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.


What are your thoughts, Clutchettes and Gents? Should hairstylists educate themselves on doing “black hair”?

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  • RMW77

    This article is ridiculous. Just go to an african american beauty salon. Why would you seek out a white stylist, then cry discrimination because he or she can’t work with your hair-which is different from their usual clientele?

    • aDORKable

      An African American salon isn’t always available depending on where you live and you can still have problems with an African American beauty salon as well. Finding a stylist is hard work, finding a stylist that will listen, understand, is knowledgeable and use the right products on your hair, and be affordable is even harder.

    • T

      After visiting many Black stylists and leaving with uneven cuts(or too much cut off) or damaged hair, I started doing my own hair at home. However, if I ever get micro braids, I’ll go to an African shop. If I want a trim, I go to a White salon, and they welcome me and cut/trim my hair right. (I do wash and flat iron my hair at home first).

      I prefer to do my own hair because most people simply don’t know what they’re doing. Many Black stylists don’t even know how to properly take care of Black hair, especially curly hair because many/most of their clients have relaxed hair. Even finding an African stylist who won’t braid too tight/break your hair off is a challenge. Hair care takes time and patience.

  • MAD

    I know I am very late to comment here but I need advice. I am learning to style hair now and do not know how to get practice on natural ethnic hair types. There literally are no mannequins on Amazon with that type of hair. The only one called ethnic hair has relaxed caucasian looking hair.

    Any thoughts on how to get the proper experience? I am so lost!

    • Nothing against you, but I hate the term ethnic…I really do. It literally means nothing, as there are MANY ethnicities, all with natural hair types.

      If you’re interested in learning how to do natural Afro-Textured hair, and you don’t have any, and can’t find a doll, I’d recommend asking your friends with natural afro-textured hair to let you practice on them.

  • White hair shops do not care about black people and/or black hair – NOR – do they care about black people paying for such services. These shops do not need, want, or appreciate black patronage, or black money. The great majority of these shops are not in business to serve black people; otherwise, they would learn to do black hair.