June 14, 2007 by multiracialsky
Hair is a race issue. I’m not talking about the unique care and styles for people with kinky or curly hair. I’m talking about how society identifies a person by their hair. I am talking about the intrusive and rude questions some people ask about one of my daughters because her hair-texture and her heritage do not match up in their minds. I am talking about people’s willingness to accept my Cherokee heritage because I have long, thick, straight, dark hair.
My children have hair color ranging from blonde to almost black, hair texture ranging from super-curls to wavy to poker-straight. After the internal processing of a person’s skin-color (a whole encyclopedia of posts awaits there) comes the analysis of a person’s hair. Many people use visuals alone to assign someone a racial category; multiracial people often baffle these categorizers.
Genetics function in many a strange way. I know children who are a quarter Filipino (and three-quarters White) who appear completely White, and children who are a quarter Korean (and three-quarters White) who appear completely Asian. I have worked hard with my kids to drill home the point that you cannot know a person’s full heritage from looking at them. Luckily, we currently know many multiracial kids (outside of our family) whose ancestry defies how society would classify them.
My kids pour over the liner notes of Ben Harper‘s albums not only because he’s my favorite musician, but also because he has African American, Native American, and European American heritage. The anomaly in our family is Daddy, who only has one kind of racial heritage (“Pee-in American” as my son used to say, with a giggle).
I’ve found that many of my favorite contemporary musicians happen to be multiracial: Lenny Kravitz, Nick Ogawa, Laura Love, Jimi Hendrix (I know, Jimi’s not exactly contemporary). Each of their CDs brings photos of creative and successful multiracial adults into our home, and fills our ears with the beautiful and powerful voices of people who have walked some of the paths in front of my multiracial children.
Rico revels in seeing other boys and men with long hair, whether it’s in the CD liner notes, at the skate park, or on a Traveling Wilburys video his dad showed him on YouTube. A young biracial male friend with thick cornrows braided past his shoulders is someone Rico hopes to emulate. (He is also hoping for a tall green mohawk this summer–we’ll see.)
On the days all four of my children insist on the same hairstyle, I love that it turns out so different on each of their heads. Rocket hair (coined by Rico) is a current favorite, involving one pontail in the front and two on the sides–a pilot’s seat and two wings.
I cannot control how society views my children, what racial box a stranger puts my child in after assessing their skin-color, hair-texture, hairstyle, and countless other intangibles. What I can do is help my children understand that, just as people won’t necessarily know about Gretel’s Cherokee heritage or Jaja’s African American heritage just from looking at them, neither can my children know a person’s heritage (or much else about them) without even saying hello.