Hair

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Mixed race couples belong to a club for which there is no application or official process of belonging. Like expats, who often nod or smile at each other in knowing recognition when they see another one of “their kind” on the subway, mixed race couples have non-verbal communicative exchanges when they see each other on the street; a gaze that says something like “Yeah, we know what it’s like to go to a Waffle House in north Georgia at 2 AM and hear something stupid like, Y’all know you gotta pay, right?'”

That kind of thing.

When mixed race couples have kids, their membership goes platinum. Or something. Suddenly, there are all sorts of things you have to deal with that your respective racial identities don’t quite prepare you for. Things like: What is your child’s “official” race? and How do you deal with their hair?

It’s the latter issue that has prompted me, in a way that is admittedly socially inappropriate at times, to have what I like to call “connective outbursts” on the street recently. When I see mixed race couples with kids, I’ve wanted to take our non-verbal exchange and make it verbal, and I’ve pounced upon parents, sometimes quite literally, to ask them how, exactly, they manage their kids’ hair. Because membership in this club is transacted through non-verbal exchanges, the majority of folks are taken aback and they hurry away before giving me any good intel.

We went for a walk a few nights ago and happened to see two young women–twin sisters, maybe?– who were clearly biracial and who had hair like Mariel’s, which is to say, soft and curly on the top, sides, and back, and wiry in the middle. Francisco nudged me, “Go ask them, go ask them!” I hesitated for a moment; they were eating arepas at a cafe and I didn’t want to intrude, but their hair was beautiful and “managed” and what if this was my only chance for some decent intel?

I made my approach. We exchanged “the look.” And then we all started laughing. Five minutes later, I walked away with a book recommendation (“Curly Girl, it changed our lives,” one sister said) and product suggestions (“Stop shampooing. Period. Use Mixed Chicks instead.”).

We’ll keep you posted about how it all turns out.

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3 responses »

  1. Ha–I’ve known more than one person who says “Curly Girl” changed her life! Hope it works for Mariel.

    It’s funny, I think Ibis and I both on some level long for that “why hello fellow mixed-race-couple” recognition–but here because it’s so tied up in the whole expat hierarchy (“i’m sooo much more down with mexican culture than you are that i won’t even acknowledge that we are obviously in similar life situations and probably have a lot in common.”) it’s hard to find people who are even willing to give you that knowing smile. And the confusing fact that our kid doesn’t “look” mixed. He looks white. So we get more hmmmm-what’s-going-on-here looks that anything else. Maybe we should move to New York.

  2. Loved this post! Will remember to check back once Urb and I have one of ours. It has been one of my biggest concerns. I can’t even manage my own natural afro (hence the braids), talk least of more delicate mixed hair.

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