Woman Denied Service At JC Penney Salon For Having Black Hair

Illustration for article titled Woman Denied Service At JC Penney Salon For Having Black Hair

Two months ago, Brenda McElmore went to her local salon, inside of a JC Penney in Downey, California, because she wanted to get her hair dyed black — she's got some gray at the temples. According to KTLA, the receptionist at the salon told her, "We don't do African-American hair." Ms. McElmore feels that she was denied service because she is black, and is now suing for racial discrimination (Gloria Allred is on the case). In a heartbreaking video (embedded after the jump), Ms. McElmore, on the verge of tears, says, "I'm a person of the '60s… It was shocking to hear them say this in this manner, in 2008."Ms. McElmore wears a wig, and the hair (underneath) that she wanted dyed is not relaxed or treated in any way. It's natural hair that could be dyed with regular hair dye. A JC Penney spokesperson issued a statement, which read, in part:

Our salon receptionist felt that we did not have the technical proficiency... to perform the service you required. She may not however have expressed this to you in a way that was not offensive. For this I again apologize. Because customer service is ... so important to our company, we would rather not attempt the service if we cannot perform it as required.


Over at Womanist Musings, blogger Renee writes, "Isn't that beautiful lawyer speak for your hair is too nappy and untamable to deal with?" One commenter posts, "That's funny because when I dye my hair, I can use the boxes with white women on them and it turns out just the same. I didn't realize that my hair was such a problem." But the reader who sent this story to us as a tip muses: "Isn't it also somewhat true that 'ethnic' hair is structurally different that white hair? Where do we draw the line? As an Asian-American, I tend to gravitate towards Asian-produced shampoos (Shiseido's Tsubaki) and stylists because of an assumption that they'd 'get' my hair better." Womanist Musings' Renee calls the hair care industry segregated. "We have become accustomed to the segregation," she claims. "The segregation is so normalized that black hair care even has its own aisle at Walmart… Think about the idea of a profession that specializes according to race, and what that means. By simply refusing to learn specific skills they can daily exclude blacks from patronizing their business; thus creating an all white environment." Should a woman be able to walk into her local salon and expect services, no matter her color, race or hair texture? Or should black people only go to "black" salons, Asian people go to Asian salons, and so on?

Woman Says JC Penny Refused Service Because She Is Black [KTLA] Salon Sued Over Racial Discrimination [KABC] JC Penny's Doesn't Do "Black Hair" [Womanist Musings]


Erin Gloria Ryan

I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood when I first moved to my current city and there was a salon in the first floor of my building, and I never saw one non-black woman there. When I wanted to get my hair cut, I went all the way downtown because I felt like I would have been intruding in a neighborhood social meeting place of sorts and that my presence would make the normal patrons uncomfortable. And I also thought that maybe the stylists weren't used to cutting/styling very fine hair.

It's sort of painful to read what I just typed. I hate to think that I'm somehow racist for acting the way I did with regard to the beauty salon, but I can't really explain why I did it or why it leaves a bad taste in my mouth now.