Dear People Who Have, or May, Come Into Contact with My Daughter,
Thank you so much for your interest in my daughter’s hair. Yes, it is beautiful, and we both appreciate your compliments. Yes, she’s very patient and has no problem sitting to have her hair done. She’s been getting her hair done since she was very small and knows of nothing else; her hair regime is a fact of life, and she doesn’t see it as the burden that you do. Nor do I.
While asking me about my daughter’s hair, please do not start touching it. Just because I am a vanilla parent, this does not mean that you have an “in” to touch chocolate hair for the first time. I have had too many people tell me, “Oooh, I’ve always wondered what their hair felt like,” while pawing my daughter. She’s not an animal, she’s a human being.
We teach our children that strangers touching them in inappropriate ways is wrong and that they should tell an adult immediately. In our opinion, anytime a child is touched by anyone who feels that they have a right to do so, against the child’s wishes and without the child’s permission, it is inappropriate.
You see, every chocolate/jam/cheetos handprint on her hair from other children and/or adults is a mark on her dignity. She is small, but she does have personal space and a sense of self-worth. When you invade that space without her permission, you are telling her that she has no rights to her body; that her desire to be left untouched is not as important as your curiosity.
Even if your hands are clean, they still leave an invisible mark.
If you are sweet and kind enough to ask my daughter ahead of time if you can touch her hair, please do not be offended if she says, “No.” She is not being rude. She has no obligation to give the answer that you want. Her body is her own and, if she does not want to share it with you at that moment, then please respect her rights. Don’t tell me that she’s being “disobedient” or “rude”, or huff and walk away. In doing so, you are indirectly communicating that she owes you a piece of herself for no other reason than because you asked. She does not.
No, I do not do unique hairstyles for my daughter to attract your attention. I do them for her, to help foster a loving relationship with her natural hair so that she will grow up loving how God made her, hopefully minimizing any desire to alter herself to match someone else’s standard of beauty. Do not tell me that if I didn’t want her touched that I shouldn’t be doing all these hairstyles that say “Look at me; Touch me.” Do not blame the victim for your indiscretion or lack of self-control.
If you are a teacher, please note that the first day of school is often very intimidating and making a really big deal about hair – on that day, or any day – while inviting other teachers and/or parents to come over to touch and finger through a child’s head of hair, can be extremely overwhelming. Yes, she may be one of the few chocolate children at your school, but drawing so much attention to her will only highlight how different she is. Although I can address the issue with you while I’m present, I put my trust in you that you will protect my daughter throughout the day. Allowing classmates to put their hands in her hair or play with her beads is not only distracting to the class, it is also akin to hitting. It is a violation of my daughter’s person, and I have to believe that you will do your best to keep this from happening. Just because it might not physically hurt her, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt her character.
I remember back in the days of being pregnant and how it used to bother me when strangers would come and touch my belly without my permission. I know that people struggle with holding back when their curiosity gets the best of them, but nevertheless it seemed only right to me that someone should ask before placing their hand(s) on my stomach.
But I am an adult. I have already formed my identity and self-worth and can hopefully express my discontent in constructive ways. Children are still learning about themselves in the world. They are not as certain of themselves, and if you cross a line they will often question the line, not you.
In conclusion, I pray that this letter is well-received, that those who may have done this in the past feel convicted and think twice before doing it again. For those who have never experienced chocolate hair, may it be a helpful insight into our beautiful world. For people who have recently welcomed a child with chocolate hair for the first time into your extended family, may you respect the child’s personal space and be kind and gentle with your questions and curiosities. For all, please remember that you are helping to shape the character of the adults of tomorrow; if we cannot respect the bodies of our children today, how can we expect them to respect themselves in the future?
Rory Hadley and her husband are adoptive parents to Zoe, who joined their family in 2007. As Zoe continued to grow, Rory realized that maintenance for her daughter’s hair was a challenge, which is why she started a blog called Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care. The site is geared toward adoptive/foster parents who are a different ethnicity than their African-American adopted child. See chocolatehairvanillacare.com.
Reprinted with permission from Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.