Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

October 14, 2009

People’s Confusion about Race, Ethnicity, and Identity Comes Out…on Zahara’s hair?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 3:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

Several weeks back I wrote a piece about hair being a component identity especially for people of African heritage (including African American.)  There is a new documentary called “Good Hair” by Chris Rock (I should specify it as part comedy part documentary) that discusses the issues for black women.  The response has been split where some thought he provided a lot of good information where as others felt this was a very serious topic that impacts women’s sense of self and self esteem – those in the second category did not appreciate his comedic approach to a topic they felt kept a lot of women down.  I haven’t seen it but I am curious to see if his wife, Malaak Compton-Rock, gives an opinion as I’ve been told she is part Ethiopian.

However, the reason I post this piece today is because of a link I received from a friend.  It is a blog in response to an online Newsweek Article that was written on how white adoptive parents are not good at helping their black children (especially daughters) take care of their hair.  It uses recent photos of Zahara as an example saying her white parents (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) were doing a bad job with her hair by letting her wear it curly and “uncombed.”  According to the argument white adoptive parents do not realize that black hair takes different types of care because they do not investigate the true cultural difference between their culture and their child’s culture (of origin).  They essentially raise their kids as a “white” child which then can (will?) cause problems for the child when they grow older and have to interact with the world that will be quick to point out that they are not “white.”  What really has me laughing (both out of frustration and humor) is that she is using the racist views of what “good hair” is to condemn Zahara’s parents.  Honestly, she raises a point that I have argued for some time:  cross cultural adoption can lead to MANY problems if the adoptive parents are not culturally aware enough to understand their own cultural background, their adopted child’s culture, and the culture they will raise their new child in.  It’s just funny for her to tell the Jolie-Pitts to get their daughter’s hair under control when the picture used for the article shows – in my mind – a clean, curly, oiled, natural black hairstyle – AKA a healthy natural look for a 4 year old Ethio (some would say black) girl!!

Anyway – the response blog addresses many of the topics brought up by this blog: cultural identity, living a dual cultural life, how coming to the U.S. at a young age impacts your cultural identity, how coming to the U.S. as a young child impacts others’ perception of your identity, African identity  compared to African American identity, and what is “good hair”.

Pay special attention to the reactions by the blog’s readers who are of many different ethnicities and cultures.

I would LOVE to hear your reactions to this!!



  1. Poor Zahara!
    I AGREE with this statement > “It’s just funny for her to tell the Jolie-Pitts to get their daughter’s hair under control when the picture used for the article shows – in my mind – a clean, curly, oiled, natural black hairstyle – AKA a healthy natural look for a 4 year old Ethio (some would say black) girl!!”

    Comment by AfroQious! — October 14, 2009 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

  2. Great post. Succinct and to the point. I have many baby pictures with my hair looking just like Zahara’s, and I was definitely NOT raised by “people” who didn’t understand “black hair”; whatever that means. Zahara looks beautiful in all of the pictures, and for someone to write otherwise; is, as you have correctly pointed out, an indictment about how they feel about themselves.

    I also agree that there can be issues with raising children cross-culturally; however, with Zahara, I believe many of these issues will take a back seat to the fact that her parents are “famous”. She does not and will not for the foreseeable future interact with “regular” folks. In America, as in many places in the world, the dividing line is drawn between class and wealth, and it will be interesting to see as she matures, how she balances these two.

    Comment by Ayanna Nahmias — November 3, 2009 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  3. Thank you for your comment Ayanna. I too am curious how this little one (all of the children really) end up making sense of their unusual fame/wealth, their unusual family, and how they will make a place for themselves in the world.

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 3, 2009 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  4. Happy T G I Friday Afternoon! I don’t think the Jolie-Pitt clan will live truly sheltered lives simply because Brad and Angelina are the epitomes of true service, placing #s 7 and 3 respectively on VH1’s “Top 20 Celebs Gone Good” List (although I have know idea if they used an “official” humanitarianism scale); they don’t just give their money, but their time, hugs, and tears. So although none of us know the Jolie-Pitts or how they truly live behind closed doors, I’m quite sure they’ll raise their ever-growing family to do the same, especially while on those visits to ALL of their homelands.

    Comment by Anashia — December 4, 2009 @ 5:24 pm | Reply

  5. […] @ 4:40 pm Tags: black hair, cross cultural adoption, ethiopian adoption, Jolie-Pitts In a recent post I discussed the negative feedback the Jolie-Pitts were getting about how they were taking care of […]

    Pingback by A Father Braiding Daughter’s Hair A Labor Of Love « Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young and Habesha Diaspora in America — December 15, 2009 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  6. Thank you! Finally! There is NOTHING wrong with that girl’s hair. What do you want them to do, perm it? It’s just fine. It’s healthy looing, naturally curly, and beautiful.

    Comment by madambrownie — August 3, 2010 @ 4:51 am | Reply

  7. Give me a break, this is a beautiful happy child and anyway her mom fixes her hair is fine with me!!
    I’m black, and I say find something else to talk about.

    Comment by Bri — October 1, 2010 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

    • Right? Why do you think it is that so many people can’t seem to find somthing else to talk about? Why does this topic keep coming up over and over?

      Comment by Habesha Diaspora — October 2, 2010 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

  8. You guys maybe super liberal but the second picture looks like Zahara is growing dreads. All people are asking for is to have somebody at least comb and moisturize Zahara’s hair, which isn’t much but you guys make it seem like it’s oppressive, as if the hair is a symbol of freedom or something. If you would actually read the link and not skim the first paragraph you’d see it that’s all they ask for.
    Of course Zahara looks happy, but even a child with a big booger on his face can be happy. He’s not aware of the booger, he just wants to play. Zahara doesn’t know how to take care of her own hair because she’s a kid concerned with kid stuff. It’s a parent’s responsibility to keep their kids looking decent since they can’t do it themselves.

    Comment by Krys — November 30, 2010 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

  9. The point of contention is in the definition of the word “decent” and who gets to define it.

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — December 3, 2010 @ 2:26 pm | Reply

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