Hair Politics: Where should I buy my hair products?

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A few weekends ago, I decided to do some wig research. There is a large Black hair store not too far from my parents’ place. I had never gone in there before, but they had a lot of wig and weave advertisements outside the store.

I went in and it was huge – just like the Number 1 Beauty Supply in Barbados (a wonderful spot, I must say). There was my Ampro Clear Styl Gel – a big ol’ bucket – for $6.99. I grabbed one and started stalking the aisles. I saw wigs galore and I know that Honolulu Girl is hiding in there somewhere, but there were too many women crowding the wig area. So, I backed out of there for fear of being hit with flying kanekalon or yaki. The friendly young woman who was overseeing the area asked me if I needed any help. I declined and decided to look around some more – I’ll come back another day to try wigs.

The majority of people I saw working were young Black women but I saw a couple of Asian men in store smocks and the people behind the counter at the cash were Asian… and then it clicked. The store is owned by Asians.

I was in a conundrum: as a Black person with access to Black-owned hair stores, should I spend my money here?

Now, hear me out. This isn’t a tirade against my Asian sistren and brethren.

The woman behind the counter was friendly and as helpful as she could be when I asked about the proliferation of skin bleaching products behind the counter. (That’s another blog – what’s up with all the skin bleaching products in Black hair stores anyway? Fair and White? Are you kidding me?) The situation smacked a little of other people taking advantage of Black people’s hair neuroses to make money.

To sell something that is so quintessentially Black without the experience of dealing with Black hair or using products that, with the wrong combination, can make every last strand of hair drop out quickly and efficiently seems absurd to me. To me, it would be equivalent to a white woman writing a Black hair care blog or if an Indian woman were to buy a sari – and request help wrapping it – from me, a woman with no experience or knowledge in that.

It just doesn’t make sense and that was highlighted at the hair store. (Read this post from Racialicious that shows a video about the Black hair care market in the U.S.). I don’t know if things are that serious in Canada, but it’s bad in the United States. I don’t like the ‘us vs. them’ vibe in the documentary, but I’m not American, so I can’t judge their feelings. It just seems very divisive. Anyhow…

Yes, it’s a business and the people who own the store have started a lucrative business selling products that people want. They’ve employed a number of young Black people, which makes sense – put people in the store who know and use the products and can provide some knowledge. They aren’t wrong for trying to make money because they don’t know the intricacies of Black hair and the politics of Black hair, but I would be wrong making that store my first choice if I have options. So, if I can’t find what I’m looking for at the two Black-owned hair stores in the area, then I’ll visit this one, but it won’t be my first option.

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