Monday, April 27, 2015

White Salons Vs. Black Salons: There is a difference

At face value, this post may seem racist, stereotypical or may be categorized as a "race baiting" post. But in actuality, the difference between a black salon and a white salon is very significant. There are many reasons other than race that black women will not patronize a white salon.

First, we must understand the reason for the rift. In colonial, plantation days, black women had to know how to care for the hair of their white slave masters as well as their own. With the husbands of these women raping slaves, this brought about biracial children with yet another hair texture different than that of their African parent. As a result, when salons were invented, black cosmetologists were the most universal. They could do their own hair as well as that of many different textures. Before the invention of the electric curling iron, all races used what I have always known to be called Marcel irons. There is a scene in the 1994 version of Little Women where one sister isn't paying attention and the Marcel iron takes her hair right off. One had to be skilled enough to know how long to leave the iron in the heat for use with different hair types to prevent such a disaster. Chemical treatments were also very different. Some hair textures would respond to a permanent wave and others would fall out. Some hair textures could handle a relaxer and others would fall out. The same was true of hair color. An immense amount of chemistry and experimentation went into developing the world of cosmetology into what it is today. So how did it become so divided?

Salons became a viable business during a time when segregation was alive and thriving in our country. This meant that white cosmetologists no longer learned to work with hair textures outside of their own. This limited them to what is generally known to be white, Asian, Latino, and Native American hair textures, should they choose to service those other races. Black salons were focused on the almighty dollar. Any woman who entered her salon was going to leave with a beautiful style. This fact carried over to cosmetology school. Schools in the south as well as schools in areas where blacks make up a majority of the population have a requirement that the students learn and pass tests for all hair types. Schools in areas such as California and Florida for example have this as an option. Which is why, to this day, anyone can walk into a black salon and receive satisfactory service but only those with hair texture similar to that of whites can be serviced in a white salon. But there are other differences.

1. The Atmosphere - When you walk into a white salon, the music is always loud. Products available for purchase are front and center and often times, each stylist's chair can be seen from the street. In black culture, beauty secrets are kept secret. Extensions and braids are usually in a private room or at least at the back of the salon. No one on the street is privy to the magic. There may be music but not so loud that it is the first thing you hear when you walk into the salon. This causes the dreaded "I just walked into the wrong room" effect. Everyone can hear you walk in and you will be seen before you see the receptionist. No harm is intended but it can be off-putting if you're not expecting it.

2. The Stylist - As I stated before, not all stylists chose, or were required to learn all hair types. As a black person in a white salon, you search for a black stylist or someone who knows that your hair is coarse like Oprah's not silky like Mariah's. When a white person says with a smile that they can do your type of hair, you often have to make that distinction. You have to look to see if they have electric irons or Marcel irons. If they wet your hair before they cut it, you have to get up and leave because they have clearly misrepresented their knowledge. This means, you may have to travel miles to find a salon for you. Luckily, Asian and Latino salons know black hair. I am unclear as to why. Many black women will teach their white stylist how to do their 4c coarse hair. God bless these women as I do not have the desire nor the patience. But they are opening doors for the rest of us.

3. Weave - Up until recent years, if you walked into a white salon and asked for a weave, you got a color treatment. If you walked into a black salon, you received extensions. In some salons this is still the case. It is best to specify hair extensions rather than weave when in a non-black salon to be safe.

4. Perm - Again, until recent years, a perm was a chemical treatment that made your hair curly in white salons and straight in black salons. Be clear when you walk in. A white person in a black salon will need to specify a relaxer as curly perms can be used on their hair. A black person in a black salon can simply ask for a perm as this can only mean relaxer. A black person in a white salon would have to specify a relaxer as one may think of a curly perm, especially if the client's hair is already straightened. 

5. Texturizer - In a white salon, texture refers to cutting the hair into layers. In a black salon, this refers to a chemical curl relaxing treatment intended for men and women with very short hair.

6. Virgin hair - in a white salon, this means chemical-free hair. In a black salon, this means chemical and heat-free hair. Heat treated hair will eventually become trained and will respond differently to heat and chemicals.

7. Blow out - In white salons, this is a very damaging process where heat is applied on top of a chemical treatment to straighten the hair. Few if any black salons will ever do this process commonly known as the Brazilian blowout. The damage to the hair is irreversible. But understand that white salons are new to the idea of chemical straightening. Black salons have been doing this since the first chemical treatment was invented by Madame C. J. Walker. No matter your race or texture, seek assistance in a black salon for permanent straightening treatments. In a black salon you will learn that the alternative to a relaxer is a blow out. There are two types, one uses a high heat blow dryer for a soft pressed look. The other uses a chemical curl relaxer. This straightens the hair, but not to the point of silky flatness.  

Now that I have highlighted the differences, let's talk about the universal truths.

1. Appointments - Keep them, no matter how kind or understanding your stylist may be, an empty chair means no money. When you miss your appointment, the stylist has to find a way to make up that money by taking in another client. In a white salon this can be easy only at times as there is plenty of foot traffic, depending on the location. But for a black salon, where their business is built on reputation, there are few if any walk-ins.

2. Hair Lengths - Black women tend to exaggerate their hair length while white women tend to understate it. Use this universal rule of thumb. Short hair stops at the ears. Medium hair stops at the shoulders. Long hair goes beyond. Do not stretch your hair to determine length.

3. Hair textures - With the natural revolution hitting all races, women have been placing themselves as close to the coarse end of the spectrum as possible. At one point in history, this was the opposite. Hair textures are on a scale of 1-4 with letters a-c. If your hair is straight, you are a 1. If your hair is wavy you are a 2. If your hair is curly you are a 3 and if your hair is tightly curled you are a 4. Even the 4 has levels. Coarse hair like Whoopi Goldberg or Rudy Huxtable (pre-relaxer) is a 4c. If your hair does not resemble this texture, do not tell your stylist you have coarse hair. This fact changes everything when it comes to chemicals, heat, and time.

4. Virgin hair - As stated above, depending on the salon, it can mean chemical and heat-free. However, with the natural revolution, women are claiming virgin hair because they no longer color or relax their hair. This is false. Unless you have shaved your head, your hair is not virgin or natural. You must completely remove any chemical treatments for your hair it to be considered virgin. The only way to do this is to cut it off. Your newly grown hair is virgin as it is untouched by heat or chemicals.

5. Trained hair - Natural hair that is regularly styled using heat such as a blow dryer or curlers for example, will become trained. This means, it requires less heat to style it. If your hair is heat styled it is no longer virgin. Tell your stylist this when making the appointment. This changes the amount of time needed to style your hair. It can be shorter if you are seeking to have it straightened or longer if you are seeking to return to your natural texture.

6. Price Checking - Never complain about the price of doing your hair. If someone else can do the same quality of work cheaper go to them. Stylists are self-employed. If you don't like their business, go elsewhere.

7. Spread the Word - If you hair looks great tell everyone who did it. This is how stylists make their money. But if you failed to follow their instructions or maintain their work, keep their name out of conversation. This is how you can destroy a reputation.

8. Fix this - A friend of mine was very angry that her regular stylist would not fix the work of another stylist at a vacation resort, who ruined her hair. She felt this was just mean and jealousy at play. This was untrue. Stylists are State Board certified. they are working with chemicals that can kill, injure, or maim a person. They are using sharp scissors and hot tools. Also, working with hair can be a bio-hazard situation. Laying one's comb and scissors down on the station table while testing at the State Board can cause a test failure. So when you come to your stylist with a "mess" on your head, they are assuming responsibility for whatever happens to you or your hair. They were not there the day your hair was ruined. Which means they are relying on your word when they ask you what was done. You may under or overstate what was done. The person who did your hair may have lied to you. Making fixing your hair an impossibility and an insurmountable liability. Never allow your hair to be chemically treated or dyed by anyone other than our regular stylist or someone in the same salon.