“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?

What do you think? Join the conversation!