beating a dead “hair” horse: is this Shea Moisture thing just about hair?

screenshot of the original Shea Moisture ad that was pulled

By now, you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding Shea Moisture and their ads, originally designed to preach inclusiveness for all races. The plan backfired, as women of color (WOC) threw the proverbial fit. The whys vary, of course, but VSB’s Damon Young hits it fairly accurately on the head with his piece. As are any of the pieces surrounding this story, most speak to the anger that WOC feel towards a company appearing to leave its roots behind to pander to a more mainstream audience. In many ways, though, it begs the question: why is it such a big deal? Or, rather is it such a big deal?

Well, let’s start real simple. Who is Shea Moisture? Shea Moisture was by Richelieu Dennis, a native of Liberia, who, following in his grandmother’s footsteps, started playing around with shea butter and and oils and soon had a fast following in Brooklyn. I distinctly remember walking into Nubian Heritage’s bookstores to purchase their products; they had a lotion that was wonderful for my skin.

Fast forward about ten years or so and Nubian Heritage/Shea Moisture are now part of a bigger parent company, Sundial Brands. It’s a great feeling, I’m sure, to go from selling product out of a Brooklyn basement to being a multimillion dollar corporation. Having your product in most major drug stores is no small feat, especially when deemed “main” stream” and not labeled as “ethnic”. Richelieu Dennis decided to take it one step further in the name of inclusiveness, though, when he had his marketing team launch the campaign where women in general talk about “hair hate”. And, as history would have it, the women in the commercial are predominantly white.

Now here’s the thing. There are literally THOUSANDS of products for other ethnicities and their hair types. Literally. As a woman of color, products that genuinely work for your hair are few and far between. This was why it was so important to begin with to have products in the mainstream that worked for us. And a lot of people, our own people included, don’t understand why many of us, myself included, are so upset.

Iono HOW they didn’t think that this was gonna piss most of the black women off though…

I think it’s beautiful when the brands that our people make become mainstream because it gives us representation where previously we didn’t have any. I’m completely fine with expansion.


Your expansion should never come at the price of abandoning who put you there in the first place, who put you in the position to be able to expand.

I saw the ad that started the mess. It reeks of insensitivity. It sounds like, “lemme not piss off my non-WOC shareholders”. Now look. You gotta make your paper, do you boo boo. That’s fine. But you gotta take ALLLLL them L’s when it backfires. And backfire it did. There is not a WOC that wants to see a non WOC complaining about how they can’t find products for their hair in a commercial geared to deal with our hair. Like, y’all got AISLES and STORES of products. We get a half a shelf in Walgreens. (or if you’re in the hood…a WHOLE shelf. don’t believe me? go to your local Walgreens/Rite Aid/Duane Reade slash slash…and look for yourself)


I had to switch it up a little because though the reasoning behind this whole change was very corporate in nature, the root of what is upsetting WOC as a whole is not. Or is it upsetting us? There are a number of us that are not getting what the problem is, who don’t see the reasons behind why we are upset. “It’s not that deep”, I keep getting. “It’s just hair” is another one. There are a number of WOC that insist that they are going to just continue to get their Shea Moisture on. I had one friend ask me directly why it bothered me in particular so much, especially since I believe in progress.

Here my thing: this is not about hair. It’s not about a company catering to black hair. What it is about is feeling that we have to change the focus of who we inherently are as a people in order to be accepted by the majority. It’s about the whitewashing of color in order to appear palatable to the everyday consumer. It’s about a company of color, founded by a man of color, with a marketing team that has no idea what WOC might look for or desire in a product because the entire board are non WOC (insert photo). More to the point even, it’s about WOC not even being able to agree that this is a constant struggle, the desire to be assimilated into society and having to change who we are in order to become a part of something, and then not even being able to agree to the assimilation!

We keep thinking that because Uncle Barry (Barack Obama) was president, that the struggle isn’t still real in the streets. It’s so interesting to watch at times, the way we as WOC go back and forth with each other ABOUT each other. As if our frustrations aren’t real and valid. As if our struggles aren’t triple fold because we are women…of…color. This Shea Moisture thing? It’s a small ripple in a much bigger ocean…the natural versus relaxed versus locked debate. The Hotep n!G$a versus the suited Oreo, mama’s boy versus extra independent man and what kind of women you are and how which one of these men you date determine this. As if love can be defined by a simple characteristic. Or let’s go deeper than even that. How our beautiful Auntie Michelle (Obama) is literally one of the most intelligent, college educated First Ladies in the history of the country but she can still be a “monkey”…or how her exposed arms make her “unbecoming”…or even the glorious, natural state of her own hair POST PRESIDENCY causes drama (and she ain’t even in the Oval anymore, y’all!) It all seems so trivial, this hair debate…until you realize that this debate extends to just about everything that we as WOC do and are…and we spend more time going back and forth with each other instead of uplifting each other. Dare I even talk about the disparity between what we get paid and what our counterparts are paid for the same job? (I think I’m gonna put a pin in that one and come back around to it another day…)

If we fought our battles with the same tenacity as we fought each other, imagine how far we’d get.

And that…is not just about hair.

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