Oh, February. The only month when I can complain openly about #blackgirlproblems on social media and gain followers. It’s also the only month when it feels appropriate for me to boldly address a long-standing injustice and drop the mic after shouting “African Heritage Month, n***@$!” which is exactly how I felt when I submitted a long-repressed rant to The Coast for their Love the Way We Bitch column.
“African Hair, Don’t Care” was the culmination of several years of walking into drug stores and being turned away from the “whites only” section, otherwise known as the Beauty section, otherwise known as the Hair Care section, even though it’s not where all the hair products are found.
Canadian institutions are generally terrified of tracking stats based on ethnicity, even if it’s based on self-identification, so there’s no way of knowing how many people at SMU struggle to find basic grooming products. What we do know, is that 8.5% of students at the school come from countries that are of predominantly African descent. If all those international students have naturally curly hair, and the population of domestic students of African descent is anywhere near 2%, then we can assume that at least 10% of the student population struggles to find basic grooming products.
Rather than heading for the Hair Care aisle, women with naturally thicker, curlier locks look for landmark signs to figure out where they’re supposed to go. Is it in the First-Aid aisle with the Band-Aids? Is it next to the L’Oréal hair colouring kits? What an adventure! Sassy Smiling Black Woman is an essential guide — her face is plastered on shelf displays next to the diapers at the Shoppers Drug Mart on Quinpool.
I have a message for people with thick, curly or coarse hair: your hair is not unnatural. So when you boldly go where apparently no “ethnic” person has gone before — the Shoppers Drug Mart on Spring Garden Road — and you find that there are zero aisles hosting Sassy Black Woman posters, just take a deep breath. You can find your way.
You can go to the aisle where the Beautiful people go. You may feel lost, not recognizing any of the terms you’ve become so fondly accustomed to, but I promise you that white people seek answers to the same hair questions, and they put most of those answers in the same aisle. It’s all for hair, and it’s all for you. Whether you want to strengthen your hair, moisturize it, add shine, smooth it, cleanse it, define its curl, repair it, or protect it from heat, your ethnicity is barely a side-note. It all comes down to the texture of your unique hair, which varies throughout every race.
Considering the successful black hair care industry in the United States, it’s likely that in your lifetime drug stores will get their shit together and get your hair needs out of the diaper section. While you wait, test my theory. Visit your nearest “white” salon, ask them which of their display products will work on your hair, and see if they turn you away.
Sandra C. Hannebohm,