Dear Shea Moisture,
Lately I’ve been contemplating space and comfort, culture and ownership, rights and welcome mats. When black people, women, Asian people, Latinx, LGBTQIA and more, create a space for themselves to revel in, to bond, to be free, does it change when they open it up to whiteness, men, to straight people—to those who have always had spaces, who always had it all?
Do we even have to open it up? Why do we feel compelled to widen our invite list, to allow anyone’s shoes on our welcome mats? Some footprints stain our rugs long after its owner’s presence has left. We can’t let everyone into our home.
But I will get back to that later.
Shea Moisture, I’ve been a fan of your products for years. When I first went natural, I bounced around from hair mousse to curling pudding, browsed hood beauty supply aisles and online shops like my kinks depended on it. With kinky, coily, thick hair, I knew finding the right products would be a challenge.
But my problems were silenced, momentarily, when a friend introduced me to your Raw Shea Restorative Conditioner. You advertise it as a conditioner intended to wash out of hair, but the consistency is as creamy as lotion, and women I’ve ever spoken to use it as a leave-in moisturizer instead. I should’ve known then that y’all aren’t always the best at choosing your words.
I say that with love! You have to criticize what you love. And girl, did I love your Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie. It made me feel like a walking ice cream cone when I stepped outside, especially in the summer. My ex lover swore by your Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen, Grow and Restore Shampoo and Conditioner, and your Manuka Honey and Mafura Oil Hair Mask forever changed my shampoo days.
Your products are dope. You’ve given us natural haired sistas, brothas and siblings a plethora of hair potions to choose from, not only based on our hair textures but also our personalities, our moods, our tastes. You made us feel at home. And also, your stuff is accessible as fuck: a Brooklyn girl can find it in any Target or drugstore and a sista living in the middle of nowhere can find it in the dusty corner of Walmart’s ethnic hair care section (I relate to both). You understand that not every black person is the same: from the root of their manes to the tip of their toes.
But this week y’all pulled a stunt that was hella tone def. You invited white women to speak about their hair struggles in a commercial for your products—products that you know are widely used by black women. That is all lives matter at it’s finest—ahem, all textures matter.
First of all—do white women and women with fine, straight hair even use Shea Moisture? How can your Shea butter infused, coconut oil drenched, honey dipped products even work on their hair? White women complain about having greasy hair all. The. Time! Washing with your products would be like dumping a tub of Crisco on their heads.
In your defense, you said you wanted to widen your market, to bring inclusion to your brand. Of course, inclusivity is important. But inclusivity is especially necessary in spaces of privilege: heteronormative, white, able and male dominated spaces. Inclusivity is the act of breaking down a system that persistently degrades, ignores or disregards marginalized communities. Inclusivity is about shutting down barriers by creating new doors.
In terms of hair, media and manufacturers prioritize straight, fine textures as the standard of beauty, and excludes black women from the conversation by neglecting to create products that work for us too.
Thankfully there’s black beauty supply stores that serve us with a variety of hair goods. But peep this: we made those spaces because we had to, because we were excluded, and these spaces definitely do not try to overpower other communities. Those black beauty supply stores and hair salons are our sanctuary, our refuge in the social and cultural war against our hair and beauty. So when someone turns around and tries to make something that has been marginalized for centuries into something that can be accessible to all, it negates the wonder of it being a sacred, exclusive thing that we created when we had nothing else.
Let’s revisit the questions I asked earlier. Shea Moisture, you wanted to diversify your brand, but I don’t think you needed to. Black consumerism is on the rise, especially amongst us black women—have you seen our vanities? Our bathrooms? Inside our makeup bags? We are especially excited about brands and spaces that are centered around us, that make us feel at home. You did that, Shea Moisture. You gave us a hair heaven to look forward to.
By including white women in your new commercial—and only one black woman, who has that “good curl,” at that—you send the message that this space isn’t just for us anymore. Nonetheless, you seem to be giving in to the age old idea that whiteness is marketable and profitable. You centered three white women in that commercial with one black women, and in the end you display a checkerboard pattern of your products and a few black faces. You made us the props, and you gave white women the stage.
Why did you air this? Who said it was a good idea? Your bouncy, bright commercial featuring white women complaining about their hair, hair that society tells them, constantly, is beautiful, offended black women and rightfully so. We’re the ones that society told has bad hair. We’re the ones still fighting for visibility and recognition of our inherent beauty. We’re the ones that buy out the whole Shea Moisture aisle at Target! Becky and Susan got Tresseme, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Aussie, L’Oreal—I can go for miles. You gotta give them Shea Moisture too?? If they gentrify Shea butter next, I blame you.
We shouldn’t validate ourselves through whiteness. We shouldn’t feel guilty about owning a space that’s just for us.
Diversifying a person of color oriented brand sounds absurd—we already come in so many shades and have so many hair textures. It seems like you actually wanted white folks to know that they can use our products too (although I argued against this already—it just won’t work, their hair gets oily and our hair loves oil). It’s okay if we have some things that’s just for us, and us only. We are taking back a system that gives us very little, by constructing our own havens to dwell in. It’s a celebration, not an exclusion.
I don’t know how you’ll come back from this, but I would suggest hitting up Rihanna and Lupita for an ad. Until then, I’m gonna keep making my own Shea butter based moisturizers anyway. #DIY #independentwoman
Love always, even if I don’t like you right now,