The Chinese Exploitation of Black Beauty

Image Credit: Radii China

Just this Monday, June 20th was World Refugee Day. The United Nations created an international day to celebrate and honor refugees from around the world. While African countries welcome European and Middle Eastern refugees with open hands, migrants from the motherland routinely receive the cold shoulder. To the woke eye, this is very disheartening.

I am an avid watcher of World News. My journalistic mindset never wavers even when I go through writer’s block. I keenly view snippets of BBC News Africa online. One series that delves deep is called “BBC Africa Eye”. In a recent episode, I watched in horror as Chinese filmmaker Lu Ke casually exploited village kids in Malawi. Children that were clearly supposed to be in school were being taught to say insults in Chinese such as “My IQ is low” and “I am a black monster”. He was exposed by an undercover journalist and later arrested.

Image of Lu Ke Credit: BBC Africa Eye

Incidents of the Chinese race exploiting the Black race are not new. I see that almost every time I walk into a beauty/hair supply store. As a Grand Rapids resident, I can think of 5 local beauty/hair supply stores that cater to the black race, with black hair care products filling the shelves. I frequently shop at all of them, and it is obvious that they are mostly owned by Chinese people. When you are “shopping while black”, assumptions are made. Being profiled as a potential shoplifter is to be expected. That is why online stores have become a safe space for women of color. No one wants to feel like they are being watched while searching for their favorite hairspray.

Photo by Godisable Jacob

While black women in the U.S worry about racial profiling, black women within the African diaspora face even bigger issues. The market for human hair is booming. The African hair care business is a multi-billion dollar industry, with an estimated $1.1 billion being spent on shampoos, relaxers, and hair lotions in South Africa, Nigeria, and Cameroon alone.

China owns 70% of human hair factories. Black salons make 80% of their income from human hair products. While the Black community spends a lot of their earnings on human hair extensions, most of that money goes back into the hands of the Asian community.

The Asian Advantage

Image Credit: SupChina

Any black beauty enthusiast would feel puzzled at the harsh reality of where most of our shopping revenue goes. From the surface level, it would appear that we do support each other. I have attended many pop-up business events where black-owned businesses received consumers from the black community in an abundance. So what is giving so many Chinese beauty shop owners the upper hand?

Because China is universally the epicenter of where a lot of products are made, Chinese people can get products for extremely cheap based on their connections. 

The average black woman’s path to entrepreneurship is not peaches and cream. You don’t automatically have connections. To succeed in a short amount of time you would need to have ample start-up funds. And even then, to get a low price you would have to either form partnerships overseas or with a Chinese vendor.

This has created a low percentage of black women who own small beauty supply stores. Less than 10 percent to be exact. It is as if our Queens are fighting for a piece of pie that we never really had fair access to, to begin with.

An Easier Alternative

A lower-cost alternative to trying to start a beauty supply store is buying a hair vending machine. These machines cost as low as $9,995 and can be leased for as little as $249 a month (with good credit of course). That is less than half of what it would cost you to start a beauty supply store. Place it in a popular high-traffic area and you are looking at making $500 up to $2,000 a month.

Also, the cool thing about vending machines is that you can put whatever product you want. It can be handmade products or popular name brand products. And there are chains of vending machines like Tress Obsessed Beauty Vending that specifically stock beauty products for WOC. 

Where there is a will, there is a way. Many WOC are creating unique hair products from the kitchen of their own homes. We are constantly inventing new effective methods to treat and care for natural hair. And we are here for it. We are here for diversity, inclusivity, and profiting from our black beauty. 

Y’all my African Beauty And Braids blog has organically gained 1,000 followers and over 900 likes on Facebook! Woot, woot! Feel free to comment below and let me know what topics in the realm of African Beauty And Braids you want to get addressed. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” ― Maya Angelou