I have a funny taste in mouth. It all started when I saw this Youtube video from Seren Sensei about the deal between Bain Capital and Shea Moisture. As you may know, Shea Moisture sold a minority share of their company to Bain. It’s kind of strange – a deal between a Black-owned company and one founded by a reputedly racist Republican. Mitt Romney is no longer with Bain, but that’s not the point.
The part of this that is disturbing to me is that Shea Moisture seems to be saying one thing but doing something else. They say the deal was done so that they could have more capital to better serve their core consumer. By better serving their core consumers – namely Black “ethnic” women – their first order of business is to get the heck out of the ethnic aisle of hair products?
I really hate that commercial and the way they are spinning the ethnic section like it’s a dirty watering hole and the general market beauty section is some kind of “White’s Only” water fountain. The poor little Black girl with her twisty hair walks up to her little section looking dejected and sad and then – boom! The walls come down and Shea Moisture sits in the middle of the big aisle! The commercial set is bright! Everyone smiles! YAY!!!
Can we step back from the hype and take a practical look at what is really happening? First off, there has always been an ethnic section. Back in the early 2000s it really was sad. It was all hair grease and relaxers and sulfate shampoos that made your hair feel like straw. It was products put out by beauty conglomerates who didn’t like our hair anyway, but they figured they could get our dollars so why not give us something? It was a handful of products aimed at making our hair straight like theirs so we could fit in.
The natural hair movement began as an internet community, and Target was the first major retailer to tap into this burgeoning market. They gave a platform to indie brands like Miss Jessie’s and Shea Moisture. It wasn’t a few lonely products stuck in the back. It was and is a front-facing end cap showcasing Curly Pudding and Kinky Curly Knot Today plus an entire shelf devoted to cool stuff. It was screaming, “Hey – Black ladies! Over here! We’ve got something for you!” Target was courting us! Target wanted our dollars!
And guess what? Target made money. Target made so much money that all the drugstores saw they were missing the boat and so they started doing it, too. Ulta got on board as well. Now Shea Moisture wants all the Black women to stand up and say, “We hate our section! Get this out of here!”
What do you think is going to happen once we all say we don’t want retail affirmative action? What you will see is that shelf space being used for something else. That section makes room for up-and-coming indie brands to have a shot. A lot of small brands will lose opportunity as everyone fights for space in the general market section. The smaller ethnic brands will have to box it out with L’Oreal and Garnier and they will lose.
All this because Shea Moisture wants to be white and they have set up this clever little campaign to distance themselves from Black consumers while still getting their dollars. And they want us to help them by cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Girlies, ethnic is not a dirty word. There is an ethnic section of the grocery store that has nothing to do with Blacks. If I want some couscous or some Indian spices or some Middle Eastern whatever, I know to look there first. I am also quite fond of H Mart, the Korean grocery chain. If you are in the mood for some raw octopus or kimchi, definitely check them out. I don’t have to be Korean to enter, and white girls with crazy curls are equally free to venture into the “Ethnic Beauty” section and pick up some curly pudding.
I’m not ready to give up my Coconut & Hibiscus Curl and Style Milk just yet. Come on… it’s buy one get one half at Ulta with a $3.50 off coupon! But Shea Moisture be warned – you are really tryin’ it.