By Astrid Williams & Kaela Thomas
For many Black women the hair salon is an attainable means of community, support, and all-around self-care. The salon is a renowned place where we can discuss the chronicles of our day-to-day lives to local news highlights from the comfort of a salon chair. As COVID-19 brought the world to an abrupt stop, many professional Black hair stylists faced a challenge with how they would continue to support themselves and service their customers. In South LA where barbershops and salons are cultural hotspots and gathering places the lockdown has hit both the hairstylists and the community hard. Many Black barbers and hair stylists went underground to support themselves during the shut-down and they have slowly begun to return to their salons with a newfound sense of community.
Historically, the Black community is resilient and strong in the face of adversity. From the way we do hair and provide personalized care to the community we create around that tradition, are some of the many things that make Black salon so special. For generations, barber and beauty salons have been a safe haven for education and solidarity. However, it’s important to note that the Black hair industry is employed predominantly by workers that are overworked and underpaid. Salon workers have remained dedicated to their industry out of passion for the craft, despite the challenges of being uninsured and overlooked in the height of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID aftermath has left African Americans in the hair care business under financial stress, given the inconsistent stay-at-home orders and social distancing restrictions that limit clientele.
Since the onset of the coronavirus, our local hair salons and barbershops have remained resilient through the trials of the pandemic in unforeseen ways. In this commentary, we look to uplift a couple of their stories in appreciation for all they have done to hold our communities together through these trying times. The hair stylists who were interviewed for this story preferred to remain anonymous out of anguish for dismissing regulations and fear of fines. They shared their concerns with the myriad of issues surrounding financial constraints and uncertainty. One salon owner interviewed shared, “I’m only taking regulars and not fully open” as a need to continue to earn a living and produce income. Another hairstylist shared a detailed account of her experience as a full-time stylist in the midst of the pandemic, she spoke praises of her faithful clients that remained in contact with her for at-home hairstyling tips. She kept productive with her time by continuing to educate herself in her craft, specifically by taking braiding and manicuring classes online. Even through the chaos of the COVID-19 crisis, she was able to name some meaningful lessons – “I’m not buying as many products as I used to, because I realized I could make a lot of the things I was purchasing on my own.”
The local non-profit, Black Women for Wellness is an advocate for our community and long-time supporter of Black businesses in the local community. They have worked closely with the professionals in the Black beauty industry. Along with the new guidelines and regulations for shop reopenings they have supported Black businesses by providing personal protective equipment to offer shop owners face shields, masks and sanitation materials. We want to continue to be a support to those that have been adversely affected by the impacts of the pandemic and continue to help uplift our community during this time that we need it most. Black beauty salons are the backbone of our community. Black salons serve as a place of refuge in a world that often negates Black women’s value, and the beauty is that the limits of a salon are boundless. We would like to recognize the contributions of Black beauty professionals for their dedication to the industry and resilience in remaining strong during these challenging times we are facing. Black beauty professionals are central to our community and are appreciated now and evermore.
Dr. Astrid Williams works as the Environmental Justice Manager for the non-profit, Black Women for Wellness. Astrid has an extensive background in public health. Dr. Williams’ background spans the fields of chronic disease, maternal and reproductive health. She is most passionate about women’s issues and its connection to health.
Kaela Thomas works as the Environmental Justice coordinator for the non-profit, Black Women for Wellness. Thomas is a recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, with a B.S. in Nutrition and Public Health. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health, with a specification in Environmental Epidemiology.
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