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Does the Black Hair Industry Rely on Self-Hate?

Lalit Angdembe and his employee, Eduard Drobata pose in Angdembe’s hair store in Brixton, London. Photograph: Jacqueline Bediako

Afro hair and beauty is part of a million-dollar industry — Korean-Americans have capitalized on selling products to meet Black women’s hair and beauty needs. In the United Kingdom, a different immigrant population has honed in on the industry. But does this industry rely on Black women’s self-hate?

Thirty-year-old Mohammed Marouf, a British-Pakistani Muslim works in his uncle’s store in London. Marouf believes Black women purchase beauty products because “They want to look good.” An anonymous employee at Marouf’s store had no issue telling me — a Black woman with natural hair — that “Black women were once like men,” but now with their increased use of hair and beauty products “they look better.” In close to a whisper, he stated that, “Black women look better than white women.”

His words were cognizant of the current climate in which Black beauty is shunned, although many are trying to change this. History tells us that Black women were secretly sexually desired, but publicly rejected. Historically, white men have tried to hide their preference for Black women — the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson had a relationship and fathered children with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves.

Stores selling Afro hair and beauty products capitalize on Black women’s insecurities and encourage conformity to white beauty ideals. However, others argue that too much emphasis is placed on Black women’s hair, and how they choose to wear their hair should be up to them.

In an article published by the BBC, South African columnist Danielle Bowler states that:

“Whether I weave it, relax it or braid it, I’d like to live in a world where the choice of how to express myself — in hair and everything in between — is mine.”

Similarly, Kuli Roberts, also a columnist, disputes claims that wearing a weave is a reflection of insecurity:

“The idea that when a black person wears a weave it’s a sign of how insecure she is, is just ridiculous frankly. I have options. I treat my hair the same way I treat my nails, I can wear it in many different ways — that doesn’t change who I am.”

Alternative arguments stress that the rejection of Black hair has its roots in white supremacy. White supremacy — which purports that white is superior to black — invades layers of the mind and plants false beliefs about the value of being white. In this state, fair skin, straight hair and other “white” features symbolize beauty, power and sexual attraction. “Whiteness” is construed as noble and “Blackness” is rejected.

The rejection of Blackness paves the way for self-talk lined with hatred. It is this self-hatred — operating under the pretense of self-preservation — that influences “beautifying” behaviors. And storeowners, perhaps in a bid to stay in business, often perpetuate this self-hatred. I was taken aback when one employee told me that, “Women with natural hair are jealous of women with weaves, because women with weaves look better than them.”

The media play a role in the rejection of Black hair. Black women are forced to internalize assertions about the “ugliness” of their natural hair. Artists like Nikki Minaj and Beyoncé — who choose to wear weaves — enjoy status, wealth and occupy public arenas. Their appearance becomes the “look” that is desired.

Lalit Angdembe, 37, originally from Nepal, owns a store in Picture CLondon specializing in wigs; he doesn’t see himself leaving the industry. Like other owners, Angdembe is highly knowledgeable; he explained to me the difference between a half wig (which is pinned on like an extended ponytail) and a wig (which covers the entire head). According to Angdembe, as long as there are parties where women are required to look good, business will continue to boom.

A gap is slowly being formed between older women who continue to wear weaves or use relaxers and younger women who are choosing natural styles. Indeed, one woman claimed that as she got older she realized she didn’t need relaxers and weaves to be beautiful, but by the time she realized this it was too late — her hair had started falling out. Presently, she’s forced to wear a wig to cover her receding hairline.

Some Black women are starting to profit from the interest in natural products. Rochelle Campbell of Alikay Naturals has created a line of organic oils, hair creams and conditioners for Black women. While there are some Black-owned stores in the U.S., the vast majority of these stores are owned by Korean-Americans.

In the midst of the movement toward natural hairstyles, savvy storeowners have simply changed their stock to meet evolving demands. British-Pakistani Muslim Tariq Khan, 34, who manages a London store, orders stock based on customer feedback and magazines. Khan understands that needs differ depending on his clientele — the needs of a Somali customer differ from the needs of a Jamaican customer. Similarly, Marouf is committed to understanding the business and uses Jamaican castor oil on his own hair. Both Khan and Marouf depend on the business to support their families and add to their profits by extending their services to white women. Marouf stressed that these women may buy “blond clip-ons or ponytails.”

During a visit to one store, I noticed a group of Black women shopping for wigs. One woman stood in the middle of her friends wearing a black, long, silky wig that fell neatly over her shoulders. The woman had obviously tried on multiple wigs, and gushed as a friend told her “Every one of them (wigs) suited her.” The women congregated at the back of the store, laughing and smiling in camaraderie.

It would have been great to see these women managing the stock in the store, counting profits and enjoying the freedom of being self-employed.

It would have been great to see these women indulging in self-love without the need for a wig.

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11 thoughts on “Does the Black Hair Industry Rely on Self-Hate?

  1. Donna Boyd says:

    Many Blacks are starting to open their own stores, all you have to do is look at the beauty supply institute, as well as others, or buy directly from the websites of black hair care providers. We don't have to spend money at these foreigner stores that sell inferior products; foreigners wouldn't have a foothold, if Blacks stop buying from them.

  2. Simi Weave says:

    Interesting article. We cover this subject all the time and just blogged about some of the points you have made recently:-

    If you are a black girl or woman who:-
    ◦loves and uses hair extensions, has any ideas for new hair extension and hair care products, or is really creative when it comes to hair styling;
    ◦hates the idea and sight of weaves, wigs, lace fronts, etc., etc.;
    ◦is really into keeping the hair natural; and / or,
    ◦has a graveyard of useless or unsuitable hair care products, hair extensions, wigs, shampoos, conditioners, etc., typically in a shoe box under the bed;

    then please consider getting into the black (or ‘ethnic’) hair industry! ‘FOR US, BY US’ is desperately needed if we want to ensure that the products available are actually what we want and need; and, errrrrr, actually work!

    Basically, if we continue to be absent in the senior, decision-making, product and brand ownership positions behind the scenes, then we will continue to have no say in what is made, marketed and sold to us. Even if we are the ones buying the stuff! Which we do, in our millions……apparently black women spend four times as much on their hair than their white counterparts, and the black hair extensions industry is worth billions, comparable to the travel industry!

    But we complain about the products even more than we buy them! We wish the wet products contain fewer chemicals, cause less damage and are more suitable for the structure of our hair. We wish the hair was less shiny, less tar-like, not so full, and so on. This is precisely why I invented the SimiWeave™, the patented original U part wig in 2003! For decades I had been screaming out for hair that matched mine, for example texturised finishes, in realistic volumes and lengths!

    Do not think that because we are prominent at the point of delivery and application of the products, (for instance, in the salons) black women are prominently represented at the source and point of production, where all the crucial decisions are made! When I joined the industry back in 2003, out of the hundreds of people I spoke to and liaised with across the globe, only two were also black women. Thankfully, it is getting better, but we still have an incredibly long way to go.

    So now that you are all excited, ready to quit your day job and join the industry, where do you sign up? Alas, if only it was that easy! Regardless of which aspect of black hair you are interested in and what you’d like to do; what your area of expertise is and what you’d like to change, you’ll have to (i) research your intended area thoroughly because there is no central institute you can go to for careers advise, networking or recruitment; and (ii) be prepared to become an entrepreneur / run your own business / set up something yourself in order to ensure that you are a decision maker. Do feel free to contact me to discuss your options (Simi at SimiWeave dot com), and I’ll provide you with as much insight as I can, as well as point you to others who have made the journey.

    By SimiWeave inventor Simi Belo

    More at https://simiweave.wordpress.com/

  3. Pam A Jack says:

    Egyptian to today women of color cover their hair . suggesting that any black women’s are insecurities is bull shit and a part of break down a color woman . wig are to protect the hair from the sun, nothing more

  4. Shawn Mc says:

    black women from west africa didnt cover their head unless they converted to islam

  5. Pam A Jack says:

    Shawn Mc not true; read the bible, the women cover their hair. the Egyptian & Hebrew who came before the Islam cover their hair.

  6. Regi Kim says:

    The movement thats occuring is not just a natural hair movement it is Natural Lifestyle Movement led by global organizations like #Nappywood established in Los Angeles in 2013. The Ethnic haircare industry is forever changing, the relaxer and synthetic hair business is declining and the Black women have 67% increase in becoming successful entrepreneurs. The Intl Black Hairitage State of the Natural Union just held on August 2 with Entrepreneurs like Myko Branch, Miss Jessies, Rene Morris, Uncle Funky's Daughter, Dr JoAnne Cornwell, Founder Sisterlocks, Isis Brantley, Isis Institute of Ancestral braiding, Dr Kari Williams, President of California State Cosmetology Board and others have experienced the changing Ethnic haircare market. Other cultures capitalizing on the insecurity of Black women is old news, the new leaders and influencers in the New era of Black Hair have more than embraced the beauty of their hair, beauty but have created sustainable business models that express what beauty is inside and out. Respond. Zhe Levels Scott Brighton Lynscot Kimbell Gwen Allen Patrice Harris Simmons

  7. When was the last time you see women of other races buying and wearing "Black" hair? I am ok with people saying they do not like their hair texture, but do not pretend you love it so much that you choose to don a weave with White or Asian texture all the time. Just be real!

  8. Junior Dover says:

    What a lot of black people don't know is that in scientific world is that being Caucasian (white) is seen as a mutations….mean you don't have alot of melenin in skin which natural to live out in the sun and there is a lot more to it……so break those mental chains and love your black self .

  9. If you wanna wear other folks hair, just do it and do not pretend there is some non-existent Black tradition to support your claim.

  10. Pam A Jack says:

    Parchment Babasue ha ha ;i guess you never head of synthetic hair . i don't need any reason to wear a wig but it sure do help when its a fact …take a trip to the local museum

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