Q: What did the black woman with the raggedy fingernails and the suspect weave say to the Korean beauty supply shopkeeper and nail technician?
A: Gimme the airbrush background and the glitter tips this time, Ms. Kim. And throw in a bag of hair.
OK, so it wasn’t that funny, but you get the picture?
Beauty certainly is different for everyone. But what’s with all these Asian nail, hair weave and beauty supply stores in low-income black neighborhoods?
The very idea of Asian shopkeepers in the ‘hood is hilarious and surreal, because many of these business owners don’t live where they make their money. Moreover, it’s rare that the blacks who spend their money on hair, nails and grease like or even understand the shopkeepers’ Asian cultures.
Truthfully, many blacks even have racist leanings toward their foreign-born hair and nail suppliers. Hell, they resent their very presence.
In the words of Prince, “What’s this strange relationship that we hold on to?” It’s so commonplace that barely anyone bats a false eyelash. Tell me you haven’t noticed this, too.
In the distance alone between where I live and where I work, there are several of these joints. When I walk past, sistas have their fingers splayed open like the wings of a wounded bird on hot pavement. They’re fondling their gold hoops, twirling their store-bought hair and eyeballing Ms. Kim, making sure she’s hookin’ those nails up.
And Ms. Kim? She’s bent over the hands, wielding some instrument.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m all about a black woman gettin’ bitched out. We’re naturally beautiful, but the right paint in the right place never hurt, either.
But what’s perplexed me for years is how black women have become nearly orgiastic in our quest for beauty. We chase after that ever-elusive European definition of “beautiful” (i.e., long, straight hair; some abnormally hued eye color; non-existent hips; and a deflated rear).
Now we’ve taken to looking to our Eastern neighbors for assistance. Call it skewed supply and demand.
Hair not long enough? Buy a sack, just like White Castle’s.
Realistically, any woman with any degree of self-esteem wants to look good. It makes us feel good. The problem rears its weaved head when we want to look good according to someone else’s definition and at the cost of our individual self realization and personal comfort level.
How stupid is it to have 2-inch nails when you’re a word processor or you can’t change your baby’s diaper without some Johnny-rigged apparatus? And just how ridiculous is it to have weaves and falls sewn and glued into your head when it takes an extra 45 minutes of grooming in the morning?
Some of us are walking around like victims of postmodern hairagami. Funnier still, the Asian shopkeepers don’t “do” the hair they sell. Oh, no. We whisk it off to a black beautician to style. We mainly trust the Koreans with our fake fingertips.
I’m not saying all black women have to look like me. It’d be cool for about a week, and then I’d get sick of seeing myself — all those Stepford Kathys with their short, nappy/curly natural Afros and Lee Action Length nails.
Even I am not beyond the reach of the world’s additives for the sake of feigned vanity. I recently had my hair dyed reddish-brown. I feel sassy now.
Likewise, when I cut all my hair off 11 years ago, I knew I was in for a change. You see, the length of a woman’s hair — in what’s affectionately yet erroneously referred to as “the black community” — is equal to some secret, unspoken social order.
The longer the sista’s hair, real or rented, the higher her standing, even if she’s butt ugly. So I rank low. I’m a bottom feeder.
Still, we must admit that there’s some degree of self-hatred at the core of this ritual of the low-rent makeover. It’s nothing new, though.
Ever since Madame C.J. Walker stacked millions off potions, lotions, hair grease and hot combs, black women have been dyin,’ fryin’ and layin’ our tresses to the side. And I speak as a former Oprah Winfrey hair double.
What exactly does all this have to do with Asian hair and nail joints in black low-income neighborhoods? It’s time for sistas to look in our own mirrors instead of everyone else’s.
We need to see ourselves first as everyone else subsequently should: au natural.