The Beauty Aisle Is Segregated

The Beauty Aisle Is Segregated—and I’m OK With That

Equality is important, but I’m happy in the ethnic hair section, thanks.

By: Jessica Cruel

February 2, 2018

Recently on a long vacation back home to see my family, I had to run to the store and stock up on a few products to do my hair. The big tubs of gel and mists I typically use on wash day are not exactly TSA-compliant. No matter: I strolled into the Publix and went directly to the ethnic hair section. There, in the middle of the sprawling hair-care aisle, were five neat shelves of products for natural black hair like mine. I scanned the options for about two minutes, picked up a shampoo from As I Am and a twisting butter from Taliah Waajid, and was on my way in no time.
If my story seems anticlimactic, it’s because it is. I needed hair stuff. I found it easily because I knew just where to look. The end. But the mere fact that I can go into any supermarket, drugstore, or discount department store and know exactly where to find beauty products for my kind of hair is fraught. Some see the ethnic hair section as a symbol of lingering racial discrimination—a separation of “us” and “them” that harkens back to the “white” and “colored” signs that once hung on water fountains, bathrooms, buses, and pools. (There’s usually a sign marking the aisle, but even if there isn’t, you know it when you see it.) And since the ethnic hair section tends to be a lot smaller than the general market area, you get the distinct feeling of, you know, separate but not equal.

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