The Hairstyling Industry Has a Racism Problem, and It Starts With Beauty School


Last month, activist, speaker, and public academic Rachel Cargle shared the feedback she offered a salon owner after a profoundly horrible—and illuminating—experience she’d had at one of their salons.

“I encourage you to take into deep consideration that your Black employees are working twice as hard (PERFECTING how to do Black hair as well as white hair) and your Black clients are getting half the service—sitting in your chairs worried that their stylist may not be equipped and then, in some instances like mine, we are walking out feeling completely exhausted regarding why we have to have such an irregular experience doing something so simple as getting our hair washed and blown out,” Cargle wrote. “Unless you are having each stylist prove competency in textured hair, unless your Black employees express that they feel safe and protected against white aggressions from customers and colleagues, unless a Black client can walk in feeling they have as much of a chance to feel beautiful when they leave as a white would would…unless these are all truths than yes, Black people are indeed simply second hand customers because nothing about your salons proves otherwise.”

Cargle’s experience highlights the ways in which systematic racism is a driving force within the hair salon industry, and how it impacts Black individuals, whether they are an employee or paying customer. Her writing provides a succinct overview of a problem that needs to be addressed on a fundamental level. Ask any Black hairstylist and they’ll tell you, the root of the issue is lack of education, and the disparity begins in beauty school then filters up to salons and editorial sets, ultimately presenting on a macro level in ad campaigns, TV shows, and on red carpets.

While it differs from state to state in the U.S., a hairstylist typically needs a high school degree or GED credential to apply to cosmetology school, and once admitted into a program, is usually enrolled for nine to twelve months before graduating with an associate’s degree in cosmetology. Then, to work as a professional hairstylist, a hairdressing license is required. After completing an accredited training program, and accumulating set hours of training, the final step is a hairstylist license exam. In terms of the courses and curriculum, there is a dramatic lack of exposure to textured hair. “In the beauty schools, you don’t learn how to do texture,” says celebrity hairstylist Tippi Shorter. “You really only learn how to do the bare minimum, understanding color theory and how to do basic hair cuts and a basic blow dry, to pass a board exam to get your license. I went to school for 1,600 hours, and we probably spent about five of those hours working on hair that wasn’t naturally straight. So as a stylist, you come out with very basic knowledge, and it’s not a culture that speaks to texture because their whole philosophy is about making hair straight.”

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