Mothers & Daughters

A black mother styling her daughter's hair while she is smiling
Caroline Wurtzel/Romper; Marilyn Nieves/Getty Images

The Joy & Intimacy Of Black Hair

These sacred hours are filled with a joy and ease rarely attributed to Black women.

The hair combing experience is a sacred space between Black mothers and daughters, and I was disappointed when I realized I could not carry this ritual forward. I pay someone to create masterpieces on my little girl’s crown, because my two left thumbs, though well-intentioned, can only make Lombard Street parts through her kinky curls. Ever resourceful, I found a skilled replacement. This was a win for both of us, and by proxy, I get to share in the bond that is created over my daughter’s hair. Her stylist and I laugh, gossip, swap parenting advice, and recipes.

These sacred hours are filled with a joy and ease rarely attributed to Black women. Typically, we are drawn as angry, authoritarian or grief stricken, caught in a never-ending loop of defending who we are as wives, partners, co-workers, and citizens. We are creative with the ways our love shows up. Sometimes it’s in the naming of our babies. Names like Ketanji, which is African for “lovely one”, or something homegrown like Quvenzhané, a blend of her parents’ names with a sprinkling of Swahili on top.

Other times, our love is felt in too tight squeezes we give our son, secretly praying the police don’t choose that day to send him to glory, and the racial education we gird our babies with so they understand how we got to this country and why we stay.

This is an intimate kinda love — an up close and personal ritual passed from generation to generation.

We also express our love in the millions of dollars spent on pomades, moisturizers, creams, shampoos, and stylists who braid, straighten and grow textured, kinky, wavy, curly, and nappy hair. This is an intimate kinda love — an up close and personal ritual passed from generation to generation.

Like the immigrant who prepares delightful dishes filled with curries or kimchi, love going into sending a little piece of home country in school lunches. Whether it’s in the rolling of the crust or the season-to-taste balance of spice and heat, parents all over the world want their children to feel proud of who they are. Black people are no different. With zig-zagged cornrows or knotless braids that stretch down our backs, we seek commonality with a pre-colonial continent that is unknown to us. This need to express our heritage puts us in the cross hairs of the mainstream who fail to understand our hair styles and judge us instead.

“Your hair is nappy,” “your mother doesn’t care about you because your hair is not neat,” and other microaggressions are aimed at Black girls as young as 5 years old. In 2021, Dove CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Research Study for Girls revealed that Black teenage girls are “missing a week of school” as a response to hair discrimination by white peers and teachers.

Girls are not the only group whose self-worth is harmed by hair discrimination. Black boys with gravity-defying high top fades, locs, twists, and dreads reminiscent of the Lion of Judah find themselves criminalized by educational institutions. In 2020, DeAndre Arnold was told to cut his locs or risk suspension and not be allowed to walk in his high school graduation.

I had compassion for my mini-me and remembered my own lust for flaxen Marsha Brady tresses in grade school.

In that same year, the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal confirmed that Black people fail to secure employment because their natural hair is deemed unprofessional. These assaults on Black hair are humiliating and the reason the CROWN Coalition created the CROWN Act to end discrimination on race-based hairstyles. While the CROWN Act awaits passage by the U.S. Senate, Black moms are still on the forefront of reclaiming these sore sports. And our kids are listening, because, “today 90% of Black girls state that their hair is beautiful.”

Before reaching that level of confidence, many little Black girls experience a time when they recognize that their hair is different. My daughter was 4 years old when this happened. She was curious about her white and Asian friend’s hair, and believed she was not as pretty because her hair was not straight. I had compassion for my mini-me and remembered my own lust for flaxen Marsha Brady tresses in grade school. This was a crucial moment for us, and my next move would color how she felt about herself. I assured my sweet girl that she was perfectly made, and that the spring in her hair meant she had options. When she gets older, she can go straight or curly, wear locs and color her mane.

To ensure she grew to love her natural hair, I committed to keeping her hair braided. Admittedly it was for convenience, and then it grew into an act of defiance against a society that made my little girl feel insecure. I even enlisted her braider who echoed my sentiments. This small act of cultural antiracism, mother to daughter, Black stylist to Black girl, will reverberate for decades.

Having a daughter has changed me in many ways, including how I wear my hair. I leaned into my teeny-weeny afro to show my child that I was confident with every hair follicle on my head. I learned this swagger from other Black women whose relational identity was learned from their mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and stylists. Now I use hair to pass this connectedness down to my daughter.

My motto: hair is an accessory, needs to have meaning for her, so I show how resilient and versatile Black hair is by coloring mine pink, lavender, brown, cinnamon, blonde, and platinum blonde. I even surprised myself in January and let my niece braid my hair. The style, individual braids with an ombre shade of brown to blonde, took too many hours, and reminded me why I hadn’t worn braids in almost 30 years. But it was time well spent. The act of sitting, conversing, and sharing space with my niece and daughter united us. Immediately, I sensed a broader sense of pride in my daughter. Now, she knows what I know: our hair, regardless of its style or texture, is our crown and glory.