White Guilt and The Perceived Revival of Black Beauty Brands

In light of the recent atrocities facing the Black community, including but not limited to the murder of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and most recently Marcellus Stinnett, and also the closing of over 41% of Black-owned businesses, there has been a recent surge in support for Black-owned businesses, especially Black-owned beauty businesses.

The popular retail corporation Target has begun promoting Black-owned and founded beauty brands on its website, while various media outlets have published articles explaining the importance of buying Black and where to find these businesses. And yet, while Black beauty brands deserve this support, there is a question of where this newfound support is coming from and why now, in 2020, has there been such a notable increase in following for Black-owned hair care brands, skin-care brands, and more. 

The most straightforward answer for where this support is coming from would be the Black community. However, it is not new for Black people to be in support of Black businesses. For these businesses have products that are geared towards Black individuals, whether it’s leave-in-conditioner to moisturize low porosity, 4c hair or herbal ointments promising cures for ailments like eczema or ingrown facial hair. 

Ibironke Jegede of the natural skincare brand The Earthy Goodness further explains why Black people have always supported Black-owned beauty brands, “When we first start, you have to understand, many of our customers are our friends and family. And usually, those are Black people.” In this way, the first people to buy from a Black business is the community surrounding those who own the business itself. 

However, if you do a simple Google search of “support black businesses,” the main voices (other than those that are Black) that are pushing others to buy from Black businesses are white. They are encouraging you to buy Black forever, teaching you why it’s important to buy from Black businesses, and are developing campaigns to support these businesses.

That is to not say that people of Asian descent, Native and Latin Americans, and other races and ethnicities have not stepped up to support Black beauty brands, but rather that they’re not amongst the race that is given the brightest spotlight and the biggest platforms to do so. As a result of other prejudiced forces that be, it’s more apparent that white people are engaging with Black businesses at a rate never before seen.

White guilt explored by Black owned beauty brands including The Earthy Goodness.

The Earthy Goodness African Black Soap. Image courtesy of The Earthy Goodness. 

While this upswing in white people supporting Black businesses is new, white guilt is not. White Guilt, as explained by psychologists Lisa B. Spanierman and Mary J. Heppner in their article Psychosocial Costs of Racism to Whites Scale, is one of the emotional tolls of racism that is exclusively experienced by white people. It is the manifestation of internalized shame experienced by those witnessing the effects of racism. However, the pandemic and the regulations put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, e.g. social distancing and quarantine, has aroused and, in some ways, exacerbated this white guilt to the extent seen today through the increase in interaction between white people and Black businesses. 

For instance, at no other point in history were white Americans stripped of their malls, parties, and theaters. At no other point in history were white people forced to confront what racism really is and what it can be. And now, seeing the destruction that racism has brought upon the Black community, they are attempting to alleviate the pain that this community has been experiencing for the past 400 years. 

When asked about the relationship between white guilt and the increase in engagement towards Black businesses, these three Black businesswomen had to say this:

Ibironke Jegede of The Earthy Goodness

The Earthy Goodness founder Ibironke Jegede. Image courtesy of The Earthy Goodness.

“For one, a lot of people are not risking themselves by going out. And two, Black people have been highly [and] negatively impacted by the effects of COVID, [so] the awareness of Black businesses has gone beyond the murder and everything. It’s more on how we can help Black businesses to recover, because they have been negatively impacted by COVID, so let’s try to boost their business, and let’s do things for them.”

Folasade Tyler of Omo Sade Skin Care:

White guilt explored by Black owned beauty brands including Omo Sade Skin Care.

Omo Sade Skincare founder Folasade Tyler. Image courtesy of Samdarko Eltosam. 

“It’s not the first time African American people or people of color have been shot or killed; it’s always happened. And it’s been on video. We’ve seen it, as they were being bitten by dogs and hosed down. I think what changed that dynamic is people were stuck in front of their television and had no jobs to go to. Because if you can watch something and talk about it and then get in your car and go to work, you become desensitized to it. So it just becomes another news story of a child being killed or somebody’s neck being stepped on. But [now] you could not look away. And I feel that that made people not only feel guilty, it really kind of drove the message home to them. It [also] drove them out of their comfort zone and had them demonstrate with Black people.”

Michenelle Delille of Uptown Girl Beauty Co.

UptownGirlBeautyCo. Founder Michenelle Delille. Image courtesy of UptownGirlBeautyCo.

“[It’s] the fact that a lot of businesses were closed, and people were bored. So people used that [online shopping] as a sort of therapy.”

Folasade and Ibironke make significant points. Because of the social distancing regulations put in place, there was a growing awareness of the struggles that the Black community were facing, both in terms of their physical and financial welfare. While, at the same time, Michenelle’s idea of retail therapy also brings up the idea of the value that exists within Black beauty brands. 

We were already using online platforms as our sales site, and so when the pandemic happened more people were going online and coming across a brand they didn’t know before, it was like: ‘Oh, I didn’t know this brand existed, but it’s pretty cool, so hey let me check it out.'”

Due to COVID-19, more people were recognizing what Black-owned businesses had to offer in terms of vegan, cruelty-free skincare products and high quality, yet affordable hair serums and fake eyelashes. While white guilt was the thing that initially brought engagement to these Black businesses, it was not the thing that kept them engaged with these businesses. Rather, it was the fact that Black people have always been entrepreneurs and have always been producing desirable goods. 

It would be remiss to talk of white guilt and not speak of how it can never right the wrongs that have oppressed and suppressed Black Americans for the past 40 decades. Black beauty brands have struggled for years to get the same treatment as white beauty brands. 

“If you’re an immigrant, for instance, actually getting a banking relationship or loans is extremely difficult, because you don’t have enough credit history,” states Ibironke Jegede.

Michenelle Delille echoes this sentiment, saying how “with Black people, we have to start the business by ourselves. And it’s built up from the ground up. You have to put your own money. You have to have your own resources. Nothing is given to you. That’s what makes our success different. And I’m not saying all white businesses are like that, but for the majority of them, they are like that.”

Claims made by the financial institution, Fundera, support Ibironke’s statement. While banks often peddle and promote loans for immigrants, the approval rating for many of those loans, like bank term loans, have declined in recent years. At the same time, many immigrant entrepreneurs may experience more struggles when applying at a physical location, due to language barriers and unnecessary cultural bias. 

Also, research done by Duke University authenticates Michenelle’s account. The essay Racial Disparities in the Pathways into Business Ownership explains that as of 2016, 203,525 white business owners have inherited their businesses, while around only 1% of Black business owners made up that 203,525, at just 2,432. Businesses that are passed down oftentimes are at an advantage compared to those that are not. For they are “typically bigger and more mature.” 

With systemic racism running rampant till this day, it is doubtful that the efforts made by those experiencing white guilt are actually making improvements in the Black community. 

And yet, in light of the historic grassroots efforts seen in this year’s presidential election and the current, heightened awareness of racial injustice, we need to make it a priority to never forget this year, to never forget the countless murders committed by the police and the blood spilled by those in power. We need to remember that to continue to change the system, we need to disrupt it in an effort to make it inclusive of all colors, races, and backgrounds.

Written by Dominique Aleesha

Feature image from Omo Sade Skincare

Dominique Aleesha

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