or an afro. In Lincoln, a city about 30 minutes from us, black men do all of the above or wear cornrows. But what I have kind of seen is that there is a class issue with African haircare. Cornrows are ghetto. A nice trim or neat Afro is more middle class. It's not my opinion but one that I think is there. We're human and we make all kinds of judgments based on appearance and that's one I think that gets made. Which leads me to one of the major concerns regarding Kenson's hair. As young man, if he chooses to keep his locs, will he be judged because of that?

I also had to wonder about my decision to make such a major choice for him. We chose locs, in part, for some reasons that had not very much to do with him, but more to do with our own opinions and desires. Locs are a semi permanent hairstyle. It takes months to have the hair grow together and loc. Undoing locks means essentially shaving the hair and watching months of hard work go out the door. Was it fair for us to make such a decision for him? In the end, we decided it was. We're not saying he has to keep them forever. At some point, when he's old enough to really care for his own hair or if he gets to a point where he absolutely can't stand them, then we'll discuss it and let him have some role in the process. But for now, that's not the road we're on.

That said, there were lots of other identity type scenerios that I honestly never thought about. Maybe because some of them are just a bit weird and things I would never have guessed. One of the major ones is how Kenson's hair often makes him the center of attention. People ooh and ahh over it. I have had strangers ask me about it. How do you do it? How long does it take? Did you do it yourself? the grocery's weird. I'm from a small town. I get how small towns work. But I can't imagine stopping someone I didn't know to ask them about their hair. Weird. People, not so much strangers, but friends and acquaintences want to touch it. Other kids especially, which I get because they usually haven't seen anyone with hair like Kenson's, even when it's not in locs. The kids are just curious about what it feels like and if it's the same as their hair. But adults I don't quite get as much. It doesn't offend me. It's just something I wasn't prepared for. I really hadn't considered how locs would generate that much attention and what that attention is teaching Kenson about hair and friendship and tact and appearance.

I think I'm also surprised by the lack of knowledge many people have regarding black hair. Granted, I know now a lot more than I did 2 years ago. But there are a lot of questions that I am surprised people need to ask. Can you wash it? Do you do that every day? What are dreadlocks? What do you mean the hair grows together? Oh, dreadlocks like Bob Marley? There are other kinds of dreadlocks other than Bob Marley's famous style? I guess I thought some of that was common knowledge, but it turns out it's not. As Kenson overhears those conversations, I wonder if he thinks his hair is just so bizarre that no one knows anything about it. Or as he gets older, if he will pick up on the questions about hygiene and wonder if others are assuming his hair is never washed.

I think the last surprise for me is truly how his locs in some ways, will define him. I am willing to bet that at some point in his school career, he will be "the black boy with spikey hair. " I don't think it has to do with racism as much as in a school that is 50% Hispanic, 40% white, 5% Asian or other, and 5% black, his black skin is just an easy way to identify him. And the spikey funky hair will be yet another that sets him apart. I am sure he will be tired of the fuss about his hair. I'm sure he will be annoyed at the first days of school when he has all sorts of new friends wanting to touch his hair. The chances of him meeting another little boy with locs is slim. The chances of him meeting an older boy or man with locs a bit greater, but that will probably only happen on rare occasions. D does coach against a man from Ghana who wears his hair in locs. I'm hoping he is still coaching come spring; I'm interested to see Kenson's reaction. But in general, Kenson will be alone in his hair. We try to point out black men on tv who wear locs. But that's tv, not reality. And we of course want him to see his locs as a unique trait, that being unique is a good thing, something to be proud of.

So where is all this going? It's kind of just a rant. It's really a compilation of a lot of thinking on my part about hair. More thinking than I've ever given any aspect of appearance. Hair does become a part of your identity, especially when you think your hair is setting you a part. Balding, frizzy, out of control curly, even a unique hair style like a mohawk or mullet, on some levels they start telling us what to believe about our inner person. That is not what God designed our appearance for. Our appearance should be a reflection of our inner person, an extension of the uniquely different person God made us to be, just one tiny piece that displays God's creativity and handiwork. My prayer for my kids (and myself) is that we center our identities in things that will last, in things that matter in eternity. May we not forget that "Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16)


Bill and Christina said...

I do my little boys hair in zulu knots and at first everyone wanted to touch it and asked about it. But now it is just his hair. The little kids still try to touch it sometimes but he lets them know that is not acceptable to him. I am not going to style his hair according to how people react to him and that is a choice that I have made. But I do believe that it opens the door for conversations that other wise might not happen. I love his hair and I think you do an amazing job and he is as cute as a button!


kayder1996 said...

The initial curiousity has kind of worn off. For a while everywhere we'd go I'd hear two year old attitude "Don't touch my hair." I constantly had to tell him to add a please so he didn't sound like the crabbiest person on the planet.

I should also add that on a number of occasions people have thought he was a girl. Very weird to me because I don't think he looks like a girl at all.

Bill and Christina said...

Yes, we get that alot too. But our little one is only 1 soon to be 2.

DJDragon said...


I like Kenson's hair.
I used to have ghetto cornrows and really long hair.
But I am very good at soccer, and Kenson will be the next Jose Andres Guardado Hernandez (he shares a last name with me) or the next Giovanni dos Santos Ramirez! :-D