The Creator of Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care Speaks
White mom creates website to help parents with black kid's hair
When Rory “Hadley” and her husband expected to deliver a healthy baby boy in Dec. 10, 2006, they prepared for the baby shower early.
Unfortunately, the couple -- who asked that their last name be changed for our story -- delivered Logan, a stillborn baby boy three months early.
“We held him, we prayed over him, and with tear-stained faces, handed him back to God,” Rory wrote on Mycrazyadoption.org.
Life went on for the Hadleys and they continued with the adoption process the following year. The couple’s original plan was to have one birthed child and adopt the rest. They wanted a newborn, but were told this was highly unlikely by the agency. They received a call from their social worker exactly one year to the day after Logan’s expected birth, that a “healthy, negative-tox, newborn baby girl” was available for adoption if they were interested.
“Up until this call we had had our minds wrapped around having toddler boys. However, we were totally open to what God had planned for us,” Rory stated. The newborn—who the couple decided to name Zoe—was turned over to the Hadleys.
“She was six days old, healthy, and beautiful. Although she was African American, she had a full face of freckles. I have freckles, myself, and I loved the fact that she did too,” she wrote.
As Zoe continued to grow, Rory realized that maintenance for her daughter's hair was a challenge, which is why she started a blog called Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care. The site is geared toward adoptive/foster parents who are a different ethnicity than their African-American adopted child.
“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,” she wrote on her website.
Here is Loop21’s exclusive interview with Rory about her blog, challenges and reactions from the African-American community.
Loop 21: What made you come up with the idea to start ChocolateHairVanillaCare.com?
Rory: I have been maintaining a personal family blog for many years. I think I started my first one back in 2004. When our daughter came home in 2007, I started another family blog that chronicled all parts of raising our daughter. As she got older, and her hair longer, I would find myself frequently approached by other adoptive families while out shopping. They would ask me so many questions that I could scarcely answer them all in a mere 15-minute public interaction. With encouragement from friends and family I finally decided to separate the hair-related items out of my personal blog and launch a public forum—that way I had an easy place to point people who asked me questions. I had cards made and passed them out whenever I was approached. That was in September of last year.
Loop 21: What kind of feedback have you received so far in regards to your website?
Rory: I have received nothing but support from everyone. Hair blogs are a dime a dozen these days, so I don't feel that I'm providing really unique information other than the personal experience and perspective that I have, both with regards to hair as well as with regards to trans-racial adoption. I really feel that being me, as flawed as I am, has made other people feel more comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone when it comes to hair care. Black women have been more than supportive. I honestly started the site for adoptive and foster parents, but I've found that Black women make up the majority of my community. I take that as a huge compliment and appreciate all of the support and feedback that they have provided over this past year.
Loop 21: Have you been judged by Black women who may not feel as though you can do your daughter's hair?
Rory: Not online. I've only had a handful of people comment that they don't agree with trans-racial adoption, but even these people were kind enough to tell me that they've approached my blog with an open-mind. However, I did write about my experiences of sometimes being judged when out in public when letting my daughter wear her free hair (i.e., her afro). But as I mentioned in the article ["A Vanilla Perspective on the Politics of Free Hair"] it's something that I completely understand, all things considered.
Rory: None of the big companies have reached out to me at all. I doubt any of them know who I am. However, I've had several small up-and-coming businesses reach out to me to help with product testing and reviews. I'm also very fortunate to have a really close online friend who has a daughter the same age as mine, who happens to be both a Black woman and a licensed cosmetologist. So I have to say that was a huge blessing in the beginning.
The response of other Black women has been really supportive. What I think many Caucasian parents forget is that caring for Black hair is not something that is biologically determined. People aren't born knowing how to cornrow. Everyone has to be a beginner at some point. And very often, a lot of new Black moms have just as little experience caring for their first-born daughter's natural hair as foster and adoptive parents—especially if they've had perms most of their lives on their own hair. Being a “beginner” is what many of my readers have in common. Whether it is a beginner caring for their child's hair or for their own—and that transcends race. Hope that makes sense.
Loop 21: What is the biggest challenge you have to maintain your adoptive daughter's hair?
Rory: I think the biggest challenge in the beginning was teaching my daughter the importance of routine. Hair care is not a choice rather a necessity that requires a commitment from both us—as her parents and from her as the child. Our first priority was to establish a routine where she wouldn’t throw tantrums and look at hair as “torture.” Now that the routine is established, my biggest challenge—outside of keeping it healthy—has been instilling that sense of pride in her natural hair. In a society that values long, straight hair it will be something that we will be working on for years to come. Right now, however, she seems to have a really strong sense of self and great deal of love and pride for her natural hair. I can only pray that starting early will allow that to become deeply rooted in her identity such that it will counter the trials she will face in years to come.
In the future, teaching her to care for her own hair will also be a challenge, but one to which I look forward.
For more on Vanilla Care, visit Rory's Facebook group, which has a following of nearly 2,500 people.