The Day SheaMoisture Got Extra Ashy, Explained

SheaMoisture via Facebook
SheaMoisture via Facebook

What is SheaMoisture?

SheaMoisture is a beauty brand whose hair and skin products are very popular with black women. Even if you’d never heard of SheaMoisture until yesterday, if you date or even know (or, shit, just happen to see) black women with natural hair, you’ve undoubtedly encountered SheaMoisture in some fashion at some point.


So this is a brand exclusively for black women?

Exclusively? No. Not to get all #AllHairMatters on you, but anyone can use it. Still, SheaMoisture’s target demographic is unambiguous. If you go to and click on the Our Story page, the following pops up:

Sofi Tucker started selling Shea Nuts at the village market in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912. By age 19, the widowed mother of four was selling Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade hair and skin preparations all over the countryside. Sofi Tucker was our Grandmother and SheaMoisture is her legacy.

This is some black-ass shit, since any sentence containing the words “African,” “Black” and “Soap” in succession is destined to be at least as black as the first 2 minutes and 45 seconds of “Before I Let Go.”

That’s pretty damn black.

I know, right?

So, what happened yesterday? Why’s everyone mad at them?

An ad was posted on their Facebook page promoting their products, with the message “Break free of hair hate.” And while the spot opened with a black woman, it primarily focused on two white women: a blonde flummoxed by her straight hair, and a redhead expressing that she feels pressured to be blond.

Ultimately, what you had was a company that became rich off of black women deciding to put black women on the bench for an ad campaign. And, perhaps even more insultingly, by making white women the focus of the “Break free of hair hate” messaging, the company equated the racially and politically complex (and often antagonistic) relationship between black women and how their hair is often regarded and treated with a couple of white women deciding between hairstyles and colors with the breezy frivolity of choosing condiments at Chipotle.


Like, imagine there was a national ad campaign to end torture. And in that campaign you had one guy sharing his experience with being waterboarded, and then a couple of guys talking about how they were forced to listen to nothing but Lil Yachty on a road trip from Pittsburgh to Charlotte, N.C. Both things are technically torture, but one thing is totally unlike the other.

I see. So why would SheaMoisture do this?

Apparently this latest campaign is part of an ongoing strategy for the company to diversify its customer base. Basically, they just wanna make more money (which isn’t a bad thing) and appear to be willing to erase black women to do so (which is).


And to add ashy insult to injury, yesterday afternoon they retweeted and thanked Tariq Nasheed—King Hotep, First of His Name—for calling black women hypocrites for not boycotting other businesses, effectively adding a quart of Thunderbird to their steaming bucket of tone-deaf fruit punch. At that point, the only thing missing was their hiring Sean Spicer to sing “These Hoes Aint Loyal” at a press conference.

Yikes! So what happened next?

SheaMoisture eventually released an apology and pulled the ad, but the damage to its brand is probably irreversible. The company threw black women under the bus, and now black women seem poised to return the favor. The folks at SheaMoisture also had the misfortune of showing their whole entire ass at a time when the erasure of black women is an especially sensitive issue. Just ask John Ridley, who tried it with the Showtime miniseries Guerrilla—and then, when confronted about it, cried a whole bucket of bizarre interracial crocodile tears about his own marriage.


So where does SheaMoisture go from here?

If the company is really focused on those mainstream dollars, there are quite a few people in the White House now who could definitely use some extra skin care. Steve Bannon, for instance, could probably use a vat of shea butter to dip his entire head in. The company could even make #MakeAmerica(Not)ChafeAgain its slogan.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)