blog #2: paying more attention

I took more notice of getting to my locations this time. These are areas that are sort of isolated, an explicit choice made by city planners. East Flatbush is a predominantly black neighborhood — mostly populated by Caribbeans and African-Americans. In order to get there, I had to take two trains and a bus and then walk. While walking through the neighborhood it was much more residential. A lot more cars — mostly older models. It felt different than being in Manhattan. Everything was so far away. The avenues and blocks felt longer, especially when faced with the brisk wind. This week, I went to a new beauty supply store called Michelle’s Beauty Supply Store, the experience was definitely different from my previous experiences.  

East Flatbush hair related businesses
East Flatbush West Indian market

Michelle Beauty Supply is located on the far left of a small strip with two other stores — a small grocery store and a store looking to buy and sell gold — both of them also not black-owned. In the outside windows are several large animated drawings of black women with different hairstyles. This is the type of imagery that I associate with black artists, which led me to believe that perhaps I was entering into a black-owned beauty supply store and I got excited. However, that turns out to not be the case — the supervisor is Korean, making it more probable that the owner is Korean as well. Once I entered the store, one of the most shocking things was the flyers near the door. Taped to the white entryway was several makeshift “wanted” advertisements. The captions were Wig Thief, Friend in Crime, and the very vague Troublemaker. Included on the flyers are the items they stole — underwhelmingly, it listed items like deodorant and earrings. The troublemaker section was particularly… troubling. What makes a troublemaker? The choice to criminalize black customers for actions that cannot even be defined for anything other than stirring up “trouble” is confounding to me and speaks to the threat I am trying to get at with my project. There are serious implications that come with labeling a black person as a troublemaker and a criminal. Furthermore, there is also a description that simply says “aggressive behavior,” in the photo though the woman seems to be simply talking on the phone. The desire to make black people into criminals based on any action is infuriating to me.

“Wanted” advertisements posted by the door

This makes me hesitant about asking to take photos or ask questions (the above photos I end up taking right before I leave). I end up walking around for a good fifteen minutes. There are two black women working the store. There are relatively few customers — maybe five in total. There are four aisles in the store, one is dedicated to makeup, the second is dedicated to braiding hair and extensions, the third has products for both relaxed hair and natural hair, and the fourth is just wigs. What I make clear is that beauty supply shops are marketed towards black women, and to a lesser extent, black men. They are set up in black communities and they use imagery are supposed to connect with black demographics. They employ black workers — in part as a compromise with the black community. While I walking around the store, I wondered do they think I am a “troublemaker”? Do they find me suspicious for just walking around? Perhaps, the paranoia was my own doing, but I also felt scared to ask the Korean owner if I could take pictures because I was feared getting an aggressive response as a consequence of being seen as an aggressor myself. I might immediately be seen as a threat.

While perusing the shelves, I noticed the price of products was also pretty high. For example, I examined a product I usually buy for myself and it was around three dollars more at the location. The prices seem to be a point of contention that I might explore more in the future. How does the non-black-owned beauty supply stores become further problematized when they not only monopolize the market, but also sell products at a higher price.
Something that has stuck out to me at all of these beauty supply stores is the tone with which they use in their rules. This might seem silly — because of course an establishment should have grounds to create rules about their own business — I find myself asking: would they have the audacity to make these sort of demands, in this sort of language to people living in the Upper East Side? The answer is no. Most beauty supply stores I encountered have three wig try-on policy— meaning you only have three opportunities to decide on which wig you want to spend potentially hundreds of dollars on. This seems to be the standard across all the Korean owned beauty supply stores I visited. This seemed kind of crazy to me— when we go to a clothing store we are not told we can only try on three pairs of pants.

Signs posted in the Feel Beauty Supply Shop

After a while, I decided that I wanted to photograph this beauty supply store and asked the supervisor if he would mind me taking photos. He said as a long as no customers or employees were in it, then it was fine. I made sure to take a snapshot of the “wanted” advertisements. However, it makes me realize that it might be difficult to really get a chance to talk to any of the employees or employers of these establishments. Their focus is on their business and tending to customers — and sometimes watching them. Understandably so, they don’t see helping an NYU student with their product as high priority.

-Olivia Blackwell

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~ by oliviablackwell1 on March 2, 2019.

5 Responses to “blog #2: paying more attention”

  1. Most affective: I rarely go to beauty stores and I think I’ve only been in one in NYC to buy a prop I needed. However, from your post I felt myself with you as you visit store by store. In your post, you talked about the “wanted” advertisements—which left a big impact on me as I could sense the intimidation that it brings, especially as a stranger going into a unfamiliar territory.

  2. most educational because you tied the thing you observed, such as who was depicted being a wig thief and how they were being depicted, to your precocity of your project, black women in non-black owned beauty shops. I would not have made this connection myself that how theft was depicted was harmful to the black clients but seeing how you analyzed this detail showed me the type of connections and thinking that you will be doing for this project

  3. Most Informative and Best Overall:
    -Informative: I think this blog post is very informative in terms of the concept of the “trouble-maker”. When you talked about the flyer and the caption” Wig Thief”, it leads me to think about the problem of labeling and stigmatizing people according to the race.
    -Best Overall:
    I think your blog post is the best because of the fact that you balanced the proportion of both being an observer and an active participant to your ecology. When you talked about how you felt that you might be seen as a “troublemaker”, I can easily picture how your own experience can become problematic to the black community in general

  4. Most informative: the details you include of the store (setting, price, etc.) in conjunction with your own personal reflection gives a clear understanding of the ecology and why you are investigating the space. You define and prove evidence of the problem.

  5. Most informative: while your first-person voice sets up a compelling narrative, your mention of the relative prices, the advertisements, and signs helps me understand the ecology and sets up the precarity well.

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