The Liberian founded, Harlem based personal care company Shea Moisture recently endured some controversy over a new commercial that the company produced that featuring 2 White straight haired models and one Black model with long soft curly hair discussing “hair hate.”
“Hair hate” as Shea Moisture is dubbing it is a real thing, especially in the Black community. There is no wonder why the company would want to address such an issue – as they have historically produced hair products geared towards natural and Black hair specifically. Hair hate as a Black issue is rooted in our community’s history of otherness. While Black people were prized, fetishized and exoticized for the things that made us from different from White people, we were simultaneously conditioned to view those things as inferior. So for the Black community hair is political. The entire discussion takes on a number of connotations and picks at a number of wounds. There is the notions about “good hair” and the facts that there were times (for some places even still) when Black hair was expected to look a certain way to be no-threatening and/or acceptable to White people. We have gone through the debates about natural verses chemically processed and on and on. “Hair hate” could reasonably be deemed an actual thing and Shea Moisture’s idea to address it is smart marketing; however, the way they went about it was terrible.
Shea Moisture has a history of advocating for natural and Black hair. They have taken stands and Ade statements against retail discrimination where Black targeted personal care products were shelved in “ethnic” labeled aisles. It is for this reason that Shea Moisture has garnered a strong customer based. So it is no surprise that Shea Moisture received a wave of backlash behind their thoughtless commercial.
So there were a couple major faux pas in the commercial. First is that the commercial is filmed in a testimonial style where the audience is supposed to be receiving the inner thoughts (or at least believe they are) of the model on screen. That said, when you see this beautiful fair skinned Black girl with thick loose curled tresses talking about hating her hair, you kind of question it. Let’s be honest, she has what we, in the Black community, would call “good hair.” But maybe she has hated her hair – we’ll let them have that one. But then when you thrown this White girl with long straight blonde hair in front of us proclaiming she hates her hair because some days she doesn’t know what to do with it and then following her is this red head – whose hair was flawless – complaining about being a red head and dying her hair blonde, now you’ve lost all credibility.
Not saying that White girls may not hate their hair but their hair issues are so vastly different from the layers of hair politics surrounding black hair that it becomes insulting to liken them to one another. One commenter appropriately called it an “All Hair Matters” move. Perfect analogy. One thing that is often forgotten is the fact that history has already taught us that most often when we align our struggle with other struggles, it gets eclipsed. And when we try to universalize our culture, it becomes appropriated. Maybe there will be point where can do such a thing but it is not now. Right now more than ever we need to hold onto what is ours until we understand it and value it enough to share with the world. I understand the business reasoning behind Shea Moisture’s decision to create the commercial but I thing neglected to keep in my mind that as a Black owned, Black serving entity, they are not just a business; they are a cultural institution.
Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f—ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be – to disrespect our community, and as such, we are pulling this piece immediately because it does not represent what we intended to communicate,” the statement reads. “You guys know that we have always stood for inclusion in beauty and have always fought for our community and given them credit for not just building our business but for shifting the beauty landscape. So, the feedback we are seeing here brings to light a very important point. While this campaign included several different videos showing different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate the breadth and depth of each individual’s hair journey, we must absolutely ensure moving forward that our community is well-represented in each one so that the women who have led this movement never feel that their hair journey is minimized in any way.
Part of buying Black means that – like we would with any other brand – you give them too to make mistakes without denigrating their entire legacy. The fact is whether or of inconsideration or misjudgment, Shea Moisture fucked up. And they acknowledged it. As a Black owned business with a Black customer base, there are a number of challenges that they face to remain competitive and be viewed and treated as a reputable, viable business like their white counterparts. The terrain they traverse is not easy. They made a mistake. I think their customers did their part by immediately voicing their objections and those objections were met with what Shea Moisture owed them: acknowledgment, apology and correction.
I’m not sayin; I’m just saying,
An Angry Black Man