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Allison Althoff
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Natalie Lederhouse
Natalie Lederhouse

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November 9, 2010

How Great a Father’s Love

It even extends to our hair

Lately, I can’t stop watching the Sesame Street video, “I Love My Hair.” The video, which debuted last month, features a cute little African-American Muppet who dances around the screen, singing about her hair:

“Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop/’cause I love what I got on top/It’s curly and it’s brown/ and it’s right up there/You know what I love?/That’s right! I love my hair.”

Throughout the song, the muppet sings about the different ways she can wear her hair—in a clip, in a bow, in an Afro or cornrows.

The first time I saw the video, I teared up a little. I’m proud to say, this 31-year-old woman has always geeked out on Sesame Street and the Muppets. The song “Rainbow Connection” inevitably moves me to tears, and I recently bent my longstanding commitment to sleeping in on Saturdays in order to visit a Jim Henson exhibit at a local museum during its premier weekend. (Between you and me, I may have skipped from the museum door all the way to the exhibit.) There are very few people who appreciate the Muppets on a deeper level than I do. The blend of earnestness, humor, and creativity they represent is deeply moving to me.

But another reason I love this video is that I also love my hair. I was an 18-year-old college freshman before I took over my own hair care. That’s partly because of the gentle care many textures of African-American hair require, but it’s also because the ritual of hair care is such a bonding experience between black women—whether it’s at the beauty shop, or between mothers and daughters.

As a little girl, I treasured the time my mom and I spent together as she did my hair. Mom would sit on the sofa, and my sister and I would sit below her, heads between her knees as she oiled our scalps and brushed, parted, and braided our hair, finishing each braid with ribbons and a plastic barrette. We wore pony tails, thick Afro puffs, puffy French braids, and rows and rows of tiny braids with colorful beads at the ends that swished back and forth as we walked. Sometimes, we’d sit in the kitchen, reading aloud to Mom as she straightened our tight natural curls with a metal comb heated on the oven. I favored Grace Livingston Hill’s romance novels, largely because I could fool Mom by making up my own dialogue for Livingston’s stock characters as Mom focused on easing the hot comb through my thick, shoulder-length locks. Even now, my twice-a-month appointments with Cheryl, at her aptly-named Crown and Glory Salon, are a mix of tender care, humor, and heat.

Because our family was often the only black family in our neighborhood or at our school, we were sometimes viewed as a curiosity. People wanted to know about our hair, or to touch it and play with it. Even as a child, I resisted this. I didn’t like explaining my hair, or having it touched by strangers. I didn’t appreciate the fact that people saw their hair as the norm and our hair as “different.” And hair can also be a deeply contentious subject among African-Americans. It’s hard to summarize the reasons for this (though the book The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans is a good start), but here’s an attempt: Some people judge the beauty of hair by its straightness (thus, one can be blessed with “good” or straight hair, and despair of “bad” or tightly curled hair. Others, on the other hand, view the act of straightening one’s hair as a rejection of its natural beauty, and, by extension, one’s blackness. To straighten one’s hair is to give in to the idea that the way to be beautiful is to approximate whiteness.

So to see this sweet brown Muppet singing about her simple pride in her unprocessed curls makes a beautiful statement—and one that resonates deeply with many black women. Every way she wears it, she loves her hair, just as it is.

Yet there’s another part of this video that moves me—the story behind it. Joey Mazzarino, Sesame Street’s head writer, wrote the song for his daughter, Segi, whom he and his wife adopted from Ethiopia. Mazzarino and his wife, Kerry Butler, are white. When he observed Segi wanting hair like the blond dolls she played with, Mazzarino became concerned that Segi wouldn’t love her own hair. He didn’t know about the complicated issues connected to African-Americans and their hair, and—this is my conjecture—may not have known about the groundbreaking experiments performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, which used dolls as a way to investigate black children’s ideas about race.

But Mazzarino’s love for his daughter compelled him to write a song to help her love her hair—a song that has struck a positive, healing chord with many people.

I run the risk of drawing a forced, heavy-handed parallel here, and I’m tempted to resist. But since I’ve already confessed to being someone who cries when I hear the song “Rainbow Connection” (Seriously—have you ever read the lyrics?), I hope you’ll indulge my earnest heart.
As one who follows Christ and calls God Father, I’m struck to my core by this demonstration of fatherly love. Think of it: Here we have a story of a father who, not even fully understanding the implications of his adopted daughter’s problem, did something big to solve it. He created something that is out there for everyone to see, a love letter to the little girl he loves.
And as God’s daughter, adopted into his family through the work of Christ, I serve One who loves me—who took me in, who knows and understands my complicated problems and deep-rooted sin-sickness, and yet persists, relentless, in his love for me. And not merely a sentimental love—a fatherly love that moves in big ways, that solves those problems and heals that sin-sickness. A love that burst through space and time in the person of Christ; Love who lived a sinless life and sacrificed himself for me.

I know that’s a lot to get from a simple video. But it’s reminded me of a love I often forget about, or fail to consider in its greatest depth. God’s love, like the love I’ve been blessed to experience from my own problem-solving father, is one that intervenes. And I’m reminded to see the goodness in this world—and the efforts we make to solve the problems in it—as an outpouring of that creative love.

Comments

I love everything about this post. Thank you. I am thinking of the lengths God goes to help me embrace my true self, the one He made me to be, right down to the roots of my hair. Bravo!

"He created something that is out there for everyone to see, a love letter to the little girl he loves." What an amazing Father we have that He does this for us just as this father did for his little girl! I don't think you're wrong to connect this story with our Father. I think He delights to give us 'true life' stories which mimic His love and redemption.

Beautifully written, LaTonya. I'm white, but I could identify so well with this. I've spent most of my life frustrated with my thin, wispy hair. I also loved your memories of your mom working with your hair when you were a child. Wonderful!

What a beautiful article about a beautiful gesture! I grew up loving the Muppets and Sesame Street too! I watch it with my daughter now, and she loves it almost as much as I (still) do. But I always wanted to wear beads in my hair like Olivia when I was growing up, which didn't really work for my straight, stringy hair (or my mother, who had four girls and spent a major portion of her life dealing with our hair!).

I love this! Thanks for your openness, LaTonya. And I'm with you: I also cry over "Rainbow Connection." My kids call it "the song that makes Mom cry."

Thank you for touching on this topic of Black women and their strugles with hair,it is not really talked about in the Christian circles (that I know of anyway) and I was blessed when I read your article. God bless you.

LaTonya
Thanks for this beautiful article. Several friends have shared with me how meaningful the Sesame Street video has become for them. But I'd never thought of it in this way--as a loose metaphor for God's profound love. Very touching and compelling. Thank you.

I really appreciate this article. After using chemicals in my hair for many years, I now wear it naturally. I've never seen either video, as yet. We must love ourselves as we are because that's the way God made us and He sees it as very good. So should we!

"God’s love, like the love I’ve been blessed to experience from my own problem-solving father, is one that intervenes."

Amen. And I loved your last sentence, too. You echo what Tim Keller writes in his recent book on generosity and justice: we are moved to work for justice (righting the wrongs in this world) out of awe for His creation (man being made in His image) and out of gratefulness for his pro-active grace and creative love that he pours out on us.

Excellent post. I don't think you should be ashamed of crying during the "Rainbow Connection". I cry over some of Max Lucado's children's books (the Crippled Lamb, in particular) and my daughters look at me like I'm nuts.

I also love that video, and the story behind it. Thanks for making me think about my Father's love for me, too. From a Curly Girl who finally loves my hair :)

What a beautiful rendition of Love! I am moved with the connection that is made of the love that is equally shown by Our Father. It is also refreshing to hear another sister embracing her hair. Well done1

Latonya!! I have the SAME wonderful memories of my mother, my aunts AND my grandmother doing our hair!! I remember the beautiful "braid jobs" with the wooden beads or the "cartwheel or wishbone" beads in every color you could ever imagine hanging from our hair!! Hair memories are wonderful!!! I LOVE my hair!! Thick, coarse and full of ethnicity- and now with a touch of classic gray!!! Wouldn't trade it for the world! Awesome!

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