Briefly: On Fades and Belonging


I took A to the barbershop today. We have given up taking all of the kids together. While this system worked for a little while, "worked" would be the operative word. The boys would arrive home, lined up and fresh, with a side of emotional abuse as I had just spent an hour or two threatening and cajoling as they flipped flopped their bodies on top of the leather sofa and plastic chairs and begged me for my phone or the receptionist to change the channel to Cartoon Network.

Other children could flip and flop. I do not care. My children will not. Other children here don't have white moms. Mine do. The sidelong glances are not for my boys. They are for me.

So, we take the kids in pairs or alone now, in part because it's much faster and in part because I realize that the boys do not enjoy the specter of the multi-racial adoptive family dynamic. I think I've established that discomfort has become part my life's work, but I'm certain that none of my children have come to the same conclusions. The people that work there show the boys kindness but focus their conversations on the other adults in the room. I used to wonder why they didn't talk to the kids unless they were correcting them or giving them a lecture on hair care. I soon realized that this was exactly what my kids preferred and any insincere small talk or effusive banter would demonstrate that my kids didn't really belong there. The head nods and the going-about-the-business of the haircut is what my kids are after. This is not to say that fondness or familiarity has not grown over the years. We routinely check in on each others families and side hustles and the general state of the neighborhood. But it is the wordless nods and hop into the chair that I think my boys desire the most. The less I say, the better for them. They do not want to be the center of anyone's attention when they move through Black spaces. They just want to be in them, quietly, belonging.

A crosses the room, jumps in the chair, and asks for a fade but pleads for him to leave it extra long on top. They both look at me for approval

We love our barbers and we've been going there since August was a baby. It has been a neighborhood presence for many years and the building and the business are both owned by a former NBA player and Portland resident. His son pops in after work. People roll through all day saying hello. It sits on a street that was rebranded in the mid-2000s to appeal to the heart of "new" Portland. It is now an "arts district". Galleries, pot shops, food trucks, and expensive coffee places squeeze out the Black barber shops, the corner stores, the taquerias and the social service agencies. The only Black owned club on the long stretch of businesses is threatened by the city and the Liquor Commission with curfews and fines. I realize my barber drives in from across the river to come to work. The people lining up behind us are coming in from the suburbs and East County. I sit by the window and watch groups of people walking by with artisanal ice cream dressed as parodies of themselves. They glance quickly into the glass doors and look away. I wonder if they are surprised. The stores they've been into don't hire people who grew up in this neighborhood.

I secretly hope that they choke just the tiniest bit on their delicious, delicious waffle cones.

Like me, these people are threatening the spaces my children feel most comfortable in– the places they feel the most belonging. It will continue to happen. Our part of town is one of the most rapidly gentrifying spaces in this country over the last 15 years. I lament what we thought we had, while recognizing we have tacitly helped to bring about its demise.

A hops off the chair. Smiles big. He left it long enough on top.


With the arrival of this new age of recklessness around vulnerable peoples, I came back to this story published last year by our local weekly–"It was insistent, a worm eating through my heart: Good intentions aren't enough. I was living out another page in the history of a state that has accepted outsiders reluctantly." I Moved to Edge of Portland… By DL Mayfield

Growing Up White "I don't have a checklist," he says, "but if I did, it would sound something like this: If you don't have any close friends or people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid, then why are you adopting that kid? Your child should not be your first black friend."

If you feel deeply around family and what that means, go ahead and make sure you've seen the Closure Documentary. And then head over to Angela Tucker's page the Adopted Life to listen and watch brave and beautiful adoptees describe life in their own terms.


  1. Yes to all of this. Also just endlessly pleased that when I come here to get the url – to send to my mom or my gay friends across the country considering adoption or my yoga friend who is ready to go a little deeper – that Hey! Yay! there is something new here for me, too. Your boy is painfully beautiful with his new fade, and I swear if I see him running across the park I will do everything I can to keep him from knowing how interested I am in his life.


  2. Hi Melissa, nothing to do with this post specifically but I wanted to let you know how grateful I am that you’re back in this space sharing your stories and a bit about your family. I so appreciate your perspective and the links you provide to other writers and perspectives.


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