How to Braid Blond Hair

I wrote the following as a guest post for another blog several months ago. It was never published there, so I wanted to share it here instead.


Before our kids came to live with us, they were raised by a wonderful foster family. At the time, my daughter had very long hair and her foster sister would spend hours braiding it. I don’t mean one long braid in the back. I mean many, many small braids all over her head. I’m ashamed to say it made me a little uncomfortable. It didn’t seem right with blond hair.

The kids would spend the night with us every weekend and every weekend I would take out the braids with the explanation that she needed to wash her hair. I knew I was ruining her foster sister’s hard work and I felt bad about it – but only a little.

That was in 2009. In 2012, my daughter started second grade in Detroit Public Schools. And many of her classmates wear their hair in braids and beads. This time, I wasn’t intimidated; possibly because I felt more secure in my role as her mother, more confident in our attachment as a family. So when she asked for braids, we went for it.

Our first stop was at a beauty supply shop. I felt a little embarrassed because I had no idea what to buy. I’ve always been good at self-deprecation, and this time I used it to my full advantage. Thankfully, the cashier was completely understanding and very helpful. She showed us all of our options and gave us recommendations. We left with two containers of beads (pink and purple of course) and a box of black rubber bands.

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When my daughter went to school with her hair beaded and braided the next day, her friend’s mom said happily, “she finally got the braids! She’s been talking about that for a while.”

I don’t have the patience to braid her whole hair; I usually do between 8 and 20 braids at a time. My biggest challenge has been the threader. Even after our neighbor showed us how to use it, I still haven’t been able to get it right.

My daughter’s biggest challenge is the texture of her hair. Stray pieces stick out through the rubber bands and the braids get messy very quickly because her hair is so smooth. She’s probably one of only a handful of blond-haired girls who’s wished for coarser hair.

We’ve received many positive comments at her school about the braids and beads. In fact, we receive positive comments almost everywhere, even in church, where these kinds of braids are rare.

What I’m curious about is how long the hairstyle will remain cute. I assume that by the time she’s a teenager, people won’t be as accepting. Perhaps it’s cute now because she’s a child and can be “forgiven” for “not knowing better.”

When I was in junior high in the 1990s, we had a derogatory term for someone who accepted styles like this. Typically we used it for boys who wore their pants low. I don’t think anyone will call my daughter names when she’s older, but I’m certain that people are still not completely comfortable with unexpected styles like her.

I started thinking a lot about this again when I came across an article titled, “White Women With Black Hairstyles Redefine Corporate America” that appeared in the Huffington Post. For me, the title is misleading. Unfortunately, white women really aren’t redefining corporate American by wearing black hairstyles. Instead, the article is really about an artist who photographed a number of white women wearing suits and “black” hairstyles.

“Yet the most compelling aspect of the photos is not necessarily the physical discrepancy between a white woman and her black hair, but all of the complex histories, assumptions, silences and transformations that make such a discrepancy so apparent to the viewer,” the author wrote.

Right now, I’m living with a white girl and her “black” hair, but I have a long way to go before I understand all of the complexities and assumptions that may confront her as she gets older.

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Why My Kids Go to a Primarily Black School

I love this explanation of a parent’s “unlikely” school choice. It’s exactly the way I feel about my kids’ school.

Ashleigh Carroll

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Most people know that our kids go to Downtown Elementary, which is a public school here in Memphis that happens to have mostly black students enrolled. This is not an accident.

My journey started when John suggested we submit an application for Jac to go to Perea Preschool, which is a predominantly black preschool that serves mostly those beneath the poverty line. Though we lived in an urban community, I was cautious about sending my tiny white 3 year old to a school where almost no one looked like him. So we visited the school to scope out the situation and I was incredibly impressed by the curriculum, staff, and mission of Perea. It seemed silly to pass up this kind of opportunity to we packed up our preschooler with his tiny unnecessary backpack and gave it a shot.

And here’s what I learned almost immediately – Jac didn’t care…

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Love in the D

J and I got married in 2005 in the Detroit suburbs. At that time, I hardly had any experience with Detroit. I had rarely been there and couldn’t find my way around at all. We had a perfect wedding and I wouldn’t change anything, but now that I know Detroit much better, I’ve discovered that there are so many wonderful wedding options here. So, I was excited when I had the opportunity to write for Love in the D, a blog focused on local and socially conscious weddings.  If you’re planning to get married in the city, this blog is a great resource, featuring wedding venues, caterers, and info on real Detroit weddings. Be sure to check out my guest post on Love in the D with details on weddings at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

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Photo from our suburban wedding in 2005

The unrealized dream

Thanks to their teachers, both of my kids are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr, what he worked for, and the things he said. A few days ago, BE told us that Dr. King’s dream had come true based on this part of his “I Have a Dream” speech:

“… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

BE reasoned that because she held hands with one of her friends at school, that the dream has been realized.

J and I explained this is an important step, but that we’re not there yet. J pointed out some evidence of the problem that she could relate to. It’s a fact that in her current school, there are very not many caucasians. And, in her previous school, there were even fewer African Americans. I know J and I would both like to see an end to the voluntary segregation that we’ve put upon ourselves. And, I’d love for the kids to have this same vision – and to be part of the solution.

Why school diversity is important

As Detroit Public School (DPS) students, my kids are a racial minority. However, DPS does have more diversity than most people realize, making it about as racially diverse as the surrounding suburbs. However, my kids’ school (and I suspect other DPS schools as well) have an upper hand when it comes to socioeconomic diversity.

In my opinion, this type of diversity is just as valuable as racial diversity, and is non-existent in many schools. I recently read a USA Today article about this issue.

Here’s an excerpt explaining why (in the author’s opinion), socioeconomic integration is important. I would also argue that diversity of any type improves learning.

“Education researchers know that one of the best ways to improve public schools is through socioeconomic integration. It isn’t just a matter of pooling economic resources, it’s about sharing human capital. When advantaged families attend public schools, parents with influence gain a greater sense of urgency about improving things. Their own children’s learning is at stake. When problems arise, they get involved and make sure problems are fixed.”

I do have an issue with the above statement,  because it implies that economically disadvantaged families care less about their children’s education. However, it does reflect the unfortunate reality that people with more money have more power.

According to the author, integration will happen once parents change how they make decisions about schools (although I would argue, the problem and solution are much more nuanced in Detroit, and perhaps everywhere).

“Most parents don’t look up schools’ test scores and staff profiles. Instead, they focus on perceived class and racial composition, as Jennifer Holme described in Harvard Educational Review and Kimberly Goyette corroborated in Social Problems. Parents put much weight on their peers’ decisions, so it’s necessary to create a critical mass of families committed to integration.”

My question is, how do we create this critical mass the author suggests? In part, it involves overcoming prejudices, which is not an easy feat. If you have an idea, please let me know!

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Diversity in Detroit

I won’t pretend that Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are diverse, although they’re just about as diverse as most of the suburban schools. It seems to me that there is a general, unspoken agreement about which of the two is better, but that’s a complicated topic for another post (if I’m ever brave enough to tackle it).

I was recently talking to an acquaintance, and it was clear that he assumed that BE and BC are the only two of their kind (or any kind other than African American) in their school. I explained that yes, the largest population in their school is African American. But, there is also a sizable Bengali population, as well as Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasians. The DPS Web site says this about its student population: “We also serve more than 7,100 students, speaking 44 different languages in schools throughout the district, to learn the English Language and American Culture while mastering core subject areas.”

I certainly would like to see more diversity in Detroit schools, but at this point, I’m also happy that my kids are experiencing more diversity than they likely would in surrounding cities. And, I won’t automatically assume that their minority position is altogether negative. In addition, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of socioeconomic diversity, which is present in their school, and is just as important as racial diversity. I’m planning a separate post on socioeconomic diversity in the near future.

For the Caucasian readers: have you ever found yourself in a “minority” position. If so, what was your experience?