Before I sheared my locs this past October, I hadn’t physically been inside a black beauty supply store in over six years. En route to purchase a few packs of the $3.99 Marley Hair to achieve this particularly lovely creation, I fell completely silent while simultaneously handing over my debit card and scanning the cluttered shop of imported miracle grow products and perm kits.
Brown faces on the floor. No brown faces behind the corner. No surprise here folks. This scenario describes the typical set up across the country; no matter what community you happen to find yourself in.
Handing over my debit card that day became analogous to selling my soul. My conscious imploded with grief as I actively traded my tresses for another round on the status quo bus of environmental and economic degradation.
Deep moments in shallow lands, I know. Just stay with me here. I think I might be on to something.
Complacency, I’ve discovered, is merely a symptom of fear. Fear of standing out, standing up and asking for what is rightly yours to demand: respect and dignity.
The issue at hand is much deeper than a few questionably sourced and produced products selling across the shelves in lower-income neighborhoods.
It is the lack of care our country displays when regulations and statutes are created to protect the highbrow capitalist who’s tax abatements are costs covered by a community who can not afford to bear the burden—not the interests of the community poisoned by sub-par products and inequitable policies.
We are a community, and a nation for that matter, that is used to being stepped on and powerless. Mobilization efforts are arduous, take time and cost money. Fighting the powers that be require a movement. Admittedly, outside of my digital soapbox brand of activism, I work a 9 to 5 just to stay alive and let Chase Student Loans court me through the rat race. In short, AIN’T NO BODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.
The fight and failure of the Safe Chemicals Act attempts to move the needle on our exposure to toxic products. But like many a plight we fight, claiming victory doesn’t mean that the most marginalized of society will reap the benefits of banned chemicals.
The beauty supply store, characterized for servicing the needs of the black community but yet dominated by a largely Asian-powered entrepreneurial system, has and always remains our largest feat as it relates to the power dynamics of the distribution of black beauty. It represents more than a shop full of random beauty buys, t-shirts and jewelry. It is an impediment to our progress as a community.
We are what we spend our money and time on. Ask somebody. Our community grows or stagnates based on the priorities of our dollars.
Do we buy Blue Magic Hair Grease or Farmer’s Market tomatoes? Do we support the transition of the bodega introducing fresh vegetables or do we allow McDonald’s to build an additional chain around the corner and provide low-wage jobs to an already economically depressed people?
For far too long we’ve traded our silence for mediocrity. Perhaps this is what Mr. Du Bois was alluding to when he lamented on the treatment of people of color in America describing the personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation many of us know too well.
You see, voting occurs with our dollars. If we demand better, we might in fact be able to get better.
In the meantime, does compromise offer a solution? Perhaps.
If the next time you walk into the beauty supply store and you can find nothing on the product ingredient list that remotely resembles a plant or fruit found in nature, ask the store owner if they would be interested in carrying Shea Radiance, Ilia Beauty, Gabrielle, Shea Moisture or whatever your latest natural/organic beauty fancy.
It could be worth a shot.
Love and Beauty,