Hair As Identity Menu


Beach bonding and interracial friendship Part 2

Photo by Hamed Masoumi / Image found at:

This past weekend, my daughter and I had some fabulous bonding time at the beach. Plus, I was happy to see my daughter making a new friend at the beach. As I mentioned in my last blog (, all was going well until my daughter’s new friend whispered, “Are you black?” We addressed that and I thought the conversation between the two of them would return to sea snails, sand and cartwheels. Not quite.

My daughter recently got beautiful cornrows in her hair and I put them into a little bun in order to protect them at the beach. Like most girls, my daughter loves to play in hair patting her bun, taking the bun down and putting it back up again. My daughter was in the process of taking down her bun at the beach when her new friend, within earshot of my daughter, leaned in and said to me, “Her hair is really, REALLY short”. Oh my goodness. I tried my best not to grit on the little girl (sorry, that is IN there and I had to work to suppress it) and said, “Actually, her hair is quite long and very, very curly.” I hate the fact that I felt compelled to add in the fact that my daughter’s hair is long. Ugh, there I go again falling into the myth that length is a proxy for beauty ( But, it’s true. My daughter has a head full of long, thick, kinky hair and I bristled when the little girl referred to it as “really, really short”. Images of pickaninnies and headscarfed mamies floated through my head. Gosh, this stuff is potent.

I think that the two incidents (asking if my daughter was Black and then stating that her hair was really, really short) compounded and made racial identity highly salient to me. However, I might have responded differently if my daughter hadn’t been there. I might have asked questions rather than making comments. However, my own internal issues coupled with my protective Mommy nature kicked in and I felt that I needed to defend my daughter. How would you all have handled this?

  • bliv

    I can totally understand the protective instinct! But I also feel for the other little girl being totally baffled by a new experience. You can pretty much picture what her community looks like, can't you? Sad.I remember when I first learned about race as a little girl–I remember asking that same question almost of my older brother's best friend, William: Why do they call you black? You don't look black? I was lucky that their reaction was laughter and an explanation that made it clear that it was a label and not a descriptor, etc. I can imagine that your daughter's friend has been socialized much like your daughter has (unfortunately)–that long, sleek hair is "ideal". When a mother at the church I went to as a child cut her daughter's hair really short to match her own, all the little girls were shocked because they didn't want anyone to TOUCH their hair length. Had to be like Barbie's hair. Long and straight. Unless you put curls into it. All about control. No matter that it was absolutely adorable to see the short hair cuts on little ones. 🙂 I think it's sad that we still have this strange "samson-like" affection for long hair on women as if it's a mark of femininity. Anyhow, kudos for documenting these encounters. Very interesting. 🙂

  • topie

    Hi there Bliv! Yes, I think I messed up on this one. While I calmed myself, I did respond out of emotion a bit. Thank you so much for talking about your experience with your brother's best friend. Yes, it is good that that they responded with laughter. Question for you, is there ever a time when laughter is NOT an appropriate response? When might other responses (what could they be) be more appropriate? I think I get fatigued when I think that I should laugh in situations where I feel like people should really REALLY know better (especially in work settings). In fact, it seems like the flubs, goofs, insensitive comments are often coming from majority group members rather than the other way around. I guess I just want folks to take sensitivity training so that I don't have to bear the brunt of their curiosity, ignorance, etc. But, when dealing with children laughter probably is the best policy. You raise a great point about socialized ideals. I do think that my husband and I are raising our daughter to realize that her kinky, coily hair is absolutely gorgeous and brilliant in its ability to be styled in a million ways. However, it's inevitable that she also receive messaging about straight "sleek" hair. also love your thoughts about "Samson-like" affection for long hair on women as a mark of femininity. Such a great point! Please come back and comment often. Love your perspective. Thanks!

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