“Ethnic” as “Other”

There’s always a hair section at the supermarket: a section for hair — regular hair, normal hair, perhaps you would call it white women’s hair — and then a section dubbed “ethnic” for the other hair; it’s for the misunderstood hair, the hair that the simple “hair” section cannot provide shelf space for. The “ethnic” section is for black women’s hair.

It is separate due to its other-ship. “Hair” and “Ethnic Hair” have been segregated, most presumably because of lingering racist ideologies that are still perpetuated even in the supermarket — it’s not a water fountain, but it’s something. We are still compartmentalizing, labelling, and marginalizing. We’re separating the ‘normal’ from the ‘other;’ in this case, the “ethnic.” To treat it as the foreign, the unknown, is to other-ize, and in an age of even superficial progress, this is an ostensible obstacle for people (primarily women) of color.

It’s certainly true that not everyone’s hair is the sam: long, short, curled, keratin, dyed — but products that match these categories are all in disarray when you go to the store. To divide between “white” and “black” seems like the least relevant information in the hair section — why would the section be divided by “ethnic” as opposed to “gels,” “mousses,” “straight” or “curly” supplies? This information is far more pertinent to a consumer.

Overall, the beauty industry has long catered to white women over other races and ethnicities. There is a foundation shade with a matching concealer and powder for every shade of white, yet it’s not until recently that there have been beauty products developed for darker shades of skin. This kind of division and complete lack of representation spotlights the everyday difficulties and inconveniences that we instill upon women and men of color.

So, why are we representing hair as if it’s really any different? As far as gender goes generally, beauty is often equated with success. Why are we ignoring the beauty of black women?   How do these obstacles perpetuate and serve to underscore lingering discrimination, sustaining prejudice and misconceptions?

2 thoughts on ““Ethnic” as “Other”

  1. This is a great post, Julia. I think your insights are so interesting, and I have recognized this same issue in beauty sections of stores. It is a subtle, less noticeable means of oppression that would not be recognized in the slightest by the untrained eye. This makes it an issue of “Us vs. Them”, as you’ve mentioned with your idea of the “other”. In my mind, these two ideas go hand in hand. By making industries such as that of beauty products so racialized, we are “othering” people who do not fall into our ideals of beauty, which equates to Whiteness in our society. By doing this, we are making it not only a racialized issue, but separating ourselves from the issue completely, making it a “them” issue. It is almost as though the beauty industry does not see the problem; by making these distinctions, they are essentially saying that one body is more beautiful than another, and this is an extremely unsettling way of regarding our standards of beauty.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog post because it reminded me of an article I saw in January that I found very disturbing. The headline from the Business Insider article stated, “Furious Walmart Customers Post Videos of Stores Locking Up African-American Beauty Products”. And, to go even further, the customer filed a lawsuit against Walmart for alleging racial discrimination. Being a frequent shopper at CVS, I know that the more expensive products (razors, some medications, high-end beauty products) are locked up for fear of theft. However, I have never seen “ethnic,” African American, or Black hair products behind the glass. I don’t think it’s enough for the customer in this case to just not shop at Walmart. This is a part of the system and must be changed with laws and regulations. Hair should not be represented as different- and more specifically, Black or African American hair should not be viewed as different or “ethnic”.

What do you think? Join the conversation!