About That Korean Hair Meme: Why We Should Really Be Thanking Some Sistas For Their Weaves
So social media has been circulating a very interesting meme about Koreans and their alleged ownership of the black hair care industry.
And by interesting, I mean: ridiculous.
A meme that resurfaced recently criticizes black women for buying weave from Korean shop owners, with the assumption that they’re funding college education for the shop owner’s children. The text reads, “The Korean family would like to thank black women for taking the money they could use to send their kids to the best colleges and spending it on fake hair so we can send ours! Your insecurity and lack of racial pride has made us rich. You go girl!”
I’ve seen this meme before. And I’ve heard and seen this discussion both online and off as well. Naturally, I’ve always found this talk about black women and our supposed role in financing the entire Korean lifestyle problematic. For one, it’s totally embedded in the double standard, which tends to trivialize the interests of women, and specifically for black women, blame those interests for all that ails the black community. Secondly, in the days of prominent black men getting passes for talking about their presence being charity and choosing not to give money to causes that aid countries in Africa because, as one asked, “What has Africa done for me?” no one should be counting a black woman’s chump change.
But most importantly, such a meme is not very accurate and it’s flat out disrespectful to the contributions black women have made to holding down the community. In spite of all the talk about black women giving the “community’s money” away, black women’s hair and hairstyle choices, including the weaves, have likely done more to build and sustain the community than anything else the black community has produced. I’m willing to bet that the weave alone has contributed more financially to build collective wealth amongst our own, than basketball and Hip-Hop music combined.
And I’m not talking about Madame CJ Walker (although I’m talking about her too actually). I’am also talking about Carsons, Johnson & Johnson, Bronner Bros, Carol’s Daughter, Shea Moisture and a litany of other black owned hair care companies, which have come, gone, are still around and have been sold off for some serious dough and made some black families wealthier in the process. What’s missing from these memes and conversations is any consideration of how much income is derived from a single hairstyle – from the sale of the hair, to the styling tools and products, to the person who actually installs the hair – and who exactly benefits.
As noted by market research analysts Mintel in this Huffington Post report, black hair care is more than a half a billion dollar industry projected to expand to more than $700 million by 2017. But while the hair care industry is changing – with perm use declining and natural hair care inching up a bit – the sales of weaves and wigs have also seen major growth (as much as 28.5 percent by some estimates), with nearly six out of 10 black consumers saying that they have worn extensions.
It is true that the vast majority of brick and mortar beauty supply stores (where hair extensions are usually sold) are owned by Koreans and other Asians. However, what folks should also note is how the Internet has aided black entrepreneurs in their efforts to seek out partnerships with manufacturers and distributors of raw and virgin hair around the globe. These relationships have meant that some industrious black entrepreneurs have been able to compete head-to-head with not only those Asian-owned brick and mortar stores and online retailers of raw hair, but also wholesale sellers of extensions. As noted in this piece I penned for The Grio, some of these entrepreneurs have managed to gain some level of financial independence and security for themselves – all thanks to the power of the track.
And it seems that they are not alone: According to this 2012 survey, compiled by the Professional Beauty Association and the National Cosmetology Association, the nation’s salon and spa industry “has a broader representation of women and minorities than the overall U.S. Workforce.” In fact, the report shows that out of the more than 974,000 total personal appearance establishments, 85 percent of businesses are operated by women (compared to 47 percent of employed individuals in the overall U.S. workforce) and 12 percent are African American, which is one point higher when compared with blacks in the overall US workforce.
And while many industries saw a decline due to The Great Recession of the late 2000s, the report notes that the salon and spa industry “performed relatively well” both during and coming out of the recession, with less than a 0.1 percent decline in growth during the hardest periods of the recession and an increase of 1.7 percent during the national recovery. Even more impressive, the study notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projection of personal appearance jobs increasing up to 15 percent by 2020, with hairstylist and cosmetologist positions projected to increase by 16 percent.
What that means is that short of black women going headless, we are going to get our hair done. And if we don’t have any hair, we are going to sew or glue or even hook some on. And even more likely, we are going to pay a black salon to do it. And if there are no black salons around of our liking, we will pay our cousin with the chair in the basement to do it for us. Moreover, the money these women are paid to do our hair and weaves will likely be used to buy groceries, pay rent or mortgages and utilities too. Some will treat their families and themselves to clothing, luxury items and nights out on the town with that money. And some might even spend that money gained from putting in weaves to take care of their children’s private school education or even college.
More importantly, there is a strong possibility that this woman will take that weave money and use it to purchase hair from black suppliers and obtain hair care products made by and for black women; or, she will use that money to help support the black church or mosque; and the black restaurants and lounges; and the barber shops, because her son and significant other want to tame their natural coils too; or to pick up all the Shea butter, incense and Moringa powder, which folks like to proudly tout in black-owned businesses. The point I’m making here is that the money she has made from doing weaves will likely grease the palms of just as many black hands than what we assume ends up in the pockets of our smirking Asian counterparts.
That’s why in the grand scheme of things, it seems pretty silly to squabble over the lack of ownership black women have over the raw material one uses to provide a service for a fee. Last I checked, the brothers weren’t producing actual basketballs or the vinyl for their albums (yeah I know, but you get the point) or even the containers and little sticks for the proudly black-owned Shea butter, incense and Moringa powder they have. If anything, black folks owe black women specifically a “thanks” for helping to sustain the community for as long as we have – down to the strands of hair on our heads.