While walking the streets of London, I encountered a sign advertising a blow dry service. £25 for a blow dry? A reasonable price. A recessionista can handle that. But if you have “Afro hair,” it would be an additional £5.

The blatant price discrimination irked me. So naturally I did what all radical social media savvy activists do when something bothers them. I Tweeted about it and put a picture on Instagram.

If you didn’t already know, what a black woman chooses to do with her hair has become unnecessarily entangled in a convoluted political discourse. A discourse so complex it’s difficult to prise the actual problem apart from its offspring, or have a conversation about black hair without offending someone. For reasons out of her control, a black hair woman’s hair choice is loaded.

And the bizarre fascination with black women’s hair doesn’t seem to be dwindling. Whether it’s natural, relaxed, shaved, braided or dreaded, you’ll be questioned.

“How does your hair get like that?” “Magic?” “Why do you wear it like that?”

If you encounter someone curious and courageous, they may ask to touch “it.” The type of people audacious enough to make such a request tend to ask while their hand is already on your head. Hair fiddlers are annoying, but compared to the intellectually bankrupt souls who judge a black woman’s character based solely on her choice of hairstyle, they’re bearable.

I wish it were “just hair,” but unfortunately it’s not. So when I saw the sign, it pricked a nerve.

When I was a little girl, my mum used to do my hair. She’s a skilled hairstylist. However my hair (like my personality) was rebellious and reluctant to be tamed. During our hairdressing sessions, my mother and I became temporary adversaries. She’d hit my scalp with the comb every time I’d scream in pain (she denies this). I’d pray for magic powers to make her disappear.

Suffice to say this did little for the health of our relationship. When given the choice between enduring torture at the hands of my mother (and ending up with an equally torturous hairstyle) or going to the hairdressers, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

The steady influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and West Africa to England from the Post-War period to the early 80s meant that come the early 2000s, when I first started going to the salon, there wasn’t a shortage of places for me to go to get my hair done. In pockets of London like Brixton, Peckham, Homerton and Finsbury Park, black women have a plethora of hair salon options. However these salons are generally frequented exclusively by black women.

Why? It’s pretty simple. Despite a study conducted by L’Oreal showing that black women in the UK spend six times more on hair care than white women, they’re still considered a niche market. A niche your average European salon doesn’t require their staff to be familiar with or deem profitable enough to invest in attracting. Therefore black people have maintained their own network of salons to cater to their hair.

In theory there’s nothing wrong with a “voluntarily” segregated hair salon market. In practice it’s different. I know of women in England and other European countries who live in small towns with low/non-existent minority populations. This means they tend to have no options when it comes to doing their hair professionally. They have to travel to a big city.

Some of my friends who ventured out of London for university would do insane coach journeys back to London just to get their hair done. They’d get on a coach at midnight in northwest England and travel for five hours in order to make a 9 am hair appointment. Once their hair was done, they’d dash to the coach station in order to get back to university just in time to make the final lecture of the day. I even heard of someone who travels from France to London every six weeks! Scenarios like this demonstrate the additional financial and time burden that can be placed on what is already a costly experience.

It’s a divide that doesn’t make practical sense, especially in a social climate that’s deemed by some as being “post racial” (sidebar: I roll my eyes whenever I meet anyone who takes post-racialism theory seriously). We’d recoil at the thought of spas or wax bars that stratified themselves according to race. But the fact that our hair salons are far from integrated has become so normalized we rarely question it.

Emma Rees, owner of Blow Bar in Islington, the salon that inspired this piece, later reassured me that all “thick curly hair” types were charged additionally.

“We specialize in all types of hair. All our stylists undergo an intensive blow dry training course to cover all hair types. Like all other salons we charge by time slots so this is why we charge more for services that take longer,” said Rees. By highlighting Afro hair in their price list Blow Bar is showing that they’re one of the few inclusive European salons.

So I won’t diminish the spirit of the gesture. But its execution was horrendous. In many ways, it’s a direction we should be moving toward. Different hair types cared for in the same environment.

Hopefully we’ll get to a point when “Afro hair” is simply considered hair. Hair that might require a different technique, but hair just the same. Hair that doesn’t mean an additional cost. Hair that isn’t treated as an “other.”

In the meantime I’ll endeavor to be less sensitive about this hair thing. Unless of course you try and touch my hair, then we may have an issue.

 

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Christiana Mbakwe on XOJane! 

  • http://twitter.com/Capri138 Capri Rose (@Capri138)

    So, what else is new? We have always been held at a different standard. The rules aways change for us.

  • And?

    Don’t salons charge extra for long hair because of the extra time it takes to care for it well the same goes for coarser hair textures. shrugs

  • LemonNLime

    Ugh, having black hair and living in the middle of nowhere is a PAIN. I lived in Vermont for 3 years and just to get my natural hair trimmed it was a 2-3 hour drive just to get to the salon. Thank God it was only twice a year.

  • B

    There”s a lot going on in this article loI I think the author may be reading into it a lil too much. Or maybe things are just different overseas. In my experience it’s not abnormal for both Black and white salons to charge extra for natural hair. Honestly it has never offended me. It makes sense because the hair sometimes takes longer to do. I’ve had long hair for the majority of my life and have just about always been charged extra for that same reason (both with and without a relaxer). Idk i don’t really see the harm in this one.

  • Pseudonym

    yO! Even black salons do this for relaxed vs. natural hair- and for good reason. When I had a relaxer and ~bra strap length hair, I could blow dry and flat iron my hair in 20 minutes. Now that I have natural hair of the same length, that process now takes 2 hours! I, personally, found the 5 pound difference to be pretty generous! Maybe instead of treating white hair as the standard, they should put “Straight hair, 20, Afro hair, 25,” but there’s no way I can justify paying someone the same $$ for 2 hours of my work for what used to be 1/6 of the time.

    I’ve seen those blow dry bars in some cities where white women can get a quick wash and blow out within 20 min or less before work! I had a beautician try that on me once- hahahahaha!!! I can only laugh.

    Can any black woman with medium to long afro or extremely curly hair honestly say that it takes just as much time to blow out their hair whether it is natural or relaxed (and by relaxed, I mean with hair that actually changes texture from the relaxer)?

  • Pseudonym

    Not to mention it’s a bit hypocritical/contradictory for the author to lament:

    ‘Hopefully we’ll get to a point when “Afro hair” is simply considered hair. Hair that might require a different technique, but hair just the same. Hair that doesn’t mean an additional cost. Hair that isn’t treated as an “other.”’

    while at the same being a black African woman (Christiana Mbakwe) wearing a blonde/black mix Remi 22-inch weave with no trace of this afro hair she’s accusing others of not accepting.

    She even polishes off the job with her xoJane bio: “The only thing I regularly fake is my hair.”

    Pick a team, Christiana.

    http://www.xojane.com/author/christiana-mbakwe

    (Note: I am not making this comment to be anti-weave, just anti-baseless accusations of discrimination and racism- especially when coupled with hypocrisy, as is present in this article.)

  • DownSouth Transplant

    I would charge me more too if I had to do my hair daily (when i had long natural hair back in the day).
    it was too much hair & I had to take a whole day to just get through the wash, condition, & occasional blow dry and still need a little extra help from my boo.
    Now i still do the same but with much, much less hair takes an hour tops without turning into a family kitchen salon giving directions like a mad woman to the gang of no clue helpers.
    I still shudder at that memory

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    I’ am on the fence with this. Because I get what you are saying but usually I pay the lady who does my hair an extra 10 dollars (especially if it wasn’t detangle/stretched beforehand) for the styling especially since she usually clear her schedule for the afternoon to concentrate on my hair. Like mention, I look at it from the standpoint of how much work, time, product used (my hair drinks up products…lol) and effort put into the working of my hair. Usually when someone is working on my hair it is a good two almost close to three hours until I’ am fully done, so I don’t mind paying the extra bucks for it especially if the hairdresser did a good job and was patient with my hair. And at least they were honest, I rather deal with salons/stylists that just advertise specifically about the price they charge for natural hair because I went to plenty shady salons/hairstylists who wait to see your hair looks like and try to jack up the price instead of giving you a price point or say “um…I can’t work with your hair….”

  • Shirl

    Well said!!

  • silkynaps

    Word. Which is why I think God I have the ability to style my own hair and don’t mind investing the time.

  • jourdan

    Can’t disagree with you here! When I had relaxed hair, I could do the entire washing/drying/straightening process in about 30-45 minutes.Now, with natural hair, girrrrrrrrl… that’s a real arm workout! Also, White women (at least where I live) do also get charged more if their hair is very long and/or very curly.

  • Tallulah Belle

    I have a head full of one million natural, shiny, happy teensy weensy spirals down past the middle of my back that blocks out the screen for the folks who dare sit behind me when I go to the movies. I rarely if ever comb it (because I can’t). I sometimes find pen caps, feathers, Cheerios, transit cards and pieces of dry cat food in it. I simply pick the hanging knots out of it when no one is looking. It’s a Wonderland (without the blonde, white Alice) With that being said, I would charge me $300 to blow dry my hair. No. Actually, I would turn me away at the door.

  • Pseudonym

    HAHAHA! I appreciate your honesty. Real talk: a few times I have actually started out on straightening my hair and gave up after half or most of my head was blow dried and just hopped my half-straightened self right into the shower and did a wash ‘n’ go instead.

  • mEE

    LOL!! that is so real. and I agree, my own mother hates doing my hair. I asked her to blow dry my hair the other day and she said, “no the first 13 years of your life was enough. I’m not going back there”. smh lol

  • Jess

    I have to agree with what several ladies have already said; I too am charged $10 more each week by my hairdresser because I have a lot of hair. I call it the lion’s mane, cause after she dries it– before she flat irons it– it is huge, thick, long and heavy. And I pay the charge gladly, too much time and work to do it myself. But anyone with hair past their shoulders has to pay the long hair rate, not just Black women.

  • stellaxo

    LOL you called her out!!
    but i have to agree with your first post, that its different. i think sometimes groups of people (another example are the “feminist” “movements”, notably the one that claims that if men can do x, women should also exercise their right to do x) tend to do this.
    african hair and european hair are different.
    in both the u.s. and the u.k., we are a minority- hairdressers will more likely know how to deal with european hair than ours; while this is true, it does NOT devalue our hair! this fact has deemed necessary the origins of hair care forums and youtube channels that many of us rely on for advice and ideas about hair!

    my brother has been through an instance where a small barbershop close to our house (predominantly white) said they couldn’t cut his hair bc of the texture. while i’m not justifying it, if there are groups of people who have hardly had exposure to or even felt black hair, i can understand the hesitation in accepting to do it. Especially a task in which its success is based on aesthetics, but more importantly, the satisfaction of the customer.

  • http://gravatar.com/missinformation7 Ms. Information

    Are you mildly retarded?

  • Pseudonym

    yes, she is. “shawty the sweetie” is pathetic and gets rocks of by coming onto Clutch to say mean things about black women and men hiding behind a screen name.

  • Pseudonym

    and the fact that shawty the sweetie CONTINUES to do this after being called out on it many times makes me think it’s beyond “mildly.”

  • Pseudonym

    shawty, you must live a sad, sad life.

  • Hayll

    The salon/sign is not making any friends in the “afro” community. If the intent is to charge extra for “curly” hair (which could apply across all racial groups), then it should have specified that. What even constitutes “afro” hair? Not a good look!

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    you DO realize that people get charged extra the longer their hair is too right? is that hair length discrimination? come on now!

  • MurkyEarth

    I’m not offended. I’m natural and I would charge an extra 5 if I had to deal with my hair. I don’t think its racist but it does take more to deal with our hair thus the price bump. *shrugs*

  • MISS_EMCEE

    Black stop going to white establishments if you know they’re posting this shit ..goddamn. Some black so damn brain dead it’s like they need to be accepted by these white salons lol sit ya black ass down and go to the hood and get ya shit done and SHUT THE FUCK UP LMAOO. Now let me read the article .. lmaoooooooo

  • Apple

    Probably because it takes more time and effort to do it versus straight hair . $5 is generous

  • Lulu

    Wow, you’re a terrible troll. Go take a course in trolling on 4chan because I’m embarrassed for you right now.

  • Echi

    I agree with Pseudonym. I can’t really take the author’s indignation seriously given that the author does not seem to enjoy sporting her “Afro hair.” I would think that paying an extra ten dollars or so for kinky hair would be cheaper and less radical than paying an extra $300 to whip it into submission under the weight of a straight blonde/brown weave. In the grand scheme of things, as a casual observer, I would say that the salon is more kinky/curly-hair positive than the author who regularly fakes it (European hair) to make it.
    I probably would have reserved my side eye if the author openly disclosed that she does not regularly embrace her “Afro hair”

  • Chalkie

    I have been to salons in Africa where Caucasian pay more to get their hair done. I am biracial and I often get told that my hair is the caucasian type so I end up paying higher. Is this not discrimination as envisaged by the author of this piece? Whether in Europe or in the US,I would go to salon where they cater to black hair. Why must everything, including hair be tainted with racism? Why bother going to a salon when you know they cannot handle black hair and then make a fuss about it?

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    “Hair fiddlers are annoying, but compared to the intellectually bankrupt souls who judge a black woman’s character based solely on her choice of hairstyle, they’re bearable.”

    I.hate,when.White.people.touch.my.hair!

    Had to get that off my chest! I’m not understanding how she sees that as “mildly annoying.” It’s the one thing I encounter a lot from Whites that I find offensive beyond words.

  • http://beautifulmindtss.wordpress.com beautifulmind

    Well, this is why a lot of women who are natural are turning their backs on the salon industry. I’m all for a new wave of Black business with natural salons!

  • Kristi

    I think the authors frustration is coming from the word choice on the sign rather than the idea. Saying “afro hair…+5″ is exclusive of race when the larger idea is than anyone whose hair texture (regardless of race) is harder to blow out would or should be charged more for the stylists time. There are whites and middle eastern people in the UK who also have tightly curled or kinky hair. Putting the word Afro on the sign makes it seem as if blacks are the only ones this price could possibly apply too, which is a bit prejudiced.

  • Smilez_920

    Yea I think the author is reading a little too much into the sign and price hike. They could have used the word natural, but hey maybe they though they would get more customers by using the word Afro . Lets be real when most salons do put the word natural they really just mean ppl with Afro / course or non – relaxed hair.

    As far as the price increase , natural hair products tend to cost a little more than the non natural ones ,so why wouldn’t you think some hair salons would charge an extra 5 dollars to do hair that requires more work. Just like salons charge different prices for different styles due to the amount of work a style requires . And natural hair salons are no better they over charge for simple styles like a blow out .

    I think we get a little to sensitive over our hair sometimes . We just started accepting our hair in its natural state, it’s going to take some time for others to learn how to mange our hair needs . Can we also stop getting offended when a white stylist says they can’t do ” our ” hair. Maybe the majority of their client base doesn’t have a certain hair texture, therefore their expertise is’nt in that field. Again we just learned how to take care of our own hair. Stylist charge for man hours spent doing your hair. They have to eat too. If a stylist has to spend 3 hours doing your natural hair vs 1 1/2 doing your perm hair or someone else hair , then yes you will be charged more . If you worked 10 hours at your job and only got paid for 7 you wouldn’t be happy. Same with hairdressers .

  • Misty_Moonsilver

    I would NEVER have anyone white touch my hair in the first place!

  • ChinaBlack

    The longer your hair, the more you pay at the Dominican Salons. Face it, it takes longer to blow dry black hair than white. I don’t see any discrimination here.

  • Bosslady

    I personally don’t think it’s that serious…. I have extremely thick hair, which is quite long, relaxed hair. Although my normal stylist doesn’t charge, I have encountered a few salons that do, in both London (my hometown) and The States.

  • http://VerityReign.com Verity Reign

    While I get the author’s initial shock and frustration, I also get the salon’s reasoning for an additional charge for “Afro” hair. The tighter the curl pattern, the more time it takes to style. Before I recently cut my hair, I had a huge puff of tiny, ringlets in the shape of a 70s ‘Fro. My sister, who’s also a salon owner, would often tell me, “Girl your hair is gorgeous but you better be glad you’re my sister because if not, you would be paying well over $100.” Thank God she charged me nothing! I don’t expect to pay the same amount as a client with loosely curled or straight hair that only takes an hour max to shampoo, condition and style. Every time I go to a salon and sit in the chair, I know that I will consume anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of the stylist’s time. Why would they in their right mind charge me only $20 when they could have serviced and charged 3 clients in the time it took to service me? It doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. That’s their livelihood and they have to operate like that in order to bring in a decent income.

  • beauty85

    The author of this article seems as though she is confused because. one minute she seems as though she’s offende, bu at the same time she is advertising the salon! WTF!!!!!!!

  • http://www.gallimaufry.ws T.

    Brilliant, funny and on-point comment!

  • Nic

    Yes, I have always gotten charged more for having longer hair. Some salons post it but I’ve had situations where people kind of make it up (happened to me with a Dominican lady who thought I didn’t understand Spanish and was telling another lady she was going to charge me more for having so much hair).

  • Nic

    Two things stand out to me here. One, that you’d be paying more to go to this salon and you’d likely get crappy results from stylists who can’t do “black” hair. Two, I wonder if they add the $5 to “black” hair regardless of texture, b/c on top of the whole length issue, I’ve definitely have first had experience with a white stylist who could easily do my mother’s wavy hair, which behaves and feels like what a white stylist is most used to, who thought he could do “black” hair b/c of it. Let’s just say, he was shocked that my hair curled up instead of going stick straight like hers when wet.

  • Nic

    I was also going to say that a LOT of white people think all black women have the same kind of hair. So I have a gigantic curlish afro but I correct people who think everyone would have my hair minus a perm. We have way more varieties of hair texture than probably anybody.

  • apple

    they mean AFRO TEXTURED hair not just the people , you know what they mean

  • Bosslady

    I meant to say charge extra.

  • http://hitexturehair.com India

    As a salon owner, I understand the business behind upcharging for longer and/or thicker textures. These hair types take more of the stylist’s time than someone with shorter or straighter textures. This is pretty much standard practice in the industry. However, I don’t agree with salons that single out a particular group, such as the example in this article. It unfairly groups one demographic into the same boat. For example, someone with short afro hair may take less time than someone with medium length relaxed hair. These types of practices have shunned many of naturals away from salons. It also is one of the reasons that I decided to open a salon for specifically naturals in my area.

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