When I was a kid, the beauty supply store stood next to the laundromat. My mom would drag my sisters and I there every other week to help her wash and fold clothes.
Under normal circumstances, this would be absolutely torture, except I knew that if I behaved, my mom would spare a couple quarters for me to spend next door. I mostly wasted my precious change on lip gloss and scrunchies that I’d never wear — but looking back, I don’t remember a time in my life when the beauty supply store wasn’t there.
As little Black girls, my sister and I quickly learned that those aisles were sacred ground and the key to beauty secrets we’d utilize well into adulthood. Graduating from beads and pink lotion to edge control and bundles, one could argue that we become fully dependent on these establishments by the time we’re old enough to navigate them alone.
Even with the onslaught of the natural hair movement and of course, technology (hello, YouTube!), I find myself inside the beauty supply, mostly for those little doodads I always forget I need; bobby pins, thread and needle for a sewn-in, a shower cap…you know what I’m talking about.
As kids, we’re completely oblivious to the people standing behind the counters and stocking shelves. And perhaps there wasn’t reason to; after all, what’s so threatening about a Korean store-owner or a pint-sized Black girl just trying to buy some lip gloss?
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However, time has taught me that the good ol’ days soon turn into memories. I don’t recall a specific incident in my life that made me aware of my place as a Black woman in the world. I’ve never been called a nigger (at least to my face), wrongfully arrested or asked to straighten my natural hair in the workplace.
I grew up in a loving home, where my Black father and White mother always made me feel comfortable in my skin. And my upbringing was hardly sheltered, as I’ve empathized and understood the plight of those who haven’t been as fortunate as me. In hindsight, I’ve realized it’s microagressions that continue to shape my view of the world and my place in it.
I’m hyper aware of the way my body tenses up when a white person asks to touch my hair, or when someone apologizes to me for the election of Donald Trump. And perhaps more than anything else: I find myself uncomfortable in places that are supposed to be safe and familiar for women of color, like the beauty supply store.
Oh, the irony. Being followed around a beauty supply store is the equivalent of a pastor tapping a congregant’s shoulder and telling them the altar isn’t open. It’s happened to me plenty of times and left me confused and a little helpless.
Admittedly, it isn’t something I’ve discussed out loud because my inner critic always says “it isn’t that big of a deal.” But if 2017 has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not crazy.
The act of violence on Black bodies isn’t exclusive to protests or prison cells. We’re under attack in the most unsuspecting places and forced to continuously reexamine where and how we can simply live without having to always look over our shoulder. Seeing a wrongfully accused Black woman viciously attacked by a beauty supply owner is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our contentious relationship with the hair supply conglomerate.
Thanks to a stronghold on export laws and wholesale hair goods, Asians have monopolized the beauty supply industry for half a century, making it difficult for Black-owned chains to flourish in an industry that’s sustained by their dedicated spending dollars.
When it feels impossible to get a piece of the corporate pie or to avoid unnecessary conflict within these spaces, what’s left to do? For me, the obvious solution is to emulate the same formula adopted by Korean business owners—feeding hard earned money back into our own communities.
According to Black Enterprise, African Americans own less than 1% of the beauty supply market share, despite purchasing nine times more beauty grooming products than any other ethnic group. And with every over-the-shoulder stare and violent incident, I’m realizing that it makes little sense for me to continue spending in these places; especially when there are other options.
As a Black woman, I’ve realized that going above and beyond is sometimes the only way to get a point across. I couldn’t have predicted the beauty supply store as a place where that mentality would be tested, but if the movie Get Out taught me anything, it’s that the “sunken place” can exist pretty much anywhere.
I hate that it took one woman’s heartbreaking experience for me to reevaluate where my spending money goes, but this lightbulb moment certainly won’t go to waste.
If you’re also interested in supported Black-owned beauty supply stores, check out Black Wall Street’s comprehensive list here.