The Doctor Goes In
(continue) WHY ARE THEY COMING FOR THE CHILDREN THOUGH?
I recently participated in a panel on natural hair and children that aired on the Brooklyn Independent Media channel. Producer Natasha Gaspard who you may know from ManeMovesTV.com invited me, natural hair guru and stylist Diane Bailey, and Imani Dawson, Editor-In-Chief of Tribe Called Curl to participate in what we do best: real talk about an issue we're really passionate about! The discussion was spurred by the widely-publicized targeting of children with natural hair like Vanessa Vandyke and the STRONG reaction of many through social media.
Those few minutes of discussion really flew by and we ALL had so much more we wanted to say. But I haven't been able to get this question out of my mind: Why are they coming for the children???? My thoughts:
1. The message of "straight hair superiority" starts earlier and runs deeper than we're willing to believe.
Our children get the message early and often that straight hair is more valued in our society. Parents who want their children to love their curls, kinks, and coils are competing with images and messages in the media (toys, books, cartoons, cereal boxes, etc.) and even from other family members and friends. Quick! Name 5 popular dolls for children for the last 20 years. With the exception of Cabbage Patch Kids, most popular dolls and even most generic dolls have been manufactured with straight hair. And while it's great that we've figured out how to "curl" synthetic dolls' hair to achieve a more textured look, why should we have to go to such lengths?
2. People often reject in others what they are insecure about in themselves.
Yes it's a strong statement to apply to these instances where children with Afro-textured hair have been shamed in their school communities, but think about that. Children with Afro-textured hair have been shamed in their school communities about their hair. Could it be that internalized negativity about Afro-textured hair is being expressed in these instances?
3. When they're coming for the children they're really coming for you.
The assumption is that if your children are dressed or groomed a certain way it's with your direct help or permission. What kind of message are you sending to your child to allow them to leave the house that way??? And how did you expect people and other children to react??? So you see parents, it's all your fault.
But I think there is definitely a way forward. Here are a few suggestions for the journey:
1. Be intentional in the building of your child's overall self-esteem and acceptance
Your children mimic a lot of your behavior and viewpoints, so you have tremendous influence by your words/actions of affirmation to them, to others, and to yourself. Their natural attributes of appearance and character are a unique expression of their family history. Help them celebrate that!
2. Understand the power of play
As a psychologist I have used play therapy as a highly effective tool to understand how a child is feeling and thinking about their past, present, and future. Children play not just for entertainment or to occupy their time but also to develop cognitive and social skills. Curly Girl Collective's 'All Dolled Up' charity event was an eye-opener, as we searched for dolls with textured hair to donate, we realized just how hard they are to find! . Dolls with textured hair should be commonly available to the consumer and at reasonable prices, so that children without Afro-textured hair can have a play life that is more reflective of society and so that children with Afro-textured hair can have more relatable symbols. As consumers you have tremendous influence on the marketplace, make sure the manufacturers know you expect them to do better.
3. Stand up for and with your children
When your children see tangible evidence of your protection and support, it empowers them also to live their values and to challenge fear. Children benefit from a trusting relationship with their parents/guardians that emphasizes communication and love. Imagine how lasting an impression it would make on your child's memory and growth if they could navigate appropriately confronting negativity with you in their corner and by their side.