While talking to a source, who is a beautician and also involved in politics, she began to mention books she’s read on the inception of Black beauty salons, and suggested I pick them up as well. One being Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany M. Gill (@SableVictorian on Twitter).
Just a few pages into Beauty Shop Politics (really only TWO pages), it became abundantly clear how overlooked the role of these spaces, and the women who started them, played in the civil rights movement and politics. They helped to fund political groups, and according to Gill, beauticians were some of the most active members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. They were also leaders in their own right.
Even as a young women growing up and going to salons (my mom was a hair stylist, but I still frequented salons in Buffalo, NY), I need to go back and reframe the way I think of salons. Then, expand on it. Salons are not only territories of style and empowerment and a place to gossip. They’re a way for Black women to become entrepreneurs. We know about the life of Madam C. J. Walker, who became a millionaire from her hair care line. But what about the young woman Mississippi who started a hair salon that enabled her to support her family? Or sales agents, beauty culturists as they were called, trained on how to use and sell “The Walker System”? Their stories tell a collective one of how Black people aimed to create economic freedom. Speeding up to today, I think about beauticians and hair care brands that use the Wild West of Instagram to build a customer base and make a living.
As I read more books about salons and barbershops throughout American history, my question becomes: how can I build on these stories?
I’ll keep you posted.