Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Angelina, Zahara's Hair, and Transracial Adoption

A few years ago when actress Angelina Jolie announced she’d be adopting a 6-month-old girl from Africa, I had mixed emotions. I’ve always thought Jolie was one of the flyest chicks in the Hollywood game, but interracial adoptions can be a tricky thing no matter how fly you are.

I’d heard the horror stories around Hollywood about the adopted black children of white movie stars becoming incredibly confused about their backgrounds. For instance, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey a few years ago; Tom Cruise said his interracial son, Conner, was not a color, so the family didn’t discuss race.

Nice sentiment, but in the real world Conner is considered black. If not Cruise, then
someone else will point that reality out to Connor with little hesitation. This is one major reason there has been such a hot national debate over interracial adoptions. The fear is that non-African-American parents won’t be able to raise black children with an understanding of who they are and what that means in mainstream society. Such an understanding is just as imperative as shelter and food if the child is to survive and thrive.
Yikes! I'd missed that Tom Cruise quote at the time it was made, I guess. Anyone know what Oprah said to him in response? Hopefully something along the lines of "What a moron . . . ."
After a mild compliment that Jolie seemed to be doing OK as the parent of a transracially adopted child, the author chides Angelina Jolie for not "getting it" when it comes to her African-American daughter's hair:
In recent pictures it's clear Angelina Jolie hasn’t taken the time to learn or understand the long and painful history of African-American women and hair. If she had I can’t imagine she would continue to allow Zahara to look like she has in the past few months. Photos of Zahara show the 4-year-old girl sporting hair that is wild and unstyled, uncombed and dry. Basically: a “hot mess.’’
I don't want to minimize the difficulty faced by white parents of African-American children in the "hair wars." I can only imagine how it would feel to be under scrutiny for your hair choices in this way. But if the photo above, which ran with the story, is the evidence that Zahara is a "hot mess," then I'm not getting it, either! She looks cute as a button to me. And I prefer the natural look to a white parent telling her African-American child, "Don't you just love it when your hair is straight?!" (I also don't mind if the hair is ironed straight -- I just prefer the natural look to the message that there's something wrong that must be fixed in the hair she was born with).
And notice the little head to the left of Angelina -- isn't that Cambodian-born Maddox sporting platinum-blond streaks in his hair? Is that, too, a rejection of his race? It might be -- if he's told that only blond hair is pretty, or that there's something wrong with his hair when it's black.
(That train of thought reminds me of Zoe's preschool teacher, who was wonderful in all other ways but this one -- she kept trying to get Zoe to color with something other than a black crayon, because "black is such a sad color." What?! How can you look at a child with black hair and black eyes and tell her that black is a sad color?!)
And I have to confess -- among the three in the picture, Angelina Jolie looks to me to be the one most in need of a comb!


The Gang's Momma said...

Oh my word. While I completely understand author's point of connecting our children with their culture and honoring their heritage, I can't help but think how off base he or she is. I mean, the woman has a gazillion little ones whom she obviously loves and adores. Little ones who, in the far bigger picture, are being raised with attention, devotion, stability, and great love and affection. So they might be having a bad hair day. A bad hair season. Whatever. Cut them some slack. The media has too much time on its hands, that they pick pick pick at celebrities like this.

And that's from a patent NON fan of the whole Brangelina empire. . .

Elizabeth said...

Before I even read your post, when I saw the picture, I thought how cute Zahara's hair looked.

SB said...

Also, as many of us moms (and dads) know sometime our children "call the shots" when it comes to their hair or clothes. My daughter at 4 and 5 has had some very interesting clothing choices and hair requests or lack thereof.

I've even had my one child have me stop cutting his hair in the middle of a cut cause he couldn't sit still anymore. He looked pretty "uneven" for a few hours until I managed to get him back in the chair to finish it.

There are so many days I'm thankful we're not being photographed with unmatched clothes, messy or crazy hair.

travelmom and more said...

I think the author needs to watch Chris Rock's new movie "Hair" which is about the trials of black hair and identity associated with AA hair.

Love for Lilly Yin said...

Please, please, please....some days the kids hair does not get "fixed" who cares...If they followed me with a camera, they would really get an article...haha. Just the other day I went to the grocery store in P.J. pants. The bad thing is I didn't even realize until I was IN the store!

Wendy said...

I know this discussion took place on ARP awhile back. There is obviously more than one opinion about Black hair and its care, and as a white woman I have no say in the matter. I did want to mention there is a great documentary that just came out by Chris Rock "Good Hair"--it is important for all of us to know the political, social, and historical pressures placed on Black women (and men) and the manifestation of those pressures in their decisions about their hair. For those interested there are many scholarly articles on this, as well as books and interviews.

malinda said...

Yes, there is TONS of literature out there, as Wendy says. One of my African-American students did her paper in Women & the Law on hair, and titled it, "I'm Not Having a Bad Hair Day, I'm Having a Bad Hair Life." It was quite good!

Wendy said...

I had a student last semester who also wrote a paper on "good hair", it prompted a great discussion and further study for the rest of my students. A reason it is so important for non-Black parents to understand the issues surrounding their children of color's hair. Going natural or not is not just a matter of what is cute, it is a reflection of beliefs.

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