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

December 15, 2009

A Father Braiding Daughter’s Hair A Labor Of Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 4:40 pm
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In a recent post I discussed the negative feedback the Jolie-Pitts were getting about how they were taking care of Zahara’s hair.¬† Here is an email sent to me about someone else who seems to be doing a good job (All words and pictures are from the email). ūüôā

Originally from Ethiopia , Miriam Tigist Green, 4, was adopted by Emory professor Clifton Green and his wife in 2005. This is her hair unbraided, before her father applies his weekly loving touch. His care and attention to detail show mastery of a task few white men ever contemplate.¬† Dad Clifton and mom Jennifer initially were uncertain what to do with Miriam’s hair after bringing her home. ¬†


¬†¬†¬†They considered just letting it go, as a sign of freedom. They wanted others to accept her, regardless of her looks.¬† The couple believed that Miriam’s hair was a strong link to her African roots, so they ultimately chose to neaten it the way they saw in many African-American families.




¬†Here, Brother Nathaniel tries to get in on the braiding action.¬† Clifton Green researched the best products to keep Miriam’s hair from drying and breaking. He noticed and copied styles he saw on other kids. With practice, he became skilled. “I had learned to braid rope necklaces in junior high,” he says. “But this is hair, not string.”

At one point, Clifton Green stopped trying new styles on Miriam before church, because haste led to bad hairdos. “We wanted her to know her hair isn’t a burden, but something really wonderful, something beautiful to be celebrated,” her mother says.


¬†In learning how to take care of Miriam’s hair, the Greens learned that what was at stake was far more than hygiene or looks. Her hair was a litmus test of their parenting.¬†¬†



Here, half an hour into the braiding process, Miriam lets out a yawn.¬† “By and large, most whites are oblivious to the cultural minefield young black girls are born into, just by virtue of having hair that doesn’t bounce and behave,” one journalist wrote last year.




This is the drawer in the Greens’ living room that holds all the tools Dad uses to care for Miriam’s hair.




  Miriam had short, patchy hair when Green snapped this photo of her in an Ethiopian orphanage in March 2005.   

¬†Hair like Miriam’s takes a lot of time and the process of caring for it is also a way for father and daughter to bond. When Clifton Green was little, his own father “made me feel like I had hung the moon,” he says. That’s what Green has always wanted to give his kids.


It’s a little gift he gives her, the little joy of feeling nice and getting good vibes from other people,” Green’s wife, Jennifer, says.

Now there’s a MAN! ¬†White, Black, Green, or Orange , the time and dedications speaks volumes as does all the hair!!!




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
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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!!

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