Tag Archives: the talk

We Have a Problem: 7 Year Old Girl Sent Home by Racist School Policy

Two months ago 7 year old Tiana Parker was sent home from school because her hair cut was considered “distracting.” What was her haircut? Thin dreadlocks tied back in a bow. The Oklahoma public school that sent her home has a policy that says “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Really? Could they be any more blatantly racist? Afros are the natural style of many black women’s hair and you want to imply it’s distracting?

MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry decided to take up the cause on her show, especially after derogatory comments about black hair were made by “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood (a black female herself) earlier in the week. Melissa addresses her segment to young Tiana, affirming that the little girl has nothing to be ashamed of – that her hair is not distracting but an homage to black heritage. Melissa names off several influential black artists and musicians who have also rocked dreadlocks – from Bob Marley to Whoopi Goldberg and more recently Willow Smith. She applauds Tiana’s parents for withdrawing her from that school and placing her somewhere where her natural beauty – her black beauty – is embraced. We applaud them as well.

This issue hits particularly close to home. As a child of interracial marriage (my dad is black, my mom white) my hair was often an issue of contention. I was born with a full head of it. My mother’s family has thick hair, especially for Anglicans, which combined with the kinky curls of my dad’s DNA lead to this:

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That’s me on the left, age 4. Diana Ross ain’t got nothing on this, y’all.

It only got thicker and more out of control from there. I was 15 before we decided to try relaxing my hair. I grew up in the south so having my white mom take me to a black hair salon to get a perm was always a level of complicated that would take a text book to explain. It cost $150 and took three and a half hours (did I mention my hair is really thick?) of me sitting in a chair with my scalp feeling like it was literally on fire. That painful tingle was the feeling of some magical concoction burning the ethnicity out of my hair. That went on once every 3-6 months for 7 years.

Why? Because I never felt pretty with my hair natural. I often make the comparison that my hair without a straightener looks like someone shoved my fingers into an electrical socket. All of the popular girls at school at stick straight shiny hair that they could wear down any time they liked. All the lead characters on my favorite tv shows were the same way – even the black characters had their hair shiny and straight instead of natural. All the weather has to do is think about drizzling and my hair becomes a seeing hazard for anyone walking behind me. Like Tiana’s school is trying to preach – I felt like I was a distraction.  Even now I prefer my hair straight over curly (though to be honest, that also has a lot to do with the fact it’s cooler temperature wise if it’s not all bunched up on my head).

It’s because the message given to Tiana, and all other little girls attending that school, isn’t a new one. For generations little black girls, and minorities all over, have been under pressure to “white-ify” themselves to fit the beauty ideals we are bombarded with on a daily basis. From simple hair treatments like relaxers and extensions to the extreme of skin bleaching treatments. It’s often insidious – the fact we see so few black females rocking natural hairstyles in mainstream media. It’s a subliminal campaign. But this – Tiana’s case? There’s nothing undercover about it. We are telling girls in primary school that their natural beauty isn’t good enough, that it’s a distraction, that it’s ugly. And that’s a problem.

So take a second before you put on your make-up today. Look in the mirror, just look, before you style your hair. Tiana Parker isn’t a distraction. She’s beautiful. So are you, right now – naked and natural and flawless. Own that. You have to because there are a generation of girls growing up who are being told differently and we have to show them the truth. That job starts with us. Let’s do better than this.

Babies and Spoons: How I Was Coerced into the Talk by my Kids

«I love you, mom!»I had the talk with my little ones today. The conversation caught me off guard as we sat together on the couch playing Spoons, sharing a bowl of Pirate’s Booty. As the yellow puffs started running low, my youngest daughter, glancing sideways at my son, said, “Mommy, we should get more Pirate’s Booty than him because we’re girls. And girls need to eat more than boys so our bellies can grow big and turn into babies.”

I was momentarily stunned. Realizing this theory was something she had spent time hypothesizing, I stifled a giggle, “Oh, honey, women don’t have babies from eating too much food.”

My oldest girl piped in quickly and confidently, “No, we get babies by taking pills from the doctor.”

“Who told you that?” I spun around to look at her.

“Well, no one. When you were pregnant you had a big bottle of orange pills in your bathroom and you took one every day.”

“No, those were prenatal vitamins. I took them when I was pregnant to give my body extra energy while I was growing the baby.”

“Oh,” she said, looking perplexed. ”Wait. Where DO babies come from, Mommy?”

“Yah,” echoed my youngest. “Where?”

It took me a minute to gather my thoughts (and my courage). My children are 5, 7, and 9. I’m a true believer in answering their questions honestly. Life is wrought with unknowns — there’s no need to be evasive when they ask me what a tampon is or wonder when they’ll grow pubic hair. They’re asking about their own bodies after all, so I always tell them the truth. They have every right to be absolutely comfortable in their skin suits. Plus, dispelling mystery is part of my job as a parent.

I briefly considered shooing away my 5 year old boy. But if I excluded him, I’d be implying that conception is secretive. He might think that this type of questioning is dangerous.

I don’t want to close doors on my kids. I want them coming to me FIRST. With ANYTHING. If they are not comfortable coming to me, they will inevitably turn to the internet or to friends. And I know for sure that I can parent my children better than Bing! or some tween on the playground. So I stepped up and addressed all three of them together with honesty and *restraint* — because telling the truth doesn’t mean telling ALL.

We started by talking about Nat Geo and Animal Planet, two of our favorite family channels. The kids adore animal shows and are relatively familiar with mating rituals. I explained that the animals mate to create offspring. I told them that all mammals conceive the same way, and humans are also mammals. And ultimately, our primary human function, like all mammals, is to reproduce. All of our body parts have a certain purpose, like parts in a machine.  In order to make a baby, a man and a woman need to make those parts work together.

The girls followed attentively, locking on my eyes and nodding their heads as I spoke. The little guy began spinning the spoons lying on the game table, distracted.

I quizzed, “When you think of body parts on a man and a woman, which ones are different?”

“Boys have penises. Girls have van-ginas,” said my oldest proudly. The others agreed.

“Right. And inside the bodies, men have sperm and women have eggs. Once a month, a woman’s egg drops down and a man’s sperm has a chance to fertilize it.”

“But how does the sperm get to the egg?”

“It swims. It has a tiny tail and races with a million other sperm to see who can reach the egg first. The one who gets there first gets to become the baby.” Admittedly, I hoped that the kids would be satisfied with this and we could return to playing Spoons.

“Yah, but how does the sperm GET to the egg?” No such luck.

“Well, you said yourself that men have penises and girls have vaginas, right?”

Silence. Introspection. Reaction:

“WHAT?! Daddy put his penis inside your vagina?????”

I tried but failed to contain myself. We three girls started laughing. My boy, meanwhile, really had no idea why we were hooting. He probably wasn’t ready to hear it anyway, so it was all for the best. Even though he didn’t understand the content of the message, he could still benefit from the openness of our dialogue. He took what he wanted and focused the rest of his attention on twirling spoons.

The girls, however, pummeled me with questions — Did it hurt? Did hair get up there? Do I have to do that? Because I am NOT doing that. What about twins? Does that take two penises? 

I decided to steer clear of the words “sex” and “love.”  The word “sex” is polluted by pop music and I didn’t want to confuse them by introducing the word in this context. And “love,” while an important part of relationships, has nothing to do with reproduction.  They weren’t asking about relationships, they were asking about anatomy.  So that’s where I focused our conversation.  I explained to them that the woman has to have her period before her body is ready to make babies, and it’s best that she’s married and settled first, because every baby needs two loving parents and a stable, happy home.   The rest of the questions I answered clinically.

My second daughter stated emphatically, “I’m only doing that twice. And I’ll have two babies. And THAT’S IT!”

“You can do whatever works best for you, babe,” I reassured.

“Does it hurt to get your period?”

“No, sometimes you’ll get crampy in your belly, but if you eat right and take care of your body you should feel just fine.”

“How about when the baby comes out? Does that hurt?”

“Yep,” I confirmed. ”It really hurts.”

“What does it feel like?” she probed.

“Stretching. And fire. Kind of like you’re pooping a hot cannonball.”

“I’ve had big poops like that before.”

“Well, maybe not this big. Do you want to hear the stories about when you were born?”

“YES!!!!!!!” all three shouted.

As the subject graduated from conception to birth, all three kids sat up and leaned forward, giggling and scrunching up their little faces as I colorfully wove the stories of their beginnings. It was a really lovely experience and I’m so glad it unfolded in just this way, with all of us together.

A minute later my husband strolled into the room and I said, “We just learned about the birds and the bees!” Without a word he spun on his heel and strolled back out. I guess he wasn’t ready to learn yet.

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