Last week we were all captivated by the images in the Atlanta Journal Constitution of a white dad — Clifton Green — who learned to take care of his adopted Ethiopian daughter’s hair. (Click this link for the AJC slideshow: http://projects.ajc.com/gallery/view/living/braids/) I was so amazed that I tracked Clifton down and asked if he would do a BGLH interview. He agreed! Clifton is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has shared his personal photos of him and his daughter, Miriam. He did all the styles you see on his baby girl!
Clifton: Let me first speak as a white adoptive parent of a black child. We know that love alone is not enough to raise our daughter. She will have experiences as a black person that we can’t relate to as white parents, and we need to reach out to the black community to help us raise our daughter into a woman that is proud of her culture and heritage. We live in Atlanta, and we have black friends in our lives and go to a church that is roughly half black, but we didn’t anticipate the support we’ve received from the online community. It’s been really nice.
BGLH: First off, we thought it was cute that you were using a fork. I’m assuming it doubled as a comb?
Clifton: I used to use a fork to make Miriam’s parts. The rat tail comb I had at first wasn’t very pointy and I was more happy with the fork. I thought it made nice, sharp parts. I have a better rat tail comb now and I’ve gotten used to it so I’ve done away with the fork.
BGLH: How often do you do your daughter’s hair? And how long does it take?
Clifton: On average we wash her hair every 10 days, but sometimes it’s once a week or every two weeks depending on what we’ve done that week (like playing in the pool or the sand box). I often re-do the braids or twists during the week depending on how they’re looking (smaller braids last longer) .
BGLH: Where/how did you learn how to take care of her hair? Why did you learn to take care of her hair?
Clifton: We’ve always had black babysitters, and I loved it when Miriam’s hair started getting long enough for our babysitter to braid or twist (Miriam came home at 1 year old with very little hair). Our babysitter moved away and our new sitter wasn’t comfortable doing hair, and I missed how nice Miriam’s hair looked. My wife and I started doing it but gradually over time it became my thing, at least partially because we also had a baby boy that my wife was breastfeeding. We learned from books like “It’s All Good Hair,” from other moms, and of course practice which I’m still doing. Our goal has always been to help her fit in among other black girls and to feel good about her hair. I’m not an expert, and we’re always open to advice and suggestions :)
BGLH: Emotionally, how was the process of learning to take care of her hair? Was it ever frustrating or discouraged? Or was it a joy?
Clifton: Learning about hair care and styles has been a joy. Sometimes the doing can be frustrating :) I would say the worst has been my attempt at cornrows. They look like they’re two weeks old as soon as I do them, and when I spend an hour or longer on her hair I want it to look perfect. So I haven’t tried them for awhile.
BGLH: If you could describe your daughters afro textured hair in three words, what would they be?
Clifton: Curly, coily, bouncy.
BGLH: I’m assuming you’ve been around caucasian hair all your life. This may be a kind of silly question, but what to you, is the most striking difference between the texture of your daughters hair, and the hair you were used to?
Clifton: I would say perhaps the most striking difference is how dry her hair can get. In my experience, white people’s hair tends to get oily between washings; with Miriam her hair dries out instead.
BGLH: Do you find anything uniquely beautiful about afro-textured hair?
Clifton: My favorite is the way it looks with two strand twists. It seems uniquely black and beautiful to me.
BGLH: Do you think the care you take in nurturing your daughter’s hair is having an effect on her self image? If so, in what way?
Clifton: Miriam is 5. Right now I think we’re laying the groundwork for when she’s older and starts to think about her identity as a woman of color and what that means.
BGLH: And finally, I saw you have a young son. What does he think of his big sister’s hair :)
Clifton: Our non-adopted son is 4, and although we have discussions about skin color (they refer to it as brown skin and yellow skin), we haven’t talked much hair specifically. Although he says it’s beautiful sometimes, right now I would say he loves Miriam’s hair mainly because he gets to watch TV when I fix it. He also likes for Miriam to fix his hair with her barrettes and hair balls, and he’ll sit still to let her do that. Our 2 year old son also enjoys Miriam’s hair stylings. We’re on the wait list to adopt again from Ethiopia (another girl). So I’ll have more chances to practice my skills, and hopefully the girls can appreciate each others hair and practice styling on each other as they grow up.