By Firdaws Hakizimana
So, I haven’t ever been to a hair salon. Partly because as a Muslim girl, a female hairstylist would need to be in charge of my care, and I would have to be in a room where no man could see me in order to be appropriate, according to Islam. Also, it’s really hard to find a salon that caters to women with Black people’s hair – 4C, to be specific.
Growing up, hair has always had an impact on my life. My aunts and cousins wore wigs and weave, and my mom learned how to braid my head of unruly hair. Our living room became a makeshift hair salon: a water-filled spray bottle, a stack of hair bands, hair lotions that changed as I grew older, and an assortment of brushes. Occasionally the hair iron would show up, and the yarn was used instead of the weave. One of my mom’s friends used our living room to do the hair of a family friend’s daughter a couple of times.
Hair has also played a big role in social injustice. Afros and dreadlocks were – and still are – frowned upon. Children go to school and teachers actually shave their hair off. Coconut hair products, which are one of the few that actually work on Black people’s hair, “smell weird,” we are often told. We could argue all the livelong day about non-Black people having cornrows or dreadlocks – I firmly believe that it is acceptable, so long as non-Black people acknowledge the privilege inherent in being called “icy,” or “fire,” or “hip” if they sport cornrows or dreadlocks. But doing so could potentially lose job opportunities for me – but that isn’t the topic I want to touch base on.
Remember the friend of my mom’s that I mentioned earlier? Well, it turns out that it is illegal for her to get paid to do hair. I did a quick search into what her punishment would have been in Texas if she had been caught (that was where we were living at the time). For a first offense, she would have had to pay $300! In order to be legal, my mom’s friend would have needed to go to school and get a cosmetology license. And schooling is expensive, and most schools don’t even teach how to care for Black hair. That’s part of the social issue.
I took a look to see what hair salons in Maine cater to Black hair, and the only licensed ones I could find were Toni’s Touch in Portland and in Biddeford. I read an interview with the salon owner, Antoinette “Toni” Smothers, and found another flaw in the system. Smothers went to Empire Beauty School, however, in order to learn how to handle Black hair she also had to attend Dudley’s Beauty School in North Carolina. Many beauty schools all over the country don’t teach how to handle Black hair, and that’s not right. When it isn’t standard to learn how to take care of 13% of the country’s hair type, that’s a problem.
In the end, so many everyday, basic parts of life have an underlying layer of racism. If white people had hair like Black people, you wouldn’t be reading this. Instead, you are reading this – and most likely you are also demanding that other changes happen also.
My hope for the future is to be able to go to a salon and get my hair done. It isn’t as pressing a need as ending police brutality, for sure, but it is a problem that needs our attention.