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More than Just Hair
Adopting from Haiti meant learning to love my child through her hair
November 01,2006 / Sherri Gragg
Untitled Document

When my husband and I committed to adopting our Haitian daughters, I knew I needed to learn how to do hair. Like most white women, I had no experience with African hair but somehow, I knew that in the African American community hair was very important and that it was imperative I learn to do it well. I never wanted to be in the grocery store and have an older African American woman feel the need to shake her head in sympathy for my daughter and say, Look at that poor child's head.

I wanted my daughters to hold up their curly heads proudly. I wanted them to feel beautiful.

So, I studied. I bought a book to educate myself, and asked my black friends lots of questions. I even bought a Barbie head and practiced parts, braids, twists and cornrows.

The first time I took my oldest Haitian daughter's hair down to re-braid it she wailed! Then, when I was finished she looked into the mirror and smiled delightedly. She later told me she did not think I would know what to do.

Crazy white lady. Yellow stick up hair. What does she know about parts and braids? I'm in trouble now!

The Haitian women scrutinized her head with a careful eye. You did this? they asked incredulously.

Since then, I have done a lot. I love my daughters' hair.

But I never really, really understood why it was important until I sent my black daughter to school in a white world. Suddenly, she was out of the protective cocoon of church and home and the people who loved her. Suddenly, she was very much the minority. Suddenly, I realized that life for a black child in a white world can be brutal. Suddenly I realized why hair is important.

The attack on her ethnicity and place in our family came sometimes like an ice cold bucket of water thrown in her face.

Every day on the bus ride home..

Is that your sister? She doesn't look like you. What is she? Adopted?

Then, spat like something indecent- She looks bi-racial.

Sometimes, the attacks came like noxious fumes borne on the wind. Stealthily, softly, and perhaps even more deadly than more blatant attacks.

A little girl comes up to me.

Are you Claudine's Mommy?

Yes, I am!

Our teacher told all of us that you are lighter than her.

What?

Our teacher told us all that you found her.

I feel sick.

Then, one day I did an innocent thing. I bought her a new head-band. It was wide, fuchsia and studded with jewels. I saw it and knew she would love it. She did.

Mommy, I want to have big hair tomorrow. I want to wear my head band!

Okay, sweetie, I will twist your hair tonight and tomorrow you can have big hair.

The next day we undo the twists and put on the colorful, flamboyant head band. She looks in the mirror and squeals with delight.

Pretty! she cries.

She comes home from school and some of the light is gone from her eyes. She turns those big brown eyes up to mine.

Mommy, my teacher loved my hair but no one else did. I don't want to have big hair again.

Then, I understand. I understand down in my heart and not just in my head. I understand why for generations African American mothers have braided, parted, and added beads, beads, and more beads to their daughters' hair. It is because a white world sends a very clear message to those sweet babies- African hair is not pretty. African hair is bad. I lean down to hold her close to me.

I love your big hair. Your hair is beautiful. Do you know why it is special?

Her soulful eyes bore into mine. No.

I have told her before but tell her again. You can style your hair anyway you want. We can make rows of hair planted like corn in a field. We can twist, braid and bead. Those little white girls can't have braids, twists and beads like yours. Do you know why? They fall out! Their hair won't hold them.

She giggles as if I have told her a secret.

I pull her close and whisper fiercely in her ear. Your hair is beautiful. Don't you listen to those little girls who tell you it is not! Don't ever listen to them.

It seems so unjust for a child who has already suffered so much to endure more. It is as if life is determined to knock her down and keep her down. Then I hold her face in my hands and tell her a greater secret. I pull the sword of truth from its sheath and place it in my strong little girl's hands.

Listen to me my child. You are the daughter of the Most High King and He is so, so strong. He is so strong that He can take whatever bad happens in your life and turn it around for your good.

She wraps her small fingers around that weapon and holds it close. And for a moment I am sure I hear the gates of Hell shutter as the angel God has placed to watch over her shouts the shout of victory. A conquering warrior for the Kingdom is born.

Sherri Gragg and her husband Michael live in Franklin, Tennessee with their 5 children.

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Readers Comments  (67 Comments)  View All Comments
Sherri, your girls are so lucky to have you! I am white and leaning towards adopting from Haiti. Thanks for the information on the importance of African hair. I agree that there's so much more you can DO with African hair! If I had it, I would do little twists. I love those. God bless you and your family.- Anna in Tampa
This was an amazing story and well written. I found this searching for article about white people adopting black children and hair because with the recent events in Haiti I was secretly wondering how all these white people will care for black hair. I grew up in a diverse area but having many white friends made me so self conscious about my hair. Thank you and bless your soul!!!- Debbie
Haitian culture is Francophone, hence our names, language, music, poetry, & literature, but Americans dismiss the importance of this, and force assimilation into their Anglophone world, losing our cultural selves in the process. I hate when I see a Haitian child dressed like a ghetto kid or pushed toward basketball & rap, because that's what U.S. society calls Black: it's not Black for the majority of Black people that inhabit this planet. Take the girls to Haitian restaurants & read French.- RMM
It's great that you've had Haitian women inspect the girls' hair. As a Haitian woman, I am always worried about the adoption of our children from outsiders (Black or White). My biggest concern is that they will be raised without their specifically Caribbean culture: Amercians too often conflate their Black culture with ours and--although there are some similarities--they are NOT the same. Buy books like "Seth and Samona" by Joanne Hyppolite & "Running The Road To ABC" by Denizé Lauture.- RMM
you Handle it good. For a white Lady to take in to black kids and love them as her own god will for every bless you and your family and i wish you will... god bless- dee
I do not think a mother of any color could have handled the matter of hair better than Mrs. Gragg. Your story should be printed for any adoptive parent of black children. "You Go Girl!"- Anonymous
I do not think a mother of any color could have handled the matter of hair better than Mrs. Gragg. Your story should be printed for any adoptive parent of black children. "You Go Girl!"- Anonymous
I'm African American and I just want to say what a beautiful story. God bless you. God bless you for opening your heart to raise two Haitian girls, and for any heartless or cruel comments you may have endured throughout this experience. I found this article because I, too, am considering adopting a Haitian child.- Rayna
wow, i have never thought that i person outside of my race could understand the pride that we take in our hair. on top of that you took out the time to learn how to take care of your little girls hair. you are a good woman. your giving her a great gift. let her know that she is a beautiful african american child with beautiful hair and skin and she has absolutely no reason to be ashamed.- alexandria b
An extremely touching story. I'm very proud of you and your optimism. Who says only black women can say that they are strong. God bless you Ms. Strong White woman :-)- Cassy (Haitian 19 yr old)
My God, You hit the nail on the head!!! I am excited that those babies have found a true mother. A person that will take into account their feelings and the sad fact that not everything is equal in all areas of our lives.- Rea H.
This is a wonderful story!!! Lets use something other than a corn field to describe the braids. :)- Anonymous
Thank you for understanding and teaching others. What you have taught your daughter is a very powerfull message; be proud of who you are! In this society everyone wants to be someone else, just be yourself. I am an AA mom with a 6 yr old daughter who has a lot of hair, very thick hair. The time we spend together during hair combing session is priceless, something to treasure forever. She loves to have her hair done because she is proud of the head of hair God blessed her with.- Dania's mother
Sherri, I loved the article! We are in the very first stages of adopting from Haiti and I am trying to learn everything I can. I would love to hear more about your beautiful girls.- Jennifer
For those needing help with AA hair: Read "It's All Good Hair" by:Michele N-K Collison Sherri- Sherri Gragg
This article is great! I am an African American woman with a head full of thick natural hair and I have always been put down for my hair by both Black & white people. When I was little, (& even now at 27) if my hair isn't neatly done, someone always had something negative to say about it. I beg you if you adopt a child of African descent please take time to learn the importance of hair in the black community, although I think it is stupid sometimes, it is still important for self esteem issues- Farrah
For those who ALSO have children from China, come check us out. You are welcome here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CAFT Blessings, Pigeon :)- Pigeon :)
Hi I two have experenced the coments. I have 8 adopted children. I had no idea how to do hair. Where we live you can't even find supplies for there hair.But I'm learning and they are all so beautiful.Thanks for the story.living in a small community my family has heard many racial remarks. We have so much love for our children because they are special.- Cindy
All I can say is WOW! How amazing the things you say are. I see you with all of your beautiful children...I think each and every one of them is beautiful and you are so brave and selfless to make children that might not have had such a bright chance in this world have more than a chance! I have dated out of my race, and do see and know that much bias still does indeed exist in our society and it makes me so sad. You have many "stars in your crown" from God above for these things you do!!! - Stacy
I loved your article. I have a daughter adopted from China and three bio kids. We too deal with "she's not your real sister". White parents who choose to adopt any minority child must be aware of racism in its many forms. We must raise our children to be proud and educated about their heritages. Simply loving our kids is not enough. I admire the way you are building up your daughters. I pray for wisdom everyday in how best to parent my Chinese angel.- Kim
Thank You Sherri! EVERY parent of little black girls should read this.You really should have this published. I'm an African American woman who works with black children. I cannot tell you how many young black girls have expressed to me a hatred of their hair. I will be sharing this! By the way, your hair style is pretty cool too! - Pat
My name is Tina Nero and I live in MN. I was touched by your story. I have two children. One bi-racial, as well as my husband. My girls went through alot because their hair was not like the white girls in their school. But I tell them all the time that their hair, in this town, is what makes them unique. Their friends can't have their hair in beautiful creative ways like you can and have it last. My girls now feel confident, they know they are beautiful. Keep up the good work! Tina Nero- Tina Nero
May God continue to bless you and your husband as your raise kingdom children. Great things happen when God's people (who by the way come in all colors) make a bold decision to adopt. Thanks for sharing from an African-American man. - DCL-Chicago
This is one of the best articles I have ever read on RainbowKids! It says so much about not merely "accepting" diversity, but REJOICING in our children's heritage and ethnicity. The author is a truly loving and respectful parent. - Marie Carmenati
You are an awesome person. Your reward is in heaven. I know my Father is so proud of you. - Georgia
Words cannot describe how I felt when reading this. A song comes to my mind. "Jesus Loves Me This I Know, for the Bible Tells Me So!" Nothing captivates God's heart more than deeds done by those who he has shed his love abroad into their hearts. Continue in God's love. He's proud of you!!!- Anonymous
Your heart showed in your story. I wish more white people would get the clue that you got and stop treating people so badly based on color or hair or anything. We are all born of God and he does not see the things that we see in the way that we see them. Bless your heart and your family.- Cynthia
I loved your article! We live in Jonesboro, AR and have 5 children as well. 2 of which are adopted and are AA. I've been one of those 'crazy white lady' moms that people whisper about. I adopted my oldest daughter at birth and she's now 6 years old. We've had ALL kinds of hair, the good, bad and ugly! I'm so proud to finally have the hang of it and love getting that, "her hair looks GREAT!" and the questioning stare that they can't believe I could have done it! God Bless, Dia- Dia
Sherri,this is a beautiful part of your life that you are sharing with others. Looking at you and the girls I can tell that they are where they belong. God always has a plan.May" HE"continue to bless you and your husband. - mary jean
This was a precious, honest, brave story. - Anonymous
Sherri, I am so proud of you. What a blessing you have been for the day you were born. I love you. Thank you for 5 beautiful grandchildren. - Sherri's Mom
Thank you for the wonderful comments. To my white sisters who are adopting children of color: Please take time to educate yourselves about racism. It is still alive and well and you need to know how to impower your children. Explore your own racial attitudes as well. Most of all: Diversify your lives. Loving another helps you walk in their shoes. If not for my AA sisters, I would still be blind. Books: Autobiography of a People; Black Baby White Hands; Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry- Sherri Gragg
I am a 27 year old african american mother of 3. This story has brought tears of joy, pain, and hope to my eyes. I wish as a child my mother, or anyone 4 that matter had shared those words of love to me about my hair. God is so good, God bless you Mr. and Mrs. Gragg. Of my 3 children 2 are girls and I love the texture of thier hair but I know the world doesn't, 2 know that you are a white women and understand how I felt as a child and even now as an adult gives me hope 4 my girls! Thank U!!!!!!- Tonya Mitchell
Sherri, As an African American woman who grew up in a predominantly white community, I understand exactly what your daughter is going through. My experience with racism in this country in general has prompted me to write a book. I highly recommend it to you and anyone concerned with this issue. It is called The Sin of Racism and it can be ordered from the publisher at www.univpress.com or at other online booksellers. It presents the guidelines for healing through Christ. - Peace, Selena- Selena Johnson
Sherri, Thank you for sharing this. We have a Korean son and a Chinese daughter. Today a child in my son's class said that my sons eyes were Chinese and I told him that he was Korean. He made reference that they were not the same eyes as mine. So, even though we don't have a hair issue, we have an eye issue. He has the most beautiful eyes too! I don't know what brought me to this page, perhaps, God. Thanks for sharing! Blessings....Mary Ellen - Mary Ellen Minyon
Sherri, your comments addressed every fear I have of adopting a haitian child. In the community I live my child will be forced to face these racial issues daily, but I know with God's help I will always have the right words. My husband went on a mission trip to Haiti in July, and that has been our biggest concern about adopting. The desire is there to adopt, and after reading this story I know God will help us to help a child.- Kim- Kim Martin
I am in tears. We're just beginning the homestudy process. I had doubts that as a white woman I would know how to empower a child of a different race than mine. Your words have given me hope and strength as well, for whatever ethnicity my child to be will have, I will read him/her this article. May God bless all the children.- Rita
Sherri, Your comments began with light humor and culminated with a shout declaring the power of God's Word! Thank you so much for sharing! I laughed and cried at the same time. Be blessed, Gwen in Hampton- Gwen
I loved your story for various reasons. You truly get it! As a black women I have no problem with anyone adopting out of there race however, my heart has broken many times when I see little girls with hair that detracts from there beauty. Black hair is truly beautiful.- Tracy
Incredible. Powerful. Sherri's given me the words I need to comfort & empower my own child when the need arises. Of course, I "knew" this---she just says it so well: "Listen to me my child. You are the daughter of the Most High King........."- KTB
What a blessed story - The truth reveals much: And in this story the truth of our Holy Lord, and Saviour, through a mother is truth enough. Bless you with your children. A treasure to behold !- andrea
this story touched me .....as i was adopted myself - Anna
Loved your story! I like to hear about great families with lots of children. I think that there are quite a few of us out there, but it is rarely mentioned. I would just bet that your girls will grow up proud of the way that God made them and blessed to be in your family! Thanks for sharing. Mary (Mom to 7) (3 by c-section and 4 by adoption.) P.S. Your daughters are beautiful!- Mary Lombardi
What a beautiful story! I only hope that I can do so well with my own daughters. Thank you for sharing.- Stephanie
Hi Sherri, that was beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing. We have a 9yo Haitian boy coming sometime. We have been in IBESR for 4 months now. We live between M'boro and Woodbury. I'd love to meet when Jon Micah gets home if you'd be willing. How old are your girls? My email is ajd142@yahoo.com. Thanks again for sharing. Amy - Amy
Thank you so much for this article! It brought tears to my eyes...it is sometimes difficult being what others consider different, but Sherri, with the words you have said to your daughter, she will truly understand how beautiful she is....inside and out. Bless you....... isabel johannes- Isabel
Thank you for sharing this. I understand so well as our daughter is from Haiti. You made me empathize with her again.- cindy
Tell what you think about this given some of our challenges in SK- Yvette Birner
Thnak you for sharing, Sherri, you did so beautifully. It brought tears to my eyes and wonderful ideas to encourage my beautiful brown daughter when those that can't understand mock her beautiful almond eyes. Thank you!- Sheri Hooven
Wow. Thank you so much for both writing and sharing and for acknowledging both your fears and what you did about them... as well as the trials and tribulations for your beautiful daughters. I have heard similiar comments from my small son with "big hair" and will listen to him differently from now on. Many thanks!!! - Julie
Thank you so much for sharing your story! I got goosebumps at the end just thinking about your daughter being able to experience God's incredible love! Many blessings!- Anonymous
What an eloquent essay! Thank you for confirming the feelings of my heart. I love the beautiful, beautiful hair my own little African-American angels wear proudly in twists, braids, poofs, and 'rows. Are we the luckiest moms on the planet or what? - wjsimms
What a beautiful article!!! It is amazing how God can use a simple thing as hair to touch the lives of others. God Bless You!!!- Anonymous
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This brought tears to my eyes as I think of your beautiful daughter having to face those who would tease her. I will soon have two beautiful daughters from Haiti as well and this article has given me great courage. It is so wonderful to see that God chose such a perfect mom for such a perfect little girl. Blessings, Jennifer G.- Anonymous
Your words made me feel a bit more special as well. :) THANK YOU!!! I especially love the part about the gates of hell shuttering. Racism, hatred and self-loathing are tools of the devil. He's been victorious in that area for far too long. One would think with civil, rational people that such an atrocity wouldn't be allowed to occur. But it has. Thak you so much for sharing your story. I truly enjoyed reading it. Oh and your daughters are absolutely gorgeous! - elise
What you told your daughter is simpl;y beautiful. I had to write down the words so that I (a black woman who will one day have a black child) could remember them and use them. cont'd- Elise
Wow, that is powerful!! How do I contact Sherri directly. This would make a GREAT children's book. Sherri, you should have it published.- Gloria
for all those reading that want to learn..please join our haircare group! it's a yahoo group and it's called adoptionhair_skincare Sherri, thank you for writing such important words. I try to stress to other adopting families how important hair care is. I will be sending out this link! - Nadia
Sherri, Thank you for this beautiful essay. I have two from China and hope to adopt from Ethiopia or Haiti next time, but my big worry is I am NOT good with hair! Sounds silly, I guess, but I know it is important in African people. I can barely put my daughter's hair in a ponytail! This essay really inspired me to begin to learn now so I can be ready if I am able to adopt again.- Jan J.
Sherri - Your story is so beautifully told. Your children were obvioulsy designed with you in mind. Bless you all Nicky (United Kingdom)- nicky
I've read this message twice and every time I tear up. Sherri my hat goes off to you, for taking the time to learn how to do your daughters hair. As an African American woman I know the heartache of dealing with the looks and finger pointing about our hair. My hat goes off to you and your husband for opening your home and your hearts two beautiful little girls. May God continue to look over your familiy and continue to take care of those babies hair. - LaTrevia
Wonderful!!! An inspiration!!! 5 stars!!!- Anonymous
Thank you.- Jeanne
This is just beautiful! -- Amy
Thank God for this article, and for mothers who are aware of these issues when they adopt transracially. Our babies need all the educated adults they can possibly get on their side to fight for them, because children can't fight for themselves!- RaeAnne
Sherri, Wow! Thank-you for writing this. I too live in Franklin, TN. My littlest one is 4yrs old and our favorite book is "I Love My Hair!" Our girls are indeed Daughters of the Most High King!- ally
The big, beautiful picture of this tender story is this: children adopted cross-racially need words AND actions to build their self esteem! This is imperative for African American children because our unique God- given hair texture needs special care. Pass this article along to any friend who has or plans to adopt an African American child. What a blessed mother, and even more blessed girls, to be loved so beautifully!- DNW
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