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Beach bonding and interracial friendship

My daughter and I had an AMAZING time at the beach: white sand, clear water, sand dunes. Wow, we had an absolute ball. All was going well. My daughter even met a few friends to play with at the beach. One of them, a little girl (can’t remember her name) was thrilled that my daughter is a cartwheel enthusiast and the two of them somersaulted down the beach. Under my watchful eye, they also cavorted in the water and were having a fabulous time. Until. Until.

The two girls were stomach down lying next to my beach blanket. My ears perked up when I heard the little girl whisper, “Are you black?” My daughter looked at her and said something like, “No, I’m brown. Does that look black to you?” holding up her arm for review. The other little girl looked baffled. Her tone of voice had sounded like she’d come upon some great secret, this brown little girl next to her was an alien! But wait, if she’s not black, is she really an alien? Her face looked dejected.

Some of you may wonder why we train our children to say that they’re brown. Of course, we are also very proud and knowledgeable of our Black heritage, exposing our children to history and current events as much as we can. However, we want our children to know: 1) that race is a social construct and 2) there are BILLIONS of brown people around the world and we are part of that Diaspora. I believe that people’s conception of race start in scenarios just like this one. I was grateful that my daughter understood that her skin does not define who she is. But wait, the day held one more surprise as the little girl turned to my daughter and made one more comment, this time about her hair.

P.S.: Here’s an interesting article I came across on interracial friendships by Nadra Kareem Nittle (8/7/10) on

Curious to know what you think about our beach experience and the article.

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White privilege and Black middle class norms by Stephanie Diane

Guest blogger Stephanie Diane

Today I have a special treat for you all! One of my goals with this blog is to develop a forum where women with different life experiences can discuss what hair means to them. Today, we have a guest writer who goes by Stephanie Diane when she writes online. Stephanie is as an African-American academic who lives, loves and travels in Europe. She calls the Washington, DC area home, but lived in the mid-Atlantic region, Northeast, Rockies and West Coast before moving abroad seven years ago. When choosing her next destination, the question “Where will I get my hair done?” is always at the top of the list. Stephanie wrote about her experience having natural hair:

Wearing tightly curled natural hair not only challenges European beauty norms, but it also violates middle class social norms among Black Americans. Historically, the middle class Black American formula for success has been academic and professional achievement plus light skin (or a light skinned spouse) and straight hair.

In a world where you can buy straight hair in a relaxer box or a bag of weave, my hair is a multi-vocal political statement. When it comes to my hair, I am tiptoeing around white privilege and class privilege. My education and job mean that I can be deviant without too many economic or social consequences. But I can also get away with a textured hairstyle in my highly skilled profession because my skin is light enough that I could pass for biracial, Latina or Middle Eastern.

In my late teens, I started figuring out what straightening my hair meant in racial and class terms. And because I ticked all the other good-bourgie-girl boxes (good grades, social grace and cross-cultural fluency), I wasn’t going to sacrifice my scalp to the cause too.

Wearing my afro says to everyone else, “No, really, I’m Black.” To the home team, it says “Thanks for the equal education and job opportunities. Now back off with the Jack and Jill. I got this.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Stephanie’s post. What do you think hair says about White privilege and Black middle class norms? Happy Monday!

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