Koreans and Black Hair Care: Do African-Americans Support Black Business?


I had occasion to think about this topic again here recently.  There were two things that triggered it.  First, my good friend and fellow blogger Black Diaspora had a post up recently on the Black Hair Care Industry which can be read here. Shortly thereafter, I was speaking with someone who wound up closing up shop and their view was that they lacked the support of the African-American community.  The latter is a frequent complaint that I have a perspective on and I’ll be addressing that in part 2 of this series of posts.  I’ll preview this second post by saying unequivocally that my success in business has come from substantial backing from the African-American community, so my experience has been different and I really need to talk about my experiences with that.

This black hair care issue is a topic in and of itself, so I thought I’d devote this post to it.  Although Madam CJ Walker and others created this industry, it has been taken over by Koreans, so we find ourselves in the incredibly ridiculous position of not being in control of products that black women use exclusively for their hair.  Not only is this the situation here in the US, but in many places abroad as well.  I’ve posted a couple of clips below from a documentary put together by Aron Ranen.  These are just short clips and I recommend that you view the entire documentary  which can be found on youtube.  Mr Ranen has done yeoman’s work here in putting together this documentary.  Please take a moment to view these short clips and my commentary continues afterwards:


So, the situation with the black hair care industry is a condition that exists internationally.  I’m sure that if one were to go to areas in Africa and the Caribbean, we’d find a similar situation.

As a male, I don’t buy hair care products,  so I really hadn’t thought much about this until BD’s post on this and viewing the videos produced by Aron Ranen.  My first reaction is anger and it’s not directed at the Koreans, although it does seem that they’re doing some things to lock out African-American hair products entrepreneurs.  I’m angry because once again, I hear someone laughing as they count the money they made from us wanting to “look good”.  This “looking good” thing doesn’t stop with hair, but extends to clothes, cars, jewelry and whatever else that loses value as soon as one walks out the door with it.  At the end of the day, many of us only have memories of looking good in whatever we’re wearing or driving while those who accommodated those needs extract wealth directly out of the African-American community.   The Koreans are merely the latest installment of the various groups who’ve done this.

I really don’t need to say that with all our talk and bluster about this or that, this sort of thing makes us look like fools and there really shouldn’t be any doubt that we’re being laughed at.

This issue is a reflection of several things.  The first thing is that rampant hedonism is the prevailing state of affairs among many within the African-American community.  Totally unbeknownst to most, the African-American consumer market is heavily studied and behavior is shaped toward mass consumerism.  If there’s any statistical blip in income or wealth, there’s someone who’s sitting around trying to figure out how to tap it.  Trends and movements within the community are watched very closely with a near CIA type intelligence gathering operation as there are major dollars quietly riding on what direction things may take.  Given that, there’s an interest that things stay in certain direction or that conditions remain a certain way.  What I mean by this is that any degree of enlightened thinking is a direct threat to a host of economic interests that thrive off the existing conditions.  For example, let’s say a movement took hold where Black Women decided to opt for natural hair styles.  Such a movement would likely have its impetus from a political or social movement within and that mere movement would displace economic interests wedded to the existing state of affairs almost overnight.  The African-American community is being watched very closely in this regard (as are most others).

Of course, a social change movement, that’s other than a fashion statement, will likely come from a leader or a group of leaders. Here’s where we have to ask what exactly is the state of black leadership.  I’ve one litmus test for leadership which can be laid out with one question—is the leadership or group funded primarily from the African-American community?  This is a critical question to ask, as if you don’t own the leadership, then you’re not in control of them.  If you’re not in control of your leadership, then they don’t represent you, rather they’re someone’s representatives to you. This is so because whoever writes the check has the power to exert accountability.  If you go through every major civil rights organization right on down to the various activist types, you’ll find not one where the majority of their income is tied to the community they purportedly represent.  If you weren’t aware of that previously, you might find that shocking, but it’s true.  Black people aren’t the majority financial backers of those who are supposed to be representing us and if their real backers were to stop funding them, these organizations and activists would disappear overnight.   This is directly related to the black hair care situation and a host of other maladies in the African-American community.

Another word for all this outside funding would be advertising.  Still another word might be lobbying.  You might want to even consider it to be hush money, because not one of these so-called leaders has ever spoken about, let alone developed a structure to address, the hedonistic thinking.  They’ve largely not  spoken to the need for economic development in terms of what we ourselves can do.  They’re too busy trying to stamp out the last vestige of racism while everyone and his mother is making incursions in our backyard and making out like a fat rat in a cheese factory.

It must be understood that we’re being very subtly positioned to continue a pursuit of social justice exclusively.  This is what is being funded and it’s being funded by those who really have no interest in social justice.  Their interests revolve around economics and as long as 100% of our efforts are directly towards the latest march, commemorations, victimhood and etc., they know that there’s no one attending to the political and economic development of the community.  That provides a clear path for uninterrupted wealth extraction.  Like I said, the Koreans are only the latest installment of various groups who’ve exploited the situation.   Let me be clear here. Social justice isn’t the only problem and yet 100% of our efforts are spent in that direction.  At bottom, this is a leadership problem, so that means that fixing the problem means fixing the leadership problems first and before the other issues can be addressed. 

On the one hand, our problem is the lack of financially independent leadership.  On the other hand, the leadership ranks are depleted because our best and brightest are not available to our community as they’re generally employed elsewhere.  In a way, another form of wealth is being extracted in terms of people. That leaves us at a competitive disadvantage as the Koreans and others have their best with them as they figure out how to target and control an industry.

We have to understand the issue more broadly and see it as more than just the Koreans taking over.  It’s our positioning and a dearth of leadership that has set this up and as long as this continues, we’ll experience successive iterations of various groups doing the same thing while our community gets poorer and poorer.  Yes, I’m angry, but it’s not at the Koreans, but at the pretenders sitting on the throne of leadership.  If there’s any place where there needs to be a palace coup, it’s in the African-American communities across the nation.

  • Aranen

    Please take a moment to watch and share this update to my original film….

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      Aron,

      Thanks for this update and again, I thank you for the yeoman’s work you’ve done here for putting together this very important documentary. One of the most important things that a film maker can do is cause people to stop and think. Ultimately, the people themselves have to act. Thanks again.

  • Black Diaspora

    Thanks for the shout out.

    “At bottom, this is a leadership problem, so that means that fixing the problem means fixing the leadership problems first and before the other issues can be addressed.”

    I agree.

    If respected leaders in the community, both at the national and local levels, would speak out and educate, we could retake what’s been lost. Koreans and others outside of this country have joined forces to deprive us of our rightful place at the table. As consumers we have the power to command a larger share of the monies generated–to take our rightful place in this industry.

    This won’t put the Koreans out of business (that’s not my goal), but realign our interest with theirs. Yet, I wonder: How many black businesses are servicing their people?

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      BD, although the number of African-American entrepreneurs is growing exponentially according to several studies, we’ve still a long way to go to reach a critical competitive mass IMO. I think the key thing we need are models of success preferably built within our communities. The biggest challenge for consumers is few black businesses to patronize even if one is so inclined. I think blacks folks are looking patronize competently run black businesses, but can’t find them. I consider my own business a direct beneficiary of this interest on the part of black consumers in supporting black business. But I also think that the broader markets beyond black consumers is also available to black businesses as well. I’ve also experienced this as well. Basically, we have to compete and be ready to take care of business.

      • Black Diaspora

        “[W]e have to compete and be ready to take care of business.”

        I think I’ll blog on this, again, in the future. My “Pathway” series was just the beginning of this dialog. I feel strongly that the black community model for success must be as radical as the problem is multifaceted. We need to rethink our place in this society, and what is required of us to advance our economic self-interest.

        To be sure: That will take a strong dose of honesty that’s grounded in reality, and not an idealism that’s sure to cloud judgment as we move toward economic empowerment with an eye toward economic autonomy.

        • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

          >>we move toward economic empowerment with an eye toward economic autonomy.<<

          This is the absolute key and our agenda needs to be almost exclusively focused around this IMO. If there's any key initiative that can address the host of challenges we face, economic empowerment is it.

  • arandolph

    I just wanted to inform you and your readers of this very important fact – Madame C.J. Walker’s historic company still exists today and has never stopped manufacturing all of the original hair oils! Please visit our website at http://www.madamewalker.net to view and purchase the full product line. The website also contains valuable information about Raymond Randolph’s purchase of the original Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1985 from the Walker Trustees in Indianapolis, Indiana and how his family continues to keep Madame Walker’s “true” legacy alive. Due to our ownership of Madame’s historic company and the historical documents and memorabilia of the company, the Randolph Family can provide the most detailed and historically sound information about Madame C.J. Walker and her company by calling toll free, 866-552-2838 or going to the contact us page of our website.

    Angela Randolph

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      Ms. Randolph, thanks for dropping by and providing this information on Madame CJ Walker Enterprises.  I’m originally from Indianapolis myself (grew up in the Butler-Tarkington area) and am familiar with Ms. Walker’s impact in that city.  I was unaware that the company had been purchased by your family and was still in existence.  In light of the subject of this post, it’s very good to know that.  I spent some time on your website as well spending some time listening to your sister, Vivian, on blog talk (August 15, 2009).  I’ve linked that show here in the event that others would like to hear it:

      http://www.blogtalkradio.com/eadyassociates/2009/08/15/the-empowerment-hour-online-university

      I’d be very interested in your thoughts the Koreans and the impact you’ve seen on your business.

  • Mmolovinsky

    i did not look at the video’s, sorry, i have a very short attention span. no offense, but i find the premise here an excuse, not an explanation. what’s the population ratio between blacks and koreans in this country, 50 to 1? i know that there’s plenty of black barber and beauty shops. encourage your hair dresser to sell supplies, and be willing to pay a few bucks more a bottle.

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      Mike, thanks for your comments, but I’m not sure I’m following you here.  What exactly is the premise as you understand it?

      Otherwise, I don’t think you’d find anyone who disagrees with your suggestion.

  • Mmolovinsky

    greg, i have gone back, read diaspora’s blog, and watched aron’s three video’s. bobsa seems like a very positive endeavor for the black community. my perception is that the koreans (and indians in london) have not held the blacks down, but simply filled a void. they are entitled to come to a shopping center and compete in pittburg.

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      Ok.  So you see there’s no excuse and that it’s more a situation where people are trying to address the issue.  There’s been no one arguing that Koreans or Indians are holding black folks down per se.  They’ve filled a void due to an absence of black entrepreneurs to provide the provide the services and that’s really the main issue.

      My own position is that this issue is a leadership problem in the sense that leadership functions best when it addresses the right issues.  Most of our leadership has been focused on social justice issues exclusively in part because that is what has been funded.  That funding has come largely from outside of the black community. In other words, majority of the funding for the efforts being put forth by major civil rights organizations and activists doesn’t come from the black community and that’s a significant factor in what tends to get a focus.  IMO, that contributes to various situations within the black community and the lack of economic development and entrepreneurship is partly a function of this.  Of course, there’s also a large level of responsibility that we have for the conditions as well.

  • Mmolovinsky

    excuse me, but there is a black attitude against the korean merchants, as there was years ago against the jews. aron asks how long has that new korean been in the country (one month), he’s getting set up as an american business man( implied), but the blacks have been here for 300 years. the black woman resents that a korean opened a shop in the same strip mall. here in allentown, the koreans compete against each other on hamilton street with less resentment. rerereswresentment. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      Mike, of course you know that the Jews preceded the Koreans and others in controlling retail markets in the black community.  I don’t justify the “attitude” as in my thinking the effort on expressing “attitude” is better spent on developing what one needs to develop in terms of skills and etc. so one is better positioned to run a business or whatever.  So, I don’t support “hating” on folks who are providing the services that we’re not. But I do understand how such attitudes can develop especially when it’s clear that these people do nothing but take from the community and leave nothing.  But they’re not the only one’s doing that.  Drug dealers and the miscreant element do the same thing.  Quite frankly, the “attitude” needs to be expanded to encompass these elements as well.

      There’s a temptation to look at the black community as it is today and assume that the existing conditions have always been.  That has not been the case.  There were a number of things that occurred to support current developments; some have been errors on our part while other things have been imposed on the black community from without.  Both have contributed to conditions where there’s a dearth of economic development.

    • Black Diaspora

      “excuse me, but there is a black attitude against the korean merchants, as there was years ago against the jews. ”

      If such a “black attitude” exists to the degree that you suggest, why would you express dismay? This attitude is as American as apple pie–new immigrants to this country have always been greeted with hostility and resentment. We’re still seeing a great deal of that hostility being directed toward the so-called illegal immigrants from south of the border, when in fact we’re the illegal immigrants, the unwelcome interlopers who used force to establish a presence in the Americas.

      I’m black, and I’m not resentful, but I’m concerned–concerned that we have allowed our monies to integrate with the monies of the larger segment of society without us demanding a reciprocal level of integration in the economic mainstream of society.

      It’s not unlike what we’re seeing with China today–the growing problem of the outsourcing of American jobs to that country (FoxConn comes to mind), American manufactures relocating both their facilities and their research and development (Caterpillar comes to mind), and our expanding trade deficit with China (think their 25% trade tariffs to our 2.5% as a contributor).

      Now think the black community, a community essentially operating as a third-world country in this nation. I don’t blame, nor resent, China for its efforts to maximize what’s in China’s best interest, for creating the incentives that will attract American industry and capital. I blame those in this country that have ignored the threat, and have, in some instances, encouraged it, by enshrining this behavior with such terms as “free market capitalism.”

      It’s not free and it’s not capitalism.

      China’s government operates as an integral part of that nation’s economy, creating competition where competition serves its interest, and suppressing it where it doesn’t.

      Shouldn’t we in the black community, substantially existing as an economic enclave in the larger economy, be allowed to view our economic interests through the same prism which China views its interest? Why must blacks do less than other ethnic groups in solidifying their economic future, especially considering the high unemployment picture confronting our communities, unemployment hovering almost perennially in the high double-digits?

      [B]lacks have been here for 300 years.

      True. We were here before the Mayflower, but we didn’t come to build our own economic house, but that of another–either through forced servitude, or the oppressive burden of Jim Crow. Today, we’re still expected to do the same–put our economic interest aside for any ethnic group with the means, the opportunity, and the political backing–to establish a business in our midst. Largely, we’re responsible for this takeover, just as this country is largely responsible for China’s inroads into the American economy. In both instances, we allowed it to happen without obtaining guarantees that advance the interest of each.

      It’s time that we take steps, the initiative, to rectify this arrangement, one that wasn’t directly of our own making, but secured the blessings of congress and presidents–whether it’s Koreans establishing economic outposts in the black community, or China using unfair trade practices–high tariffs, the manipulation of its dollar, or directing money to those political candidates who’re more likely to maintain the status quo that allows it to operate mostly unmolested.

      • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

        An excellent point BD!

      • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

        BD, I was just reading through your response again. This is 100% spot on. There’s really nothing to add. Thanks for this comment! It’s yet another keeper.

  • Mmolovinsky

    in the case of the jews, the small merchant worked his shop for such a long time (a lifetime), the demographics of the neighborhood changed, and often became poorer, i, e., black. the jew didn’t set out to “control” the black marketplace. you write ” extract wealth directly out of the African-American community. The Koreans are merely the latest installment of the various groups who’ve done this.” you say that “these” merchants take from the community, but leave nothing. what are they supposed to leave? provid

  • Mmolovinsky

    in the case of the jews, the small merchant worked his shop for such a long time (a lifetime), the demographics of the neighborhood changed, and often became poorer, i, e., black. the jew didn’t set out to “control” the black marketplace. you write ” extract wealth directly out of the African-American community. The Koreans are merely the latest installment of the various groups who’ve done this.” you say that “these” merchants take from the community, but leave nothing. what are they supposed to leave? provid

  • Mmolovinsky

    continued. they provide a service, they’re small businessmen, not social workers. what would the black merchant leave or give? or you just feel better about black people money going to blacks?

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      >>n the case of the jews, the small merchant worked his shop for such a long time (a lifetime), the demographics of the neighborhood changed, and often became poorer, i, e., black. the jew didn’t set out to “control” the black marketplace. you write ” extract wealth directly out of the African-American community. The Koreans are merely the latest installment of the various groups who’ve done this.” you say that “these” merchants take from the community, but leave nothing. what are they supposed to leave? they provide a service, they’re small businessmen, not social workers. what would the black merchant leave or give? or you just feel better about black people money going to blacks?<<

      Mike, you raise some good issues here which give me an opportunity to expound upon my own thoughts further. My response:

      Few may set out to control the key areas of a community or sphere, but upon attaining a measure of success, most people have a tendency to want to "lock it down" so as to perpetuate their situation. When I first got into business, a few of my mentors reminded me that business does not involve social work and at a certain level this is true. If you're not making money, there's very little social work you can do even if you're so inclined, so this necessarily means that if you want to be in business over the long haul, you'd better concentrate on running the business well.

      But it's not all about making money and ultimately the social work comes into play as you either make use of your community's resources or service it. If you hire people from a community, you become a part of the fabric of that community. When you service people in that community, you become aware of their problems. You can relate to the problems because they are you and you are them. They may remind you of your mother or someone else you know and because their struggle has been like your own, you can relate and you have an interest in them. You're not a foreign presence just looking at dollar signs. You operate partly from altruism and partly as it relates to business. If they're doing better, you're doing better. The absolute best in business is win-win.

      My business is helping people, at least how I define it. I get paid for that, but if I can't help them, I'm ultimately out of business. Here's part of my story and an explanation of the importance of black business and its role and function.

      http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com/?p=1345

      This thing is not a simple matter of directing dollars to black people. At bottom, this is about the political and economic development of the African-American community. The Jews, Koreans, Indians and others aren't going to look at it in the same way. I not suggesting that some aren't altruistic or feeling, but they will not have the interest in the development of the African-American community along the lines some of us are thinking about. It's a little like saying that I as a black man could effectively represent B'nai B'rith. Sure, I might have some degree of empathy, but since I'm not Jewish, I'm not going to relate like you might mainly because I don't have the same understanding. The same thing applies to this situation or any situation where other folks are speaking for, funding or controlling the pace and direction of African-American development.

  • Leonard

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  • Leonard

    Hello were a new Black Owner company were looking for friend to be add to us will you help http://www.remyhairrus.com please look at our site were looking for lady friends from your facebook page friend list .
    thanks .

  • Sales

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    Leonard L. Beauford black owner
    Serving Europe USA Canada Africa Brazil

  • Sexyfreajsaraj08

    That’s why I’m glad many Blacks have decided to wear their hair in its natural state. Regardless of race, I refuse to support anyone who use others to their personal advantage, and are careless towards theses individuals.

  • LoStranger

    Great article I’ve been preaching this YEARS the problem is black people are so busy with their infatuation with white people is that they forgot about other races exploiting us also

    • http://theafricanamericanclarioncall.com Greg L

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting LoStranger.  It’s been a bit since I’ve updated this blog here and perhaps the comments of you and some others here is the impetus I need to get started again.

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