Serious Question: Should Separate Ethnic Haircare Aisles Be Removed From Businesses?

June 14, 2013  |  


In recent years, Black hair has become a constant target to be debated. It seems everyone has taken a class on Black Hair 101 and feels entitled to speak on what is and isn’t acceptable for a Black woman and her mane.

When I read an article on Uptown that stated there no longer needs to be separate hair care aisles for women, I became annoyed. The term: “separate, but equal” is uncomfortable for American society because of the historical baggage it carries. Institutions being separate, but equal never made logical sense, but when it comes to hair it does. Hair is cultural. When it comes to beauty, there are many different practices each ethnic group was raised with, influenced by cultural ideals as well as hair texture. Instead of an all-inclusive approach, as the one outlined in “Why the Separation Of ‘Ethnic’& ‘Normal’ Haircare Aisles Is Unnecessary,” I question the motive which is so obviously underlined by a glamorizing of Eurocentric beauty standards. The author states:

“I used to watch the Herbal Essences commercials in jealousy. There were all of these women of European decent flinging their hair in the shower and acting as if it was the most orgasmic experience on God’s green Earth. I’d look in the mirror to see tresses that didn’t pass my ear and think: ‘When are they going to make products for me?’ Not realizing, that “their” aisle was “my” aisle. Haircare, like skincare, depends on the type of hair, not ethnicity of the person. Yes, there are African-American women whose hair craves moisture and deep conditioning, but there are also African-American women whose hair is oily and requires more cleansing than conditioning – a trait usually attributed to white women or women with a looser curl pattern.”

There is a difference between using hair products because of hair texture and not celebrating Black products or hair styling because it does not reflect a mainstream hair care brand or image. When I was younger I loved braiding or blowing out my hair because the products used would have the “Proud Lady” emblem. The “Proud Lady” was an indication to the consumer that the product used was created by a Black-owned hair company and it made me feel proud to support people who understood my hair journey as a Black girl and now, woman. According to Luster Products Inc. “The Proud Lady is the symbol of AHBAI [The American Health and Beauty Aids Institute] member companies, which appears on the back of all their products. This symbol assures consumers that the product was manufactured by a stronger Black America. I believe in that more than I do any woman nearly achieving the big O all because of a shampoo.

I do believe the labels of “normal” and “ethnic” when it comes to hair care product distinctions in stores are troubling. The language suggest an “us versus them” dynamic or that ethnic is synonymous with other and not representative of the majority of society. Those are identity issues we witness across the board in the Western hemisphere though. Eliminating hair care products won’t exactly fix that problem, although the author of the Uptown piece believes it could be a first step. I do agree with one point that was made when she writes:

“With more education of one’s health and hair, the more we realize that the “separate but equal” aisle for hair care is completely unnecessary. The ingredients needed for healthy hair are cross-cultural – moisturizers, cleansers, conditioners, protein, sealants, and humectants. Texture and porosity dictate the ratio of the ingredients we need to promote healthy hair.”

It’s true, healthy hair has nothing to do with race. It’s also not a problem if Motions is placed next to Pantene Pro-V on a store shelf. But my question is what are the gains and losses of blending the “ethnic” and “normal” aisle, together.  Will businesses carry the hair care brands you grew to use love or will they be scarcely stocked based on inventory and demographic-consumer need? Men lie, women lie but numbers and your hair not being laid don’t.

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