Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Koreans taking over the black hair industry

Check out this documentary about Koreans invading the black hair industry. Hard-working Korean immigrants are the bad guys in this movie. But not exactly because they are all given a chance to explain themselves. And many of the black business owners that they are edging out of the business express respect at their hard work and solidarity that allowed them to corner the market. Also many of the black business owners place a substantial amount of (in some cases total) blame on themselves for leaving their industry vulnerable to invasion. But in a recent edition of the NPR News & Notes Roundtable, director Aron Ranen made it pretty clear that he wants the Koreans out of the business, out of black neighborhoods, and he feels that boycotts are the best way to acheive this goal. Check it out for yourself.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I found myself personally conflicted while watching the film, because I had first heard of it while listening to Ranen on NPR, calling for boycotts and asking the Korean American owner of a beauty shop in LA if he really thinks Koreans would shop at a black-owned store if the products were cheaper. His implication, obviously, being that Koreans stick together and that this is a nefarious thing to do, while he himself is calling for a sweeping boycott of Korean-owned stores.
So holding that image of Ranen in my mind, I found myself surprised that the documentary was relatively balanced. One thing that Ranen consistently and perhaps unintentionally exposed was the fact that the residents of the communities in question held no particular allegiance to black-owned stores, while black store owners seemed fairly split between the "This is our own fault." camp and the "This is a cunning conspiracy." camp. The film is devoid of any serious racism on either side, with the exception of a (fake sounding) story from one black beauty shop owner who attempted to buy a product from a Korean store owner wholesale only to be told that the Koreans were "keeping the niggers out of the business" or some such. Watch the movie and see for yourself, the scene both doesn't ring true and doesn't jbe with the general tone of the movie.
One of the positive results of the movie was that the Black Owned Beauty Shop Association (or BOBSA) was formed. The film ends on a positive note, with a BOBSA meeting at which one man speaks seriously about mobilizing the community for a boycott, but the woman who gets the last word sums up the situation. The Koreans knew that they couldn't take on Revlon and Paul Mitchell and the other white hair care companies, so they took on the smaller and less organized black hair care industry, and they succeeded. Now it is time for the black businessmen to step up their game to take on the challenge from Koreans before they lose it all.
Writing the last paragraph, one question arises. The film repeatedly mentions that black hair care makes up a disproportionately large portion of the hair care industry as a whole. Shouldn't it have therefore attracted or resulted in bigger, better organized companies in the first place? Why was the black hair care industry so vulnerable? Ranen in the NPR piece states that the Koreans vertically integrated the black hair care industry, so could it just be that the beauty parlor industry itself was easier to infiltrate?

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