Last month, cosmetics company Shea Moisture triggered (ha) boycotts, twitter meltdowns, and a new wave of black-on-black oppression in the US... all by releasing this one-minute promotional video:
The message: "Break Free From Hair Hate!" Whether you're a redhead who's spent seven years dying her hair blond, or a black woman with memories of classmates throwing small objects in your curls, Shea Moisture can help you embrace your natural hair.
How horrible, right?
According to black Twitter... yes.
Because how dare black immigrants try to grow their business to include non-black people of color -- and, worse, white people?!
Here's the backstory:
Shea Moisture is a drugstore beauty company that was founded in 1991 by Richelieu Dennis, along with his mother, Mary Dennis, and friend Nyema Tubman. The brand drew inspiration from the younger Dennis’s grandmother, who sold shea butter and a variety of homemade skin and hair remedies in Sierra Leone.
Richelieu, who was born in Liberia, came to America to attend renowned business school Babson College. When he graduated in 1991, he was unable to return to Liberia because of civil war, so he partnered with his best friend and college roommate, Nyema Tubman, to pursue address skin and hair care issues "traditionally ignored by mass market companies."
Today, Richelieu is the CEO of Sundial Brands, the umbrella company also founded by the trio. Sundial is the largest black-owned beauty company in the United States, with an estimated value of $700 million, as of 2015. The company pulled in an estimated $200 million in revenue in 2015, an increase of 31% year-over-year.
Shea Moisture CEO Richelieu Dennis. Image: FastCo.
Richelieu has come a long way from hawking shampoo by the pound in the streets of Harlem.
His determination, audacity, and resilience should be an inspiration to us all. He would make a great role model for today's young adults -- who, as I wrote in If LeBron James Responded to Racism the Way Today's College Students Do, the Series Would be Over, completely lack focus, coping skills, and resilience.
Richelieu started a multi-million dollar company because his home was destroyed during civil war. Today's college students are unable to take their midterms because someone wrote Trump 2016 in sidewalk chalk. But that's another story.
This story isn't about coping and resilience. It's about black-on-black oppression.
Why are all the social justice warriors boycotting this incredible black-owned brand?
Because Richelieu wants to grow his company and user base to include non-black people of color and white women.
Shea Moisture released the aforementioned video, featuring three white women (the target audience) and one black woman (the current customer). The video included empowering messages about natural hair and natural beauty, with the text: “Embrace Hair in Every Form,” while the women proudly declared: “Everybody gets love!”
Rather than see this as empowering -- either from the feminist, "fighting oppressive beauty norms" perspective, or from the, "yay! black immigrant business owners growing their business" one -- many Shea customers became enraged.
They seem to think that since the business was built on support from black consumers, and it championed its natural, homegrown, African heritage, it has no right to ever expand or include other audiences.
They're also mad that, because the brand has always featured black women of all shades and hair textures in its ads, it thinks it's somehow okay one single ad has white women in it. Writes a more reasonable (but still kind of unreasonable and oppressive) Ashley Weatherford:
"Black women have been underrepresented in the beauty realm for decades, so the fact that the brand showcased a range of black women mattered. The general feeling is that Shea Moisture’s apparent new approach to a wider range of consumers suggests ambivalence toward its longtime supporters. In other words, people perceive SheaMoisture as saying their black consumer base is not good enough."
CLASSIC victimhood mentality. Because a brand doesn't want to cater exclusively to a minority population, they're trying to tell you you're "not good enough."
OR MAYBE! They're a brand who wants to sustain their 31% growth rate.
MAYBE! The CEO of this company is successful because he has always managed to grow his company and revenue, year-over-year.
MAYBE! The CEO of this company is the CEO of this company, and he's entitled to make his own choices about how to run his company. Just because you spent $11 on a bottle of shampoo, doesn't mean you get to make his business decisions for him.
But nope. People don't choose to see it that way. Why be logical, when you can be a victim?
That's right, Kimberly N. Foster! Tear down that black-owned business! Black power, right?
It's a shame, really. I'm hardly a social justice warrior, but I do believe in equality of treatment (NOT equality of outcome, which is completely unjust). I do want to see today's students -- especially marginalized ones! -- reaching their full potential (even though, due to their own social justice demands,they are exposed to fewer and less challenging ideas than students of just three years ago). And I would love to see more women and people of color represented at the highest levels of academia, business, and government.
That is why, on principle, in the name of supporting black business ownership, I recently ordered my first ever bottle of Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner w/ Sea Kelp & Argan Oil, for dry, damaged hair. (It was $11 when I ordered it; looks like it's gone up a little since.)
I'm not a hair expert. I don't own makeup or beauty products. But, overall, I'm happy with it. I have no complaints about it. It's not my favorite -- I've always been more of a Matrix Sleek Look kind if girl, for no particular reason other than my hair cutter recommended it.
The Sleek Look definitely made my hair sleeker -- but with summer here and humidity rising, what's the point of trying to be sleek, right?
I'm not wild about Shea Moisture's "ingredients you can pronounce" thing -- that veers awfully close to the realm of psuedo-science and anti-science. "Chemicals" aren't bad. They can kill you... but they can also keep you alive.
Water, for example, is a chemical, whose formula is H2O.
But I digress.
I fought black-on-black oppression and supported black entrepreneurship, and you can, too.
For more on why social justice warriors don't understand business, check out: Business Lesson: If Plus Size Fashion Were a Big Pile of Easy Money, Someone Would Obviously Take it.
And for more on social justice warrior-imposed oppression, check out: