A Conversation about Hair

So Mom and I play Mah Jong at a café in downtown Portland. It’s kind of on the edge of a fringy area and the clientele run the gamut from homeless folks, to hipsters, to young families. Frankly it’s not my most favorite place in the city. Mostly because it’s a bit loud and the bathrooms really do smell like crack cocaine (years of living in New York have helped me identify this smell. Trust me I know what crack smells like). We play with a very weird crowd. Some of these have become my favorite people in Portland. Some haven’t.  I was playing Maj with someone who is in the “not my favorite category” when a woman walked in with a giant head of dreadlocks. She was a kind of grungy looking white chick.

This is where I digress and talk ad nauseum about how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE locks. I am a white girl with lock-envy. Everybody who knows me knows this. I think they are beautiful! Beautiful. I would have dreads but frankly they wouldn’t work on me. My hair is crazy super fine and I might be able to muster up one single lock- and that would not work. Also you know how parents have these little fantasies about what their kid will look like and how they will dress? They think “I can’t wait to dress them up in little dresses” or to wear their favorite sport teams t-shirt. Mine mostly involves little kids with locks (of coarse at an appropriate age).

SO back to the story- this woman (again not my fav) started bitching about this woman’s locks. She was kind of going on and on and on about how she really hates them on everybody (not just the grungy girls). Her rant was making the table increasingly uncomfortable, because it had a bit of a racist bent. That’s when I thought to myself “how the hell do I make this woman Shut the Hell UP?!?” Also, she has no idea that we are in the process of adopting a kid from Ethiopia. I tell everybody these days-but I don’t think she knows. If she did she may have been more sensitive (or not).

For those of you who don’t know me- I am loud and bossy (but also pretty nice). This is how I reacted—I basically talked over her and said “oh my gawd you are SO wrong. I LOVE locks. I talked at length about how much I love them, bla bla bla. (with a giant smile on my face). then finally said I CAN”T WAIT to lock my kids hair…when they come home from Ethiopia!  The woman looked at me- seriously mouth agape. HA HA I shut her up in the nicest possible way.

It was a good test for me. I know I am going to have a ton of these kinds of conversations. My goal isn’t to show anger, because I would hate for my future child to misinterpret that, as he/she is the cause of that anger. My goal is to deal with it using humor and a smile.

Portland really is one of the least ethnically diverse places I have lived (other than maybe the town I grew up in and left as soon as I could). Consequently people can assume that it’s “okay” to make these little comments. It’s a nudge nudge wink wink kind of thing. I have always bristled against it. Portland’s lack of diversity really drives me fucking crazy. That and its totally overzealous arcane recycling rules are the two things that have made me not feel a little uneasy here. Really it’s the lack of diversity. The arcane recycling rules are just annoying.

My reaction to this woman’s comments would have been the same whether or not we were adopting from Ethiopia. Which to me, made me feel really good. I didn’t over react or under react. I was just a good way for me to test my reaction to these things. I would love to hear from other transracial families on how they react to ignorant comments from strangers!


4 thoughts on “A Conversation about Hair

  1. We haven’t gotten any ignorant racial comments from adult strangers (besides the usual incorrect adoptive language like where is his “real” mom, and “he is so lucky”, but no racial comments).

    But, we have gotten some racial comments from children, which I find easier in some ways because they just are innocently curious, but also harder because they had to learn their ideas from somewhere. Things like “why is so black”, “what happened to his skin”, “you can’t really be his Mom, white people can’t be in the same family as black people” and so on… It is so hard to respond to in a way thay is gentle, educates, but also let them know what they said is not ok.

    (We have learned not to call the dreads, but locks. Dreads offends some people who are not rasta)

  2. AHHH Locks instead of Dreads. Got it. See sometimes Adoptive parents are even kinda dumb! Thanks so much for the feedback. We are hopping to be in Durham in July- would love to meet you and your family!

  3. You know I have no experience the the Racist side of this story. But bigots are bigots and i do live in the DEEP south. When Noah was young I would get asked all the time if he was adopted or if I would a Manny b/c he was SOOO white compared to my Dark Olive.

    But the thing that has really Tweaked me lately is the other parents at Baseball and bowling that will not Let there Kids hang out with my kids because I’m covered in tattoos and have half inch holes in my ears.

    Last night I sat at the bowling alley and listen to two moms discuss what kind of parents Noah must have to let him have a mohawk. At which point I leaned over and explained that we are very loving parents that are actually pretty conservative. That I let my kids experiment with things like there hair cut and color. So that maybe that won’t feel the need to experiment with anything stronger.

    I know that this is now where near the comments that trans-racial families face.

    But I just wanted the know that Bigots are Bigots and they are everywhere. We as Parents just need to teach our children to Love everyone they meet just because they are human. Not to play attention to Race or Religion or class or anything. My children are not raised being taught the differences in the world around them but the similarities. We are all one. We interact with each other. Everything we do has a ripple effect and touches others so we have to be careful that what we are doing is the right thing. We have to make sure that what we put out there is POSITIVE. It matters because we are all connected.

    I felt that by teaching my children religion I would have been teaching them separatism. Like when one teaches them about race. Then their human mentality is one of superiority and they believe their race is the superior race, their religion is the better religion. NONSENSE, all of it. It does not pull us closer together as people, it pushes us further apart, it builds up walls of division and misunderstanding.

    It may sound arrogant, but sometimes I just wish more parents would raise their children the way I raise mine. No racial issues and no religion, just GOOD human beings. But there is a whole world out there. And it is filled with ignorance and there is nothing I can do about it but Teach My kids to be Good People.

    I think one of the best things I did was let Noah spent time in Brooklyn with you guys when he was young. He was opened up to a very ethnically diverse world before leaving your apartment. You two have help to teach my kids these lessons by teaching Noah and him passing it along to his brother and sister.

    I don’t know if this made any sense I have been typing this on and off for the last hour but I love you guys.

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