I Challenged The Publix Grocery Store Chain To Accommodate Black Hair and Beauty Needs, Because Black Hair and Skin Matters Too.
White Privilege Is The Ability To Access Hair & Beauty Care Products While Shopping
If you’re a White woman, I bet you’ve never given a second thought to being able to enter any major grocery store chain to find anything you may need or want for your hair or body. If you’re a Black woman like me, I bet you’ve entered countless grocery store chains and big box retailers over the years that had limited or no supplies at all to care for your hair and/or bodies. While many have gotten better, bunches don’t give us a second thought. Black folks getting what we need for our health and beauty in the past has required us driving to other retail stores before or after we shopped for our groceries. White women likely take for granted the privilege of having their every bath and beauty need tended to, considered, and ready for purchase, even before they know they’d need it. Even if it’s not exactly what they wanted, at least they had something something to grab until they did.
Sisters don’t always have that luxury.
If you think I’m joking, if you’re a White female, go to any White-owned national grocery or drug store chain and walk down the beauty and hair care aisles for women and men. You’ll see how much these stores cater to White people and how little they cater to Black people and people of color. There will be entire aisles of White hair cand skin are products, and a small slither of Black hair and skin care products usually combined at the beginning or end of the hair care aisle at the end toward the back, very close to a security camera. The location is also racist. We either have to walk past all the White hair care products to get to ours, or we must bend to the bottom of a shelf to get our products beneath our products. There may be a few exceptions, but mostly, it’s the rule. The White people’s stuff is going to be at the top of the shelves for their convenience while we must bend down like we’re picking cotton, or at least that’s how I have felt about when I experience it.
(Keep a running tally of the stores and report back so we can talk about what you discovered below in the comments.)
Making extra trips to stores to buy things White people take for granted, items they can consume without even having to ask for them is the way America has always done business. To be Black is to be inconvenienced, and it works as a tax of sorts. Punishment for existing. I’ve always had to go to more than one store to get what I needed for my hair. While Black women have their own Black hair care stores, there are some basic things that Black people should be able to buy to care for their hair and bodies just like White people. I must admit, I never gave the lack of consideration for my hair ad beauty care needs any thought when I was younger growing up in the deep, racist South. But as I aged, I saw the inequality in my options for Black people.
It never sat well with my soul.
It took having the first Black President of the United States for White America and White retailers to recognize how inhumanely they’ve treated Black consumers shopping in White establishments. During America’s pseudo post-racial reality in 2008, many Black women shared their personal experiences of how well-known retailers still kept Black hair care products under lock and key, a remnant of old racist tropes about Black people stealing more than White people. Black people were subjected to humiliating treatment just for being Black and needing hair care products. The punishment for being Black is never far from view. Most White people don’t even see it as such.
Buying Black hair products from national retailers always went from one extreme to the other. Either Black hair products were not sold at all, highlighting a lack of desire/interests to serve us in this area, or they items were in locked shelving, strategically placed in front of the store so that they could spy on us as we shopped. White hair and beauty stuff never had such security and monitoring. The racialized marketing was hurtful as Black women were the only ones being singled out of all retailer consumer blocks.
How is it that a national or regional grocery retailer can find time to learn about and understand the needs of all the White people, order all the stuff White women and use for their hair while keeping up with every changing trends, with no regard for the other cultures and ethnicity for the other women living and shopping from within the same community? Racism, that’s how.
My Local Grocer Didn’t Carry Black Hair Care Products, Just White Ones
After moving to Florida in 2012, the closest grocery store to my home was Publix, so I started shopping there. It was a Florida based, Southeast regional grocery chain that had been around for decades. I liked the selection and the quality of their products and I loved the customer service, but the prices were a little steep. That’s the price you have to pay for pretty stuff and excellent service these days, so I didn’t mind. After I started transitioning to natural hair, I stopped going to salons to opt for a more low-maintenance hair care regimen and protective styles, which meant I needed to buy more of my hair care products for my texture hair. I figured I could buy them when I shopped for groceries in my local community at my local Publix.
No such luck.
My local Publix grocery store didn’t have my kinds of products, so I had to go elsewhere to get my products instead of going home when I was done with my shopping like White women. I passed hundreds of White hair-care products for White women and men as I browsed the health and beauty aisle. I took a picture of it one day and posted it on social media as I conducted an experiment. I tagged the corporation too.
I even volunteered to get items from the bottom shelves in an effort to make concessions. Sometimes anything is better than nothing.
I traveled to Walmart, CVS, Winn-Dixie, Target, and a few other national retailers in the area to see if they sold Black hair care products because in 2016, they should be. They were. Whatever I needed for basic maintenance, the national and regional retailers sold. It infuriated me. After researching the Publix corporation, I learned it was a Florida based grocery store chain. How could the largest grocery store chain in my multi-cultural state only cater to the needs of White people? The store employed Haitians, Asians, Black people, Hispanics. How can you not sell hair and beauty products in your stores that these people needed? There is a huge Caribbean and Afro-Latinx population that were not being served. So I browsed the grocery store aisle where the international foods were. They were products for Hispanics and Asians. Jewish people had all sorts of items to accomodate their dietary and religious needs. There were zero products or sections for an people of African descent. The store had made an effort to accommodate some ethnic groups, just not our ethnic group.
So, I complained on social media. I also boycotted the grocery store publicly until they rise to my challenge. It was obvious they were biased. No one had ever called them out on it.
I made a rational request that was justified. I explained what I had done, and I recommended to them to conduct the same research that I’d done. Within a week, someone from the store reached out to me privately to discuss my complaint and to make amends for the oversight/neglect. The person responsible for buying and stocking all the stores (a White guy, of course) contacted me by phone a few days later and began asking me about specific products Black consumers may be interested in purchasing. While at the time my concern was hair products, I noted the absence of products Blacks may want to use who patronize their stores. The store representative conceded it was not appropriate. The gentleman inquired about the products I used specifically for my hair and body. I appreciated the gesture. But I also held my breath.
I have had my fair share of promises from White people about change after calling out White folks for their overt and casual racism. I had few expectations of a multi-state grocery store chain accommodating Black needs after being in business since 1930. After 82-years and being based in a multicultural state like Florida, you’d think they’d know all of their consumers by 2016. I’m certain they knew, they just didn’t care. That’s White Supremacy in a nutshell.
My boycott journey was a lonely one, but I didn’t care, it was my personal war to wage. I got a refresher course in advocacy along the way that seems to never change.
Too Many Black Folks Will Let You Do All The Fighting
The boycott wasn’t easy because I had to go out of my way to shop for groceries at new grocers. I encouraged all my friends and family who loved shopping there to support they boycott and take a public stand. People love to complain about racism, injustice, and inequality, but they hate to sacrifice in order to do anything about these issues.
I had more than a few Black friends and family members tell me they couldn’t support me because they loved some product Publix sold. I did it solo with the support of my then husband. I was spending $600-$800 per month on groceries during this time because I was on a clean, anti-inflammatory diet. That was money Publix wasn’t getting from me. Because I knew how consumer boycotts worked, I shared with Publix how much money they could be potentially be losing out on because other Black and Brown shoppers across the diaspora could and would shop elsewhere if they believed in my argument. I also made it known which of their competitors I gave my money to.
Cha-ching, cha-ching! In a capitalist society, all talks must include money, period.
Because of my boycott, I began shopping in brown communities; I fished more to catch my protein for my meals, and I shopped at other local small businesses for the rest of my items until Publix updated the beauty care section to accommodate Black women. I was inconvenienced with purpose now. To me, it was all worth it. For many Black folks though, they didn’t care about the lack of respect for their humanity as long as they could get fresh seafood, cheese dip, or pretty fruit from Publix. They damned sure didn’t care about me.
The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that Black people have limitations on their advocacy and sacrifice. Black people expect others to make the hard sacrifices so we all can benefit collectively, and I hate that about us. I’ve never been afraid to use whatever I have to ensure Black people have what they need. I’ve never feared losing anything to fight for our rights and equality. Our ancestors fought and died so that I can exist. If I don’t do the same, they will ignore us out of existence. Too many Black people take for granted the sacrifices made by Black social justice activists. Now when I fight, I understand that I may fight alone, and that while others may reap the benefit of the rewards, I’ll be the one making the most sacrifices, with little or no recognition of the effort.
That’s how social justice works. We Black folks always want a leader, with a side order of freedom fighters, and a hearty helping of social justice warriors, but they never want to follow or make sacrifices. The sacrificial lambs are few. The people watching and/or ignoring the lambs making the sacrifices are plentiful.
So, I was a one man boycott. Over the next few months during that year, I checked on the progress along the way and stayed the course. I realized the store needed to complete their research and negotiate with distributors, which would take time. A few months later, with no fanfare, Publix fulfilled their promise of providing a Black hair care product section for Black women. I’m sure it was humiliating to learn they were the only grocery chain in the state not providing health and beauty care products for Black women. I was proud of my achievement, and I thank Publix for finally seeing Black women. Four years later, they still sell those products for Black women.
Sometimes we Black folks must make businesses aware of how they inconvenience, ignore, or overcharge Black people simply for being Black. Intentional exclusion is a microaggression and it stings like an ant bite. Being White means and never having to worry about anything or think your basic needs because White people have already thought about you and only you. What must that be like?
My efforts paid off. I sacrificed, by shopping at several different stores, using more of my precious time to shop, and settling for some brands and items I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I won. My win wasn’t just for myself. It was for all Black women and men living and shopping with this regional grocer. Publix came through for us, finally after 82-years, but they made it.
There Are Still Challenges To Be Waged
In America, there are still many challenges to be waged in the areas of clothing, beauty and skin care. Fellow Medium writer Allison Gaines wrote a fabulous piece about how we’re forced to endure European beauty standards. Her pointt was one that I agree with and it took me a long time to get here, but we don’t need to aspire to be European (White) to be beautiful. Our beauty needs shouldn’t be segregated either.
Black women are continuously contorting themselves to be a part of society that was designed to exclude Blacks and people of color. The only reason there is a booming Black hair industry is because the White one never created products for all hair types, just White hair that fit their White beauty narratives. Going to the grocery store and only finding White hair and skincare products in a multicultural environment is the epitome of White Supremacy. The only people who mattered to Publix were White people.
White women don’t have to worry about whether their is makeup in the store to match their skin tone, nude stockings for their legs, lotion to meet their hydration needs, shampoos for their hair types, razors that will cut, clothes made for their body types, or facial products made for their skin. America caters to White women. The world caters to White women, and every other woman must assimilate or contort themselves to conform to the most famous nonsensical beauty standards on earth in order to be seen. It’s the reason Black, Indian and African women bleach their dark skins and Black women wear lace front wigs of hair that will never grow from their scalps which eventually damage their hair and skin.
Black women must get in where they fit in or shop in segregated setting just to get what we need. I was tired of contorting and being inconvenienced, so I challenged a system, a way of thinking, a preference to exclude, and microaggressions. I won. I didn’t have to sue, I just made a compelling public case. Black women won. These are the small ways we must force societies globally to reckon with their racists pasts. Many Black people just wake up doing things and going places with no thought of the extra inconvenience just because we’re Black. If they are a business, they are in business to make money. And while there are plenty of White-owned, White-centered public businesses I have no interests in engaging in, there are plenty of businesses I must use because I need them to survive like the grocery store.
For Black women, it’s a constant struggle to have our needs met and be seen as human. If we get anywhere or get anything in America, we must fight for it. We are still reminding clueless White people we belong in spaces they’ve had forever. From freedom to hair products in stores, Whiteness concedes nothing without a challenge. I’m up for those challenges, but I often wonder why must we continue to ask for seats at the table, lotion for our ashy Black knees, facial cleansers for our oily Black faces, or Shea Moisture for protect our 4C textured hair, when it’s clear we’re not wanted. You shouldn’t have to keep forcing someone to invite you to the party or to a society you’re born into. Our seats and our places should already be solidified.
Some days, I ask myself, is it worth it? Is all the fighting and challenging to get Whiteness to understand how selfish and inconsiderate it is worth it? Most days I say no, but I fight anyway. If I don’t fight for what I want, no one else will. I now enjoy Black hair care products in Publix grocery stores wherever I travel throughout the South. Sometimes I just go buy them because I am the reason they are on the store shelf to enjoy the fruit of my labor. There are more fights to be fought, and more challenges to be waged against Whiteness.
Every war isn’t a big war. Every challenge Blacks face need not go viral to be addressed. Every fight isn’t always newsworthy, but doesn’t mean they are any less important than the high-profile challenges we tackle. Sometimes we do what we must for the people in our communities. That’s how real social justice works. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and I believe it’s true. I believed to discriminate against Black and Brown women because our hair and skin differs from White women was an injustice, so I acted. If you’re Black and you now buy Black hair care products at a Publix Grocery Store, it’s because of me.
We cannot be afraid to speak up when we see injustice, and injustice doesn’t always mean someone got killed by the police. Sometimes injustice is a regional store chain catering to Asians, Whites, and Hispanics, but not Blacks. Silence is consent to maltreatment, neglect, and willful ignorance. I’m never going to be silent about injustices. Start challenging businesses that punish, exclude, or inconvenience Black shoppers. It’s a way to fight injustice and exclusion in a nation that supposedly guarantees my rights and civil liberties.
It’s a way to fight the undying institution of White supremacy.
Marley K. in Quarantine 2020
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