Transracial Adoption, Hair, and What I’ve Managed So Far

After my family returned home from Africa with our little bundle of joy, we settled into our new routine with our child in rural Tennessee. The orphanage had shaved her head, so she was practically bald. This is what my two and a half year old daughter looked like the first moment she was placed in my arms… more like a baby than a a toddler.

As you can see, I didn’t have to worry much about hair care.  I simply oiled her head and stuck a bow on.  Everyone oohed and ahhhed over her. Thankfully, as time went on, she began getting healthier, stronger, and bigger.  Plus, her hair started growing so quickly!

Within months, I started getting stares from other black women in public.  If they were brave — and many  were – they’d casually mention good hair stylists I could use, tell me which websites had good information, and suggest effective products I should buy.  One lady at the store,  actually walked me to the hair style aisle and showed me exactly what I should do.  Another very kind woman sent product to school and left them in my older kids locker to help me learn how to care more effectively for her hair.  And these were not isolated incidents.  Far from it.

A very bold black cashier at the mall asked, “Why do white people go to Africa, pick up kids, throw a headband on them, and think that’s okay?”

I took a look at my cute little baby, with her little fro and her pink bow.

“I fixed it,” I said.

“No, that’s not a style,” she said.  “She’ll never know how to fix her hair if you don’t.”

Another cashier took one look at Naomi and asked, “Who’s doing her hair for you?”  Her look of contempt told me that I needed to get someone to do her hair for me.  I wasn’t having a good day, and I almost burst into tears.  When she saw my face, she said, “I mean, you’re doing an okay job, you just might want to fix it.”

This never stopped.  It got to the point that I’d try to scoot through public places in order to avoid letting other people see Naomi, for fear that I wouldn’t respond to their criticism in a Christ-like manner.  (It’s not their fault. They, after all, didn’t realize they were the sixth person to come up to me at the grocery store.)

Finally, I had a heart to heart with a couple of black women who were honest enough to tell me the truth about the different perceptions of hair between white and black women.  It was eye-opening, perplexing, and troubling.  One friend told me that black women invariably make fun of white women with adopted black children because of the “hair issue.”  Another told me that the afro I was letting Naomi wear was “not age appropriate.” All of these awkward social situations caused me to really start thinking about Naomi’s hair.  After all, I certainly don’t want to create an “us versus them” mentality between my daughter and other people we happen to meet. A website called “Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care” helped me realize how important it is to help develop a healthy and fun relationship between my child and her hair.

The above trailer for In Our Heads About Hair, which is directed by Hemamset Angaza, “examines with candor and humor [of] Black women’s issues regarding hair and self-esteem, and advocates for the acceptance of all hairstyle choices.”  After seeing that video, one night I realized I wanted Naomi to grow loving her hair, and that I’d do whatever it takes to make sure that happens! I’m totally still learning and am making many mistakes.  However, I wanted to show some photos of what I’ve done so far!

Natural, with a Bow

(Believe it or not, this is the type of hairstyle that caused raised eyebrows if I took her out in public.)

“Poofs” with Bows and a Protective Braid








Valentine’s Day  (The main body of the hair formed a heart shape!)



Knots: Top View

Here’s a “Before” Photo from Last Night (after her bath!)

And I decided to do braids with beads!

And lastly, the Afro, with a bow:


Anyway, I just wanted to encourage you moms with adopted kids that you can do it!  Last night, I even learned to corn row! Though I’m far from proficient — and am even a little embarrassed to show you my initial efforts — I think I’m proof that you can learn a great deal by visiting her site!

Chocolate Hair / Vanilla Care is evidence that if I can do hair, anyone can do it! The blog started as my way of helping other adoptive/foster parents learn to care for chocolate hair, but has grown into so much more. In addition to chronicling everyday activities such as growing hair, products, and step-by-step instructions, I also talk about what it means to be a vanilla mama of a chocolate girl, and how we explore identity, respect, and empowerment, using hair as our common language.


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What this White Mom Did with her Black Daughter’s Hair Today
About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • Rory, Chocolate Hair / Vanilla Care

    hi, nancy, you’re doing a great job with her hair, way to go! i have to say, with as long and healthy as my daughter’s hair is i STILL get comments when i let her wear her afro (as though i don’t know what i’m doing about hair). i have to give the glory to God for giving me the strength not to get defensive and start handing out business cards to my blog! LOL ;-)

  • Nancy French

    Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you what an honor it is that you commented on MY blog. Thanks thanks thanks! I have perused your site for at least an hour before I begin a new style. It is soo nervewracking that I get anxious on hair day — I’ve had to basically re-orient my life around making sure I’m keeping her looking good. Also, I SO appreciate how much you have provided a non-judgmental community for moms to try new things. You are really really appreciated. THANKS!

  • Rory, Chocolate Hair / Vanilla Care

    thanks so much, nancy! hair starts off as a really overwhelming big deal, but it does get easier and you will totally find yourself thinking/worrying about it less and less as you become better at it. i always liken it to how i felt when i first started changing diapers; i was always so careful, and it took me WAY too long. after a while, i’d slap that puppy on while doing 4 other things at the same time! :-D

  • Richard Bentley

    What a blessing our children are from God – You’re doing great Nancy! Keep her hair and her heart beautiful!

  • Kellie “Red”


    First of all, Naomi is BEAUTIFUL! Second, I LOVE this post! I learned a lot about how to care for “Chocolate Hair” during high school when I was the only white girl at my lunch table! The ladies there made fun of me and how I had VERY curly hair and didn’t care for it correctly. I learned a lot, and my dry curly hair has been the better for it since!

  • Nancy French

    Kellie “Red,”

    Oh my — I bet that was one interesting lunch table!!

    Thank you about Naomi. We are really getting to know each other during these marathon hair sessions… We laugh, we cry….

  • cat

    Please take your daughter to a black salon. She needs to learn how to interact with black women or as she grows up the hair issue you fear (getting scorned) will resurface in a different form as your daughter attempts to socially interact with people who look like her.

  • Gabi Patel

    Let’s hope so. She deserves the best. Different hair types have special needs. :) There are so many resources out there and hair salons, that one would be foolish NOT to use them. As an Indian adoptee, I got lucky.

  • K.D.

    This is one of just a thousand reasons why I consider it so important to make adult friends with black people if you are considering adopting a black child (or X race if you are adopting a child of X race…) Those friends who can help you help your daughter prepare for life as a black American woman. Your daughter is going to have experiences with ashy skin and nappy hair, with expectations placed on her by black peers and white peers, with racist comments, and with “was that racist?” situations. If you have black friends, they can help you anticipate and react to these situations. If you have black friends who are truly friends and aren’t just “advisers” you call in, they will love your daughter and help her grow. It does matter that your daughter sees virtuous and successful people who look like her — and God knows she’s not going to see a lot of that in the popular media. [it sounds like you may be doing this already -- just general thoughts!]

    Anyway, lovely and informative story. I am tickled by how Naomi has your same gorgeous smile, even if she doesn’t have your genes.

  • Joel Cannon


    I enjoy reading your blog and admire the way you open up and share very personal issues that are inspiring. I think Naomi is adorable and think you are both very blessed to have each other. I love her radiant smile, and actually like all of her hair styles – not sure what was “wrong” with the first one (clueless white-guy syndrome).


  • ChicagoChick

    I must applaud you as someone who is 100% against trans adoption. I am still against it because I believe whites have taken too much from us, people and land, and you are held accountable for what your people did to mine. Also, because a white will NEVER be able to teach a BLACK WOman or Man how to be that. But the fact that you want her to love her Melanin, strength hair is positive for what its worth.