Hair Segregation

In my younger (and decidedly more revolutionary) days, I used to have a good time terrorizing stylists at mainstream chain hair salons.

I'd walk inside -- because they all had signs that said that they "welcome" walk-ins -- and the receptionist would immediately get all bug eyed over my presence.

As sweet as could be, I'd say the eight words designed to incite terror in the heart of whoever was behind the reception desk: "I'd like to get my hair done, please."

This person would usually look at me as if I'd announced that I had a nuclear missile strapped to my chest. "You want to get your hair done. Here?"

I'd innocently reply, "Yes, I'd like a wash, condition and roller set under a dryer, please."

I always sort of appreciated it if the receptionist just cut right to the chase and honestly admitted, "Oh, sorry, we don't do black hair."

If they didn't immediately say that, then there'd be a couple of minutes of whoever was behind the counter hemming and hawing and uncomfortably shuffling papers. And then I'd hear, "Well, we had one girl who does black hair but she's out today/all booked up/just quit/got hit by a plane that magically fell from the sky and landed right on top of her."

Even worse would be the, "We don't have anybody who does black hair but I guess Suzy Q here could give it a try if you want. You might have to tell her what to do though."

Uh, no thank you.

I probably did this maybe 20 times between 1997-1999 and then quit because I figured it was a bit depressing to keep putting myself through the agony just to prove a point about what I already knew, that their is hair segregation.

Even at salons I absolutely loved, like Art + Science in Evanston or the TIGI salon here in LA, when I called, I had to specifically ask if they had a stylist that knew how to work with black hair. Usually there was just one person.

Sometimes I wanted to organize a class-action lawsuit because I figure if you're a hair stylist you should be able to do any body's hair, no matter what the hair texture and no matter what the person's racial or ethnic background. But I concluded that racial equity in hair styling must not be getting taught in beauty schools and I haven't really seen this change over the years since I stopped my salon ambushing.

So what brought all this back up for me? Well, this afternoon I was in Rite Aid, getting frustrated looking for my favorite shampoo, the Creme of Nature with the green writing on the bottle. I've been using this shampoo for 15 years and suddenly, it seems to have disappeared. I was checking out the teeny section allocated for "black" hair care and started thinking (and not for the first time) about how there's total segregation of hair care products. Hair care for so-called "ethnic" hair is in a whole separate aisle than the shampoos and conditioners everyone else supposedly uses.

Why can't the tin of old school Dax pomade (and does anybody really even use that stuff anymore?) be on the shelf next to American Crew or Garnier Fructis pomade? I mean, hair grease is hair grease, right? And why can't the L'Oreal stuff be on the shelf next to the Organic Root Stimulator?

Some might say that having everything separate makes it easier for black women to find what you need because then you don't have to waste your time sifting through the endless bottles of shampoo to get what you want. And maybe that's true since right now if you're looking for "black" hair care products at my local Rite Aid, you only have two feet of shelf space to sift through.

However, black women also buy many of the same conditioners and shampoos that everyone else does so we're constantly jumping back and forth between two aisles. In fact, many black women don't use any of the products in the so-called "black/ethnic" section because they're buying the hair products in the "mainstream" section. Pantene sort of realized this when they released their so-called "Relaxed and Natural" line, which sits right on the shelf next to all the other Pantene products.

So why don't the other product lines follow suit? It seems like they should with all the moolah that black women spend on hair care.

What's up with the drugstores that shelve hair products that are geared toward black women in a separate, back of the bus sort of manner?

I'm pretty tired of hair segregation. Aren't you?


Tafari said…
Well you could always find a Korean beauty supply shop. You know they always have what we need. Or if you are lucky, there is Black owned beauty supply near you but that is probably a pipe dream.

In my area you have even less that the 2 ft of space @ Rite Aid but if you go to Target, there is much more to choose from.

Personally speaking I am back on "mainstream" shampoo, Joico & Paul Mitchell. a) because they work very well on my locks & b) I am sick of the Korean beauty supply cartel. Yes, I brought into that viral video.

Sadly, I was unable to find Black owned product line that's readily available for me tried & true.

Us Negro men have issues with hair too. Especially if you like s-curls!!!!!!

Great post.
Liz Dwyer said…
Ah, the s-curl! I was in Sally's with my sons and they were cracking up over the pictures on the s-curl boxes. They were dying with laughter. The closest Target is just as wack so no mas. There used to be this awesome Korean-owned beauty supply next to the Rite Aid but guess who went out of business? That lady was really sweet, too, but I'm thinking the rest of the neighborhood must've seen that viral video too.
As you can imagine there isn't a black hair care section in the supermarkets or beauty supply places I went to. I know there are some "ethnic" beauty shops near the train station.

I ran out of conditioner couldn't find the brand I use. A saleslady at a "profumeria" (which also sell hair products) recommended an Italian brand that is made for dry hair. We'll see how it works.

I use Matrix Biolage, Paul Mitchell or Aveda shampoo/conditioners and Miss Jessie's leave in conditioner. Now the latter I will probably need to have a friend send to me. It's not cheap but it's the best thing I have found for natural hair. Afrobella talks about their products a lot.

I saw the Korean beauty supply cartel video too.
oh p.s. I agree you should know how to do all types of hair in order to get your license. I do realize some people will specialize in color, others will be known for their cuts or blow outs. That I get.
Anonymous said…
I've no idea what the hairdo situation is here in Belfast. Very few black women so whether they use the standard salons or have some other fix I don't know. Certainly you're right, hairdressers should be able to handle any kind of hair - are they hairdressers or not? Would a clothes shop say, Sorry we don't do skirts? Well, we do but the skirt lady's only in once a week....
Liz Dwyer said…
I forwarded the links to those videos to everyone I know. I haven't looked lately to see if they have a follow-up on what's happening recently. I agree, specialize all you want but learn the basics. It's like an ER doctor saying, I don't do gunshots, only car crashes. Sorry. And I love Aveda products. I used to use them all the time until I started having to feed two boys that act like they have tapeworms. They are eating a hole in my wallet! Good luck with the Italian brand. I hope it works out. ;)

Hmm... I wonder what the black women in Belfast do, too. There must be a shop somewhere for them to go to. I remember how my hair in China was a complete wreck half the time because I was doing it myself all the time. Thank goodness I know more now about taking care of it than I did back then.
Anonymous said…
What a great point! All the stores seem to do this and call it the "ethnic" aisle. It's annoying, but I've always just gone with the program. I'm going to mention this to the manager of my local store.
Anonymous said…
Until recently I never saw the stuff for non-white hair and it seems like they finally decided that there really was money in it (duh). Of course it could also be that I moved from a pretty white place (MN) to a more diverse place(Chicago) or that I was just a young white girl who didn't think about African hair. Most black ladies I know spend a lot more on their hair than I do so it would make sense to corner that market. I like looking at all the different kinds of products in the other section. I wish they were all mixed in together; then I wouldn't look so weird.
Jameil said…
it's definitely annoying to have to search the bottom or a separate aisle or over the river and through the woods for stuff for our hair!! creme of nature is the one that always works the best. i bought this insanely expensive hair stuff that made my hair feel like straw. not cute. and i tried but i don't really like carol's daughter.

lmao @ Well, we had one girl who does black hair but she's out today/all booked up/just quit/got hit by a plane that magically fell from the sky and landed right on top of her." that SO happened to me when i did a walk in. and it's still annoying trying to find a LICENSED black person at a black shop who does natural hair. that is even more ridiculous to me. so wait, you SPECIALIZE in black hair but only when it's chemically altered!?!? UGH.
Unknown said…
I LOVE my Dax, it's great on my hair and elbows/feet too! AND though I know there is hair care segregation, I always look in the "other" aisles first! WHY is that??? Then I remember and go to our little place in the sun! That does suck.

My new fav product is Africa's Best Herbal Super Gro ~ it feels like heaven on my scalp!

Folk from Egypt are famed for doing the best job here in Chicago. Did you ever go to Yahia or Hassaan while you were here?They understand our hair and the price is right! There is also a new guy in town, Hadi and he is the bomb.

OH WELL, in their defense I think they are taught but don't have enough experience to do a good job. I mean we have all taken the plunge in desperation and come out crying. Who needs that. Beside, the good thing is that most of these products are produced in our communities and are black owned. As my Daddy says, if you can, keep it in the community!
Anonymous said…
Geez, a black girls hair! Wow, has THAT been an education for this single white father of two bi-racial kids. I think my girl's hair "needs" will bankrupt me; "Daddy, I need a relaxer" ($$$), "Daddy, I need it flat-ironed" ($$$), "Daddy, I gotta have some highlights" ($$$), "But Daddy, I HATE washing my own hair!" ($$$). Sheeesh, I gotta get a second job for all this, lol. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING compares to all the great, hilarious experiences of me taking her to various "black" salons and the reactions! Good thing the second child is a boy, get out the clippers and shave, lol!
Anonymous said…
ahahahahahaha... I've had that exact experience at the salons in my neighborhood. They just give you "the look" then say, "We don't... cut your (read: white) hair." No braids either. I just wanted to go to the local place, you know. One braid place, I was terrified by the nasty looks the women gave me. I ran away rather than ask.

I guess it's all perspective?
Brianna said…
you are right...there is nobody who spends more money on hair products than I do!

last year when I was living in LA, I went down the street because I just wanted someone to blow dry and flat iron my hair (which is super easy to do but I just didn't feel like it) and the older lady at the front said "I'm sorry, we don't do YOUR kind of hair." those exact words. I just laughed and walked out.
velvet said…
You mean that they don't require training in all hair types to get your license?! Now that's ridiculous! My husband says that a lot of places balk at cutting his Asian hair; at least they'll do it, though, despite the fact that most stylists have a hard time cutting it well.

I always wondered about stores that do that. That's really crappy. Some of the chain drugstores around here put the "black" hair care products section with the "general" hair care products, but the products are still their own section. Hmmm.

Kudos to Pantene.

Great post and much food for thought.
1969 said…
I have found a happy medium at my Dominican Salon. They can do any type of hair texture from pin straight and fine to nappy. LOL

Seriously, I am back to mainstream for me and Creme of Nature for my boys. Creme of Nature conditioner works wonders on their curls.
Anonymous said…
It hard finding the best products and even more difficult finding a qualified and competent stylist. Can I tell you how many Black hair salons I went to that have overprocessed my hair with too many chemicals and watch my hair fall out? I had to go to Vidal Sassoon for a while but then found out they were skipping steps with my favorite relaxer which left my scalp flaky and dry. I finally found the products and learned how important it is to get my hair trimmed and a relaxer touch up on a timely basis, but so far the best stylist I've been to lives in Miami but I live in San Francisco. I just had to cut 12 inches off because I went to a new salon and this African woman with "10 years of experience" totally jacked my hair. I've tired, braids, twists, etc but just prefer a relaxer. I'm getting antsy again because it's time for touch up and I only use Avlon products! I'm gonna have to fly to LA - like I'm a celebrity or rich - to get my hair 'did'.
Toni Campbell said…
Since I stopped relaxing my hair (a gazillion years ago) I haven't needed anything in that aisle, so I don't think about it much. When I needed those products, though, I was glad they were in a special place. Sometimes a shampoo isn't just a shampoo. I learned this the hard way when I bought a Vidal Sassoon product in high school that made my relaxed hair fall flat. I found out later that it contained protein (normally a good thing for hair) and protein makes relaxed hair brittle. We have this same dilemma in the bookselling industry. Should there be a separate section for African American literature? I feel that both sections (books and haircare) make it easier for the consumer of those items to shop.
Jen said…
Absolutely certification should mean the ability to work with ALL types of hair.

And if you think your sons are eating like tapeworms now, wait til they hit adolescence. Its... um... interesting.
Lisa Johnson said…
I agree that licensing for hair stylists should mean that they can do ALL hair types. Black stylists can do all types of hair, why shouldn't everyone else.

I've always found the hair segregation in stores annoying too. It's separate and definitely not equal. It would be nice if everything was together.
Liz Dwyer said…
Wow, what a day...I'll reply to all this later on tonight. I'm about to drive to Santa Barbara!
Anonymous said…
What a wonderful thought provoking post. It is so true you would think in these times these products would be right there --- hopefully who ever is readying your site from Rite Aide LEARNS something and makes a COMMON SENSE suggestion on Monday morning.
Liz Dwyer said…
I think I'm going to mention it too and see what the manager says. He'll probably try to say it's a corporate headquarters decision, but we'll see!

You have me thinking about how I've been meaning to write a post about relationships/friendships between black women and white women and how there's not enough of that -- sure we work together but are we close, close friends? And what we can do to solve this so that our kids grow up knowing the trivial like how each other's hair works, but also genuinely love each other and see each other united as women!

Anyway, yes, there's a LOT of money black hair care products. A whole lot. Part of the reason there's so much money is that many black women are in this cycle of chemically straightening their hair which damages it so then you need products to control breakage and dryness -- oh and then you have to get stuff to blow dry super straight with, stuff to flat iron it with and stuff to keep it from frizzing up in the summer humidity. But nothing really works really well because your hair is fried by chemicals.

It is TOTALLY like an over the river and through the woods experience. I do think that particular Creme of Nature shampoo got discontinued. I'm really bummed. I don't like Carol's Daughter but I'm loving Elasta QP Mango Butter --really hard to find though.

Yeah, finding a natural hair stylist is like finding a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, it's getting easier, but yeah, why do most of these black stylists only know how to put chemicals on our hair? And then can't even get THAT right sometimes!!! AAGH!

Ok, so folks still use Dax! I love those little tins!

I also go look in the other aisles first and just when I'm getting frustrated because I can't find what I need, I remember, oh yeah, we're stuck over on that shelf in the corner. I last lived in Chicago in '97 so I don't think the Egyptian stylists were in action yet. Or if they were, I didn't know about it. I had a Jamaican stylist and then Puerto Rican guy who was AWESOME! I still miss him.

Sadly, a lot of the products aren't being produced by black owned companies anymore. I always used to look for that "Proud Lady" emblem and there's less and less bottles/jars with it. Even CON shampoo is made by Revlon. Sigh.

Hah! You have a LOT on your plate, don't you? Maybe try to steer your daughter in the direction of putting down the chemicals and embracing her natural curls. Trust me, it's a LOT cheaper and healthier. I forked over so much money getting my hair done every two weeks and now I can't believe how much I've saved since going natural. Tell her that if she does it, you'll still put aside the money you'd spend on her hair and she can get something else instead (you could take a trip to Hawaii with all the cash you save!) And, I can only imagine some of the looks you get when you walk into some salons. I saw my own dad get some of those looks too, but yes, good times and good experiences are often had in the salon. I do miss that sometimes.

They wouldn't even braid your hair? What is it with not being willing to do the hair of someone from a different racial or ethnic background? And doubly weird because growing up, I used to HATE seeing black girls that wanted to play with a white classmate or neighbor's hair. I used to see so many black girls positively fawning over that straight hair and they'd say, "Let me braid it for you." Saw the same thing when I taught school, except it was black girls wanting to "play" with the hair of my Latina girls. It made me want to throw up! AAGH, we're all crazy, aren't we? Damn racism and it's psychological baggage!

Yeah, that "your" kind of hair thing is sickening. I really wonder if someone could sue for that. It's definitely discriminatory. And gosh, we have a gazillion beauty parlors for dogs -- what the poodles can't get their fur done just because it's not straight like the collie's? Ridiculousness!

I'm not sure exactly how it works but someone told me that some beauty schools just give a lecture on black hair styling and if you want to "specialize" in that, then you can. I firmly believe every stylist should be proficient in cutting every type and texture of hair. That feeling of having someone do your hair that really doesn't want to do it just sucks. Sad that your husband has to go through that too.

I miss Dominican Salons. I still refuse to patronize the one here in LA that wants to charge like ten zillion dollars for what cost $15 in NYC. And yes, the Creme of Nature worked wonders for my boys too. I actually used up the last of mine on their hair. Darn it!

I know exactly how you feel. Overprocessing is exactly what has pushed me back into going natural. I just can't take the fear that all my hair is going to wash down the sink. If it doesn't wash down the sink, it gets really thin and/or starts breaking off. It's just a hot mess so back to what grows out of my head for me. And you had to cut of 12 inches? That's awful. I wish you could sue.

I hear you. I'm not too keen to basically be slathering vaseline on my hair either, which is what some of that stuff in the black/ethnic aisle pretty much is. No thank you -- although I will always associate the smell of Blue Magic and that Creme Satin Press stuff with my childhood. It is the same debate with book sales. I don't think books should be segregated just because of an author's race. I think black authored books should be the shelf by genre with all the other books -- actually, put them in a super prominent display even if it's not black history month!

I'm really afraid of the teenage years. I just don't know where it goes though because they're in the 10th percentile for weight but they eat like it's nobody's business! I joke that they eat like hobbits with a first breakfast, second breakfast, etc.

It's segregated and teeny-tiny! I mean, I know there's not that many black folks in LA, but come on! Some folks from other ethnicities could use a little Creme of Nature shampoo too!

It's really interesting seeing how if I mention a corporation, next thing I know, they're over here checking out what I said about them. I hope there's a positive result. We bloggers have more influence than we probably even really know!
I have always wondered why they have a dusty little section for so-called black skin and hair products.

I love Palmer's Cocoa Butter skin cream and don't understand why it's considered an ethnic product, or really, why any of them are. Skin is skin.

The hateful discrimination in beauty shops is just vile as well as idiotic because not all black people have identical hair, and my brother's four white children all have extremely curly hair.
jillybean said…
Los Angelista...remember me, 17 years without getting my hair done? Well, I suggest you try Nexxus therapy shampoo and humectress conditioner. You are going to love what it does to your hair. I use it on my hair and my daughters. The good's at Target. Also, I just read that Kim Kimble will have a new line in Target starting in June! We'll have to check it out.

Good luck!
Miss Awesome said…
I'm not really sure what to say about any of this... I always feel like people look at me like I'm an idiot when I'm standing in the "ethnic" aisle trying desperately to find something that will work in my kid's hair. Maybe if they mixed it up, I wouldn't look like such an ass.

As far as the books (I read all your comments), it's always bothered me that authors like Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, who are some of the most talented and accomplished writers of our time should be grouped into a "black literature" section. Separate book sections bother me more than separate hair care sections.
darlingjezebel said…
I love this blog- I actually found this through a Depeche Mode search!!I have experienced that " We Don't Do Black Hair" here a few times in some really "dirtbag" salons ... like in a mall or that Lemontree and its likes on Long Island, this is a great post- Thanks so much for sharing your experience and shaking things up a bit!!!!

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