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The care of kinky hair, daddy edition

Randal Archibold, in an entertaining piece in the NYT, recounts his twist and turns “taming” his daughter’s kinky hair. Most black women can relate. It’s interesting to see a father talk about it — and the comments he receives for doing his daughter’s hair.

I’ve been doing Lyla’s hair since she has had enough hair to do, receiving my first lessons from my wife and subjecting Lyla to my continued training by my sister, mother-in-law and other female relatives. Combing and brushing and, most important, braiding her hair seemed another way to help out and participate in the joys of having a daughter.

But Lyla’s locks have given me a closer glimpse into the angst, not to mention politics, that is black women’s hair. Sure, I have ridden the highs and lows of my wife’s hair-care odyssey. Go natural? Braids? Relaxer? A weave? Cut it all off? She has tried almost everything and been stressed about it all along the way. Does having a relaxer to straighten natural kinks bow to white society’s notion of good hair? Do free-form ‘fros and braids with fake hair extensions look “professional” enough?

Archibold got schooled in the necessities of black hair care — the bobby pins, barettes, the various “scalp conditioners,” which are usually variations on petroleum jelly, mineral oil or other natural oils. And the combs. Folks, you cannot style natural hair with a narrow tooth comb. It breaks it off.

Most black women know what it’s like to have an arsenal of hair care products, particularly if you choose to wear your hair straightened with chemical relaxers or the hot comb. I had a cabinet full when I wore my hair in processed styles. Full freedom first came when I decided in the 90s to toss out the relaxer and cut the dry damaged stuff off. I wore a short natural for several years. Eventually, I decided that I wanted more styling variety, so in November 2000, I began the process of growing locs, a style I wear today.  Very low maintenance, no products aside from shampoo and conditioner, no wasted money sitting in a salon. Free from the lye, free from the burning hot comb sizzling my scalp, no curling irons, flat irons or other instruments of torture.

Archibold notes that Brad Pitt, whose adopted daughter Zahara has kinky hair, discovered styling products that most white folks haven’t heard of but are extremely popular for those with natural hair styles — Carol’s Daughter (based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn; I’ve been to the “legacy store” when that was the only outlet).

My wife watches me do Lyla’s hair, still looking like the master observing the pupil. She listens to my occasional boasts, amused and a little annoyed. Add it to the list of things women do with little fuss that practically earn men a medal.

Yet I could relate when I read in Esquire last October that Brad Pitt endorsed Carol’s Daughter hair products for his adopted daughter, Zahara.

“For white people who might be having a little trouble with black-person hair, Carol’s Daughter is a fantastic hair product,” he said, earning him a mention in the Say What? column in Essence. “We got it for Z. Now her hair has this beautiful luster. And it smells nice, too.”

Maybe a clumsy way to say: I have taken on my black daughter’s hair and won. But I know the feeling of triumph.

Here’s a great essay that gives you some conflicting thoughts of black women and their hair: Black women and Their Hair – Back in the Day.

Related:
* Hair and black self-loathing
* The politics of hair (again)

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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