NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with Tiffany Gill, author of the University of Illinois Press book Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry on the December 28, 2011, edition of Tell Me More.
MARTIN: Well, you know, honestly, you have some fascinating nuggets in your book. You write, for example, that really up until the 1820s, you know, black men were prominent in the beauty industry until it became not acceptable for black men to start dressing white women’s hair. So then, kind of, black women took over. Tell us a little bit more about that.
GILL: Absolutely. Sure. I mean, we see that it’s around 1820 where there began to be sort of growing discourses about how African-American men were seen as dangerous, should not share spaces with white women, and so African-American women sort of transitioned very nationally to that. So we see African-American women in slavery caring for the beauty needs of those that they were forced to work for.
But also we see that, particularly in urban areas like New Orleans, that some of these enslaved women were able to actually hire themselves out and make some money in the process. So the beauty industry does provide opportunities for African-American women to earn a living.