Confession: No non-black person has ever styled my hair, even when I had it straightened.
Aside from the odd non-black person who shampooed and conditioned my hair, none have ever touched my hair in a professional salon environment, and I prefer it that way.
I blame my family. (And that’s without therapy!)
My racist hair journey began in New Orleans at three years old, in the salon of an impeccably coiffed, light-skinned family matriarch everyone called Nannie. Every week or two, my hair would be transformed from afro puffs to shiny braids wrapped in whichever-color ribbons or beads I chose.
At age nine, after my family had been in Toronto for a few years, I went to a Trinidadian for my first relaxer. I walked in with thick, natural hair and left with shoulder-length, silky, straightened hair, not to mention a throbbing headache from all the chemicals I’d just come into contact with.
Sometime in my teens, my cousin, a dark-skinned Ghanaian, opened a hair salon. Her super-talented staff always knew the hottest hair trends and encouraged experimenting, like cornrows (a big “no” for me) and bantu knots (So. Much. Yes. FOREVER).
When I went back to embracing my natural hair texture, three things had changed: my cousin closed up her shop and relocated out of the city, I lived on a tight budget since I was in college and living alone for the first time, and my hatred for sitting under a hairdryer had reached a torturous level.
I’ve hopped around to black-owned “natural hair havens” and “curly hair enthusiasts” and have either left with half my length of hair (dead ends, my ass!) or walked out after hearing “Why don’t you just straighten it?” as the stylist’s first and only suggestion. This has led me to my current predicament.
If I can no longer trust black stylists to do my hair right, who can I trust to do my hair?
Then I saw the prices at Asian salons. It’s shamefully affordable and people routinely walkout with amazing anime/pop-star hair. A friend paid $30 for a haircut and color change. Do you know what $30 gets me at a natural hair salon? A consultation. Great prices also abound at Brazilian and Dominican salons.
The main thing that stops me from venturing into one of these salons is the idea that stylists from different cultural backgrounds can’t handle my hair. Was there even a natural hair course in their cosmetology program? Even if they say they’ve had the training, how can I know they’re not just saying that to get my business? And what if they haven’t touched hair like mine since they graduated?
I approach makeup artists the similarly. While my track record with black makeup artists is 50% positive, the magic number for non-black makeup professionals is 0%. I admit, I’ve only gone to a non-black makeup artist once, but she gave me an actual clown face: ill-matching foundation, unflattering eyeshadow and bright lipstick that breached my natural lip line.
Though my horror stories rightfully inform my reluctance, when I’m faced with gifted artists of different races, I still just can’t trust his or her talent. I would need to literally watch them do the makeup or hair of someone with the same skin tone and hair texture as me to feel totally safe.
Am I the only one? Do you go to a hairstylist or makeup artist of a different race? Did you have a good or bad experience?