'We Don't Do Black Hair': Discrimination?


(The Root) — In a piece for Jezebel last week, Rebecca Carroll lamented the difficulties she faced trying to find a local New York City hairdresser who could give her "black hair" a decent trim:

But perhaps the most perplexing response I got was from a salon that told me they could cut my hair, but only if I'd had it processed first. When I asked if they cut black hair, the receptionist answered: "Actually, not unless it's straightened." So, basically, go somewhere else to make your hair the texture of white hair and then we'll be good to go. Huh.

It seems insane to have to spend time not just researching a basic haircut, but feeling inclined to check the black hair references of hairstylists.


It was a frustrating experience that the author correctly assessed would be even worse in other parts of America than it was in Williamsburg, the "hipster capital of Brooklyn."

But the dynamics that Carroll understandably found unfortunate and "perplexing" on a personal level were assigned a harsher label by a writer at Clutch magazine in her response to the tale:

You can't help but feel like good ole discrimination is rearing its ugly head when you read narratives like that — and many of us have heard those stories if not lived them ourselves.

Black hair deserves specialized attention and care. But that's no excuse for an overwhelming number of salons to turn away paying African-American customers.


Wait, "good ole" discrimination? Like, the kind of discrimination that kept black people out of schools and jobs and neighborhoods? No. It's not like that at all. And actually, a stylist knowing that he or she would likely do a terrible, possibly lawsuit-inspiring job on a would-be client because of a lack of expertise is one of the best reasons we can think of to steer an unfamiliar head of hair in a different direction.

Plus, who wants to volunteer to be the hair equivalent of the Little Rock Nine and cross racial boundaries to force a white beautician who's clueless to get out the scissors or, God forbid, harsh chemicals? We don't see any hands raised (and, if there are people eager to take on this task, we hope they have nice hat collections to wear after their appointments).

Finally, the "They should learn to do black hair, too" argument? Easier said than done. You only have to take notice of the innumerable resources, products, debates and discussions dedicated to kinky, natural, curly, relaxed, faded and braided styles to understand that expertise in this area is more along the lines of a life's mission than a correspondence course.

So — without even going into the economic value of black salons to black communities, and how that might be affected if everyone got in on the black-hair business — we're going to file the concern about segregation in this industry under "Things to be concerned about much later, when all other serious issues have been addressed and America is 100 percent postracial" (in other words, probably never).


Read more at Jezebel and Clutch magazine.

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