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I’m Breaking Up With the Ethnic Hair Care Aisle

It's not me. It's you.

I'll miss you, Afro poster girl.

You were always there for me. A wide-eyed, kinky-haired model perched between the nail polishes and the face washes. Grinning and purring, "Hey sister-friend, we've made a place juuust for you. Come, follow the scent of the coconuts." Before I knew any better, I'd see you and the words "ETHNIC HAIR CARE" and actually be excited. My very own half of an aisle! Edge control pomades, shea butter shampoos, satin bonnets, masks, gels, puddings. My oasis.

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You were mocking me.

As important as it is for women of color to have a place in the beauty industry (and in my favorite drugstores), I know pandering when I see it. You know what you remind me of? Those blatantly stereotypical commercials everyone hates. You know the ones, the ghastly spoken-word poem in honor of a reinvented chicken nugget or the sassy actress telling me, "Girl, you know you need this tablet."

You were too much.

You were never helping me navigate the store. You were singling me out.

I'm over you and the unnecessary distinction you represent. Drug stores don't exactly have aisles and aisles of haircare shelves housing mountains of concoctions. I don't need your sign and your poster to show me where the Cantu, the Miss Jessie's and the ORS is. I can see it. You're literally adjacent to the "normal" hair aisle, for crying out loud. You were never helping me navigate the store. You were singling me out.

You were playing mind games with me.

The only thing that the ethnic hair care aisle does is reinforce the idea that race and hair go hand in hand. That our hair and our ethnicities separate "us" from "them." For a long time, I bought into it—literally. What else was I supposed to think? "I guess I'm ethnic so this is where I'm supposed to shop." Wrong. The whole idea of categorizing hair based on ethnicity? Very wrong. Hair is hair. As far as categories, it all boils down to thin, thick, coarse, curly, and straight, with mixtures and degrees of each. There's no universal hair type for any given race. Of course there are generalities, commonalities, but there is no standard. It wasn't until I went from chemically relaxed to natural that I realized my kinky hair was actually made up of teeny tiny curls, thereby introducing me to the curly-girl products of my...uh...non-ethnic sistas.

You were mocking me.

It was all a set-up. You and your aisle pretend like you understand me, but you don't. All you're doing is responding to that voice inside so many members of minority groups, the voice that says, "Who cares if the shit is separate? At least it's here." Or: "So what if there isn't enough diversity on magazine covers. We have our own magazines." Or: "It's okay if this line doesn't carry my foundation shade, I'm sure I can find it in the CoverGirl Queen collection."

You were holding me back.

You don't encourage diversity by compartmentalizing it. You don't celebrate beauty by moving it a few feet away.

If you're wondering if there's someone else, there is. I didn't mean to hurt you, but I've been exploring my options. Garnier products have become increasingly popular in the natural hair community and I was curious. I didn't mean for it to turn out this way, but one thing led to another and before I knew it I was...browsing.

Yeah, that's right. I went into the normal hair aisle and I liked it. If I can borrow a line from my boy Ross Geller, she was...different. There weren't any wrap set foams, but there was mousse. I couldn't find my favorite curl defining serum, but I found plenty of frizz control. It was kind of funny. I thought I was doing this big crossover and I was gonna see how the other side lived. Nope. Just different names for the same stuff, made for the same hair issues, in separate but equal aisles.

You could have done better.

This is no way to treat someone you love. You and your aisle need to let go of the presumption that if you are of some ethnicity (which is, by the way, a nice way of saying "not white"), then you obviously have the type of hair that only these brands can handle. It's not a foreign substance. It's just hair. Pass the TresSemé.

You don't even see how you're making things worse! You're fueling the uninformed who think black hair is nappy, can't get wet, and requires all these special potions and products to survive. I don't want the special treatment. You don't cater to someone by ostracizing them. You don't encourage diversity by compartmentalizing it. You don't celebrate beauty by moving it a few feet away.

You're just not enough for me, Smiley. There are going to be times when I have to go to the normal aisle to get what I need and you're just gonna have to accept that. But it doesn't have to be over over. How do you feel about open relationships?


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