"We Don't Do Black Hair": Discrimination at the Hair Salon

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.

Oct 2, 2012 at 1:30pm | Leave a comment

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There was a running joke in the middle class town I grew up in that to get your hair done, really done, you had to go to the ‘hood. If you didn’t make the trip over to the adjacent neighborhood for a salon visit, you’d be subjected to stylists who were so inexperienced with “black hair” they damaged your style permanently or stylists who would reject your business altogether.

Years later, little has changed. On Jezebel, writer Rebecca Carroll recounts her quest to find a salon that could do “black hair,” and all she was looking for was a haircut. An excerpt:

"Sure, it’s Williamsburg, but how hard could it be for someone who’s job it is to cut hair … to cut my hair for length and keep the shape? And shape is key, because with a really close crop you have to be strategic about where the hair needs to be a bit longer, otherwise the default shape is that of your head.

Midway through the haircut, administered by a young, fully tattooed and slightly humorless Polish woman, I reiterated what I had told her when I first sat down: “Just cut the length, please don’t change the shape.” I reiterated this because she was changing the shape. She looked at me in the mirror, emotionless, and said: “I’m sorry, African hair is not my specialty.” Um, my hair was born in America. I did not adopt my hair from Africa. Also, maybe mention to me before you start cutting that you’re no pro when it comes to “African” hair?"

Carroll’s tale is set in Williamsburg, but there are towns and cities across the country that present the same dilemma. It simply isn’t a priority in some areas to learn to do “black hair” despite the fact that a decent portion of black women live in the community and our money is green like everyone else’s.

It’s harder still when your black hair is not relaxed. Carroll recounts being told a salon could do her hair, but she’d have to relax it first:

"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."

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.

Women with black hair deserve access to stylists who are trained in dealing with a plethora of textures, not just straight. We’re paying. We deserve good service.

And we shouldn’t have to leave town to get it.

Reprinted with permission from Clutch Magazine.

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Posted in Issues, hair, racism