All day Saturday I spent the day washing and braiding my children’s hair. “Hair Wash Day” is an African American ritual that is depicted in Egyptian drawings dating back to 2050 B.C. Moms, Aunties, and Sisters spend the day washing and styling their children’s hair or their own hair. Wash Day is a labor of love that reaps beautiful and bountiful relationships “For many Black women, wash day has always been more than a routine – it’s a ritual that preserves our crown and glory.” (A Brief History of Black Hair Rituals, 2020)
Growing up African American in a Caucasian family presented its own set of cultural barriers. I barely knew how to style and care for my hair, and I did not know about the infamous and sacred ‘Hair Wash Day.” Hair is one of the most underrated and dismissed topics when it comes to adoption education. African Americans are not the only group of minorities that have generations of hair rituals. “Similar to other marginalized groups, Asian beauty practices are generational and have deep historical meaning. Buddhist monks for example shave their heads as a symbol of their religious order, whereas in East Asia, women who wear their hair in a braided plat or structured bun signal their level of responsibility.” (Asian Culture, n.d.)
So, I began washing my children’s hair around 8:00. AM. Saturday morning and did not finish until about 10 pm that evening. My girls ate more candy and watched more T.V. than I care to admit. We laughed half of the day and dealt with mood swings the other half of the day. Sometime during the day, I phoned a friend, and we began to share some of our most memorable childhood stories. My friend talked about her hair day rituals. “Wash Day” was either on a Saturday or Sunday. Her mother would sit her and her sister down in the kitchen or on the front porch. While her mom pressed and curled her hair the sounds of Motown would fill the hair. But if it was a Sunday, then melodious gospel sounds of Shirley Caesar sang through the speaker. My friend talked about how her Aunties and mom would take breaks from styling hair to dance, laugh and enjoy the moment.
Although my friends’ stories were beautiful, I was a little envious of her black experience. My heart ached and all I wanted was to travel back in time and take back the experiences that were taken from me. This ache does negate all the wonderful memories I made growing up. This ache is just another reminder of what adoptees lose. Transracial adoptees need and want the connection to their birth culture. Angela Tucker, author, and transracial adoptee wrote in her recently published book “You Should Be Grateful” that there is no substitution for black community. This sentiment includes all other races.
Culture does not have to have barriers. Culture provides opportunities for learning and growth. Culture has the power to bring people together and mend fences. The adoption community should not shy away from speaking up on the importance of preserving the adoptees’ birth culture. Hair wash day is just a small example of a larger topic.