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African mother braiding daughter's hair

Source: ERproductions Ltd / Getty

Much of Black Twitter was rocked recently when a random man, who I do not care to identify here by name or image, posted a picture of his adorable toddler and complained about the state of her hair. On my timeline, I saw much discussion of the picture and his original tweet before laying eyes on them myself, and I was quite surprised when I finally did.

The father’s complaint was that he pays child support, apparently in an amount that he feels justified in bragging about, so he’s upset that when he picks his daughter up from her mother’s home for a visit, her hair isn’t “done.” What I saw in the picture he posted was an adorable little Black girl of about two years old, with a highly huggable and cherubic face. Two things happened for me immediately: I wanted to protect her from the gaze of strangers (like myself), and I thought her hair looked fine.

Were a few hairs rebelliously straying from their intended direction? Sure. I find it abhorrent to lay a precious baby out for the world to see and have any part of her, especially her hair since she’s Black, parsed and picked over for negative evaluation, so in the interest of addressing her father’s claim, I’ll simply say that it looked to me like someone had indeed “done” her hair at some point and she was a toddler doing toddler things, and stray hairs happen.

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In discussions of children and how parents treat them, I am always careful to state upfront that I am not (yet) a mommy, but I’m the proud Auntie of three little girls, and I also spent time while in college working as a nanny. My maternal instinct is strong like a bull and although I know my experiences do not constitute actual parenthood, I’ve done 3AM feedings and changed the diaper of a toddler in motion and negotiated with a tiny human who wouldn’t stop crying for the luxury of running to take a quick pee.

I can, however, identify highly in this instance from the perspective of the child. My hair was often not “done.” My mother had significant mental illness and was hospitalized frequently during my childhood, and what was happening on my head was a sort of free-for-all. Prior to my parents’ divorce when I was 7, my father tried when he was around, and at times when my younger brother and I had a babysitter or my godmother took care of me, someone would “do” my hair, and then I would unintentionally undo it in the course of being a child.

When my mother was around and lucid, she embodied the bougie white supremacy and narcissism of so many not-woke Black women, refusing to let anyone braid my hair (she didn’t know how to braid), which seemed to be the only way my hair “stayed” for any length of time, and which I also found comfortable. My hair was braided (by a caretaker) a few times, but my mother found cornrows as disdainful as anything else that might have honored our heritage, unfortunate manifestations of racial self-loathing that I had to work very hard to not inherit from her.

Because of the turmoil of my childhood, I don’t have many pictures of myself then, but in the ones that I do have, my hair is, suffice it to say, a mess. I remember random church visits or holidays when I would hear older Black women, family members and strangers alike, joining in refrains of such a sweet child but why won’t someone comb her hair and the like. I didn’t internalize it that much at first; quite honestly my childhood was such a wreck that my hair was often the last thing on my mind. Still, it was made clear to me early on that the older Black women I encountered didn’t approve of the way my hair looked.

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We always have to look “presentable,” don’t we? It so often seems that other women can roll out of bed and present themselves to the world as-is, while we’re going above and beyond to simply not be insulted on social media or overly scrutinized in the workplace. I don’t begrudge anyone their styling, and certainly when that “going above and beyond” is our choice, we are capable of monumental slayage, which OF COURSE I applaud. But, as Black women, the pressure to be “put-together,” along with disproportionate consequences if we are not, plagues us long before it could ever be our individual choice.

Going back to the time of slavery, our skin color and hair texture could determine the entire course of one’s life. Land at a certain spot on Massa’s scale and you could be ripped from your family to work in the Big House in an unbearably contradictory message of being deemed somehow better than your peers but still far less than a person.

Obviously, the denigration of any parts of our beauty that harkened back to African roots is another conversation on its own, but this idea of having to look acceptable, especially our hair, is foisted upon little Black girls’ delicate shoulders practically at birth. And yes, we can have delicate shoulders as well, despite popular notions to the contrary. We deserve the freedom of carefree childhood. Our hair is overly politicized, our bodies are read as stronger sooner, we’re sexualized earlier, and it might be too late for me, but I’ll be damned if I don’t speak up for little Black girls today.

Now that I’m an adult, when I hear the you need to comb that baby’s hair crew chiming in, I push back as best I can. Whether it’s using my voice in support of Blue Ivy Carter, a precious baby that I’ve never met and will go to the mat for anyway in the face of horrific insults and criticism from the most worthless of the internet’s denizens, or pulling someone’s MawMaw aside in the kitchen at Thanksgiving and respectfully explaining that we won’t be carrying forth the brand of oppression and self-loathing she endured and propagates here in the year of our Lord 2015.

Which brings me back to the father of the lovely little girl whose face I should never have seen on social media in that way. His supreme bitchassness was duly roasted in my digital sphere, but a quick peek into the underworld of his followers showed that he was getting just as many verbal high-fives and handshakes as he was admonishments.

Let me take this moment to remind you to mind the swiftness of social media. That clown has a relatively tiny following, but it took only a few clicks from a couple of prominent Black women, rightfully putting him in his place, for his baby’s deep brown eyes to be peering at far too many of us from our laptops, tablets, and smartphones. He might have thought he was posing his hypothetical question to his wack-ass crew, but he was actually very publicly shaming his daughter and also announcing his own ain’t-shit-ness.

Of course, he thinks he was insulting his baby’s mother, from whom he is obviously estranged, but I didn’t see that woman’s picture online. Not that that would have been acceptable, either.

This jackhole stayed in people’s mentions for a solid day, doubling down on his initial dick move by focusing on his alleged racks on racks and how the make and model of his car and rims somehow translate to him publicly shaming his baby girl.

When folks asked what he was doing about it; if he was so unhappy with her hair why didn’t he do it himself, he replied that he did, by taking her to the hairdresser. I guess he feels a toddler needs to be runway-ready to go to McDonald’s, where he had taken the picture of her. He aptly observed that in spending their visit at the hairdresser instead of, say, at the park, she loses out.

She does indeed lose out Sir, but not for the reason that you think. She loses because she has a father who would engage in such loser behavior as this.

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