'You Are So Beautiful!': How White Mom Bonds With Black Daughter Over Her Hair


Lauren Casper, mom to 3-year-old Arsema, says she has loved learning to style her daughter’s hair. (Photo: Lauren Casper)

For mom and blogger Lauren Casper, doing her daughter’s hair is something she thought about even before she brought her baby home. Arsema, now 3, was four months old when Casper and her husband adopted her from Ethiopia. “Prior to her coming home, I had researched as much as I could about black culture and raising black children,” Casper, who is white, tells Yahoo Parenting. “For raising a girl specifically, I was learning how important black hair is in the culture. And while I was well-versed in my own hair, that is obviously very different.”

In an essay posted on Today’s community blog this week, Casper writes about watching YouTube videos and scoping out Pinterest boards to learn to style her daughter’s hair, and the mother-daughter bonding time that has resulted. “As the white mother of a beautiful black daughter, hair care has been a steep learning curve for me,” she writes. “I want my daughter to love her hair and be proud of the springy black curls that cover her head. I want to be able to care for and style her hair in a way shows I understand that her hair is different and I celebrate her unique beauty.”

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Lauren Casper lets her daughter Arsema, 3, pick out a new hairstyle each week. (Photo: Lauren Casper)

Every Saturday evening, Casper and Arsema have their weekly styling sessions. “We do the big shampoo and condition and she picks a style from my Pinterest board,” Casper says. Arsema settles in with a movie on the laptop, while Casper gets to styling. “The shortest amount of time it takes me is 30-45 minutes with the detangling and the parting, even just for braids or puffs,” she says. “The longest we have ever done is two hours – that one stayed in for two weeks.”

Casper says she loves this special mother-daughter time, especially because she’s always loved doing her own hair. “I like doing hair. And when Arsema came home, I recognized I was in over my head for a little while. But it’s fun for me and I wanted to do this with her,” she says. “It’s like when I’m getting ready in the morning and doing my makeup, she pulls up a chair in the bathroom and does lipstick, too. They are fun moments.”

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But for this pair, the hairstyling is about more than just getting primped. “I’ve learned from talking to my friends and doing research into black culture that hair is really important. And so I want to do everything I can to celebrate and enter into the culture that my daughter is a part of,” she says. “I realize that I’m still on the outside looking in and will never fully understand, but I want to do everything I can to keep Arsema connected to that as much as possible. I want her to love everything about herself. I want her to love her hair, her skin, and part of helping her love her hair and have that positive body image is caring for it and making sure it’s healthy and that styling it is a fun and a positive experience.”


Three-year-old Arsema watches a movie during the weekly mother-daughter hairstyle sessions. (Photo: Lauren Casper)

Casper says her favorite part of the hair sessions is the end, when Arsema sees the final product. “A huge smile spreads across her face as she turns her head to the left and right to see every angle [in the mirror],” Casper writes. “She reaches up to softly feel the braids and turns around to grin at me. ‘You are so beautiful!’ I tell her, and she nods, agreeing.”

Lori Tharps, Assistant Professor at Temple University and co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, says Casper is doing the right thing by educating herself. “There always seems to be this lack of understanding of hairstyles, but also the significance of hair in the black community, by non-black people,” Tharps tells Yahoo Parenting. “When somebody is going to adopt a child of African or African-American heritage, unless they have had a very close relationship with a black female in their life, there is a huge learning curve. Not just the styling, but also the significance of how black people have often been judged by mainstream society by their hair.”

Tharps says that understanding black hair is a responsibility of any white parent with a black child. “I think any white or non-black person who is caring for a black child has the responsibility to learn not just about the styles but the meaning behind the culture and history of black hair,” she says. “Its important for a parent who is not part of the African-American community to know what they are looking at, what they are facing. What this women is doing is not just commendable because her daughter’s hair looks cute, but because she’s educating herself.”


Lauren Casper says she loves seeing her daughter’s reaction to her hair each week.  (Photo: Lauren Casper)

Hair has long been instrumental to instilling a sense of beauty for women of all races, Tharps points out. “But because black hair doesn’t look like what is portrayed as classic beauty in the United States, it can be harder for a young girl who is black, especially one who has a white mother who is blonde, to feel beautiful when she walks outside and is surrounded by people whose hair doesn’t look like hers,” Tharps says. “The pride comes from knowing why your hair looks like that.”

Down the road, Casper might need to have even more complex hair conversations with her daughter, as well as with strangers, Tharps says. That’s when understanding the historical significance of African-American hair will be especially important. “The reality is that this mother might still confront any number of incidents — with other white people or black people — where she has to defend the style she’s using for her daughter. She might get a look, or a question, and it’s so helpful for a parent to have some historical context to put the incidents in,” she says. “And one day she will need to explain to her daughter why certain styles are ok, why straightening might not be what you want to do for this reason, or why a natural style might be great for your hair, but it might not get you a job interview, that kind of thing.”

Casper acknowledges that down the line, things may change. “One day she might ask to go to the salon and have a professional do her hair, which is fine. But for right now she’s enjoying this time with me, and she loves her hair when I’m done, so that’s what’s working for us and we’re celebrating her hair together,” she says. “Arsema really appreciates it, whether she can voice it or not.”

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