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Subtle Racism: Viewing Race through Hair

by Zoey Olivia Rhodes[1], Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Warwick



This article uncovers the unchallenged subtle practices that create barriers to black women's access to generic hairdressing, arising from the hairdressing curriculum within a location. It contends that institutions pay lip service against racial discriminatory practices but de facto their practices demonstrate that they are far from being anti-discriminatory.

The article uses the subject of hair as a window to view how social structures behave towards minorities. This way of looking is used to examine agency, institutional and structural practice. It takes a symbolic cross-cultural phenomenon, in this case hair, and uses it as discovery tool to examine barriers that affect minorities.

The scrutiny of subtle practice is important because such practices are often overlooked by society and even accepted as the norm. This process can be transferred to challenge different issues, such as the beauty industry's provision for black skin, or the provision of diverse cultural diets for elderly ethnic minorities who live in homes for the elderly. This way of looking at the phenomenon could also be used to enlighten different discriminatory practices. Maintaining a philosophical, practical, collaborative approach and exploring human processes such as values and attitudes, helped determine the use of methods which were: interviews and questionnaires.

Keywords: Race, hairdressing, hierarchy of knowledge, Afro-Caribbean women, Afro hair, hairdressing curriculum


Studying how 'race' (Ratcliffe, 2004: 15) is constructed and evaluating people's position within societal structures is important because it helps address inequalities and social divisions. Ratcliffe (2004) contends that race is a constructed concept that has been scientifically discredited. However, because it is used in everyday common language, it is historical and has legal status; the term race cannot be ignored. Therefore in order to demonstrate that the term is problematic and to avoid unintentionally reproducing the error, I will be referring to the term 'race' in inverted commas throughout the article. The subject of hair is used as a tool to discover and examine how 'race' is presently constructed within a locality. This article evaluates people's position in society in relation to 'race' by taking the standpoint that unequal access to generic hairdressers within Coventry is mainly due to the separation of knowledge within the hairdressing curriculum, between European and Afro textured hair. It is important to examine this issue because within the hairdressing arena black women are a minority, receiving different treatment to any other group; therefore, they are the focus of this study. I argue that the hierarchy of knowledge (Young, 1971) within educational institutions has positioned Afro hair at the bottom of the hierarchy, which has resulted in knowledge about Afro hair being unavailable on the curriculum within colleges in Coventry; it is scarcely available within the whole of the West Midlands. Additionally, because Afro hair is treated as a specialism this indicates that not every learner will have access to learn about Afro hair. It is also my assertion that this contributes to social division and inequalities of opportunities for black women as a result of racial hierarchy, which according to Taylor (1999) stems from classical racism. This can be used to explain why the needs of black women are positioned lower than others, and why the hairdressing curriculum has separated knowledge. Indeed this leads to the hypothesis that black women face barriers because they are essentialised; which means maintaining a generalised view about people, i.e., all black women have coarse hair. I assume the hairdressing curriculum in Coventry's colleges does not give the same amount of attention to Afro hair as it does European hair. This is evidenced by none of the colleges in Coventry offering formal training about Afro-hair.

Action-oriented research was the methodological approach used as a way of producing collaborative knowledge between community partners and researcher (Small and Uttal, 2005). I wanted to follow Derrida (1976), who states that a subject should move us internally. This article sufficiently moves me and was constructed after being inspired by an 'event' (Pyrke, Rose and Whatmore, 2003: 35). After attending a hairdressing college salon to have my hair done a few years ago, I was surprised to find myself having to advise trainees how they should comb, blow dry and style my hair. The event made me feel awkward, alien and different to the other customers who were white and did not have to do the same. Based on this experience I developed an assumption that black women must visit a specialist hairdresser if they want to feel confident about the hairdresser's ability to cope with their hair. I wanted to investigate if other Afro-Caribbean women were affected and if so how. However there are implicit biases with this approach and balancing power within relationships is an inherent problem and can result in conflict and tension between stakeholders. Endorsed by Greenwood and Lewin (1998), I adopted the position of being a friendly outsider, which meant that the community partners did not have equal partnership, but I endeavoured to produce a good representation of their input. Using a reflexive blog helped me deal with issues of trustworthiness, credibility and dependability, terms also understood as validity and reliability (Guba and Lincoln, (1998). Being reflexive helped me to deal with my emotions, ideas and experiences and helped to deal with balancing power.

Literature review

There is a paucity of literature on the topic of 'race' and hair, but Knowles (2003) suggests that 'race' within society should be examined in multiple layers. This approach helped to develop the conceptual framework. Caldwell (1991) suggests that the subject of hair is relevant when discussing structural power relationships, because it discusses how the agent can be affected by structure. Taylor (1999), Knowles (2003) and Ratcliffe (2004), define 'race' as socially constructed, because it cannot be scientifically defined; either phenotypically or genetically (Montague, 1964): therefore, society's only way of accurately categorising itself in terms of 'race' is the human race (Ratcliffe, 2004). Hair is more than keratin that grows out of the body and, whether we have hair or are completely bald, it is a phenomenon that affects everyone because it is symbolic. Rooks and Kelley explain that black people redesign and set new standards with their hair and it is an expression of culture (Taylor, 1999). Ascribed identities affect how women present their hair: for example, Islamic and Jewish women are expected to cover their hair in public.

Historically, Afro hair was denigrated by European slave masters and slaves' hair was referred to as wool, contributing towards black slaves being treated as animals and not human beings (White and White, 1998). Gill (2010) argues that this behaviour came as a response to racist ideology and was meant to devalue the physical attributes of black people in order to sustain white supremacy. Indeed this denigration affected how slaves perceived themselves, and resulted in them disguising their hair so it appeared more European or it was covered up (White and White, 1998). Black slaves maintained their own hair and were expected to attend to the hair of their slave master's wives (White and White, 1998). Additionally, racial hierarchy (Ratcliffe, 2004) could explain why knowledge about Afro hair is not as prominent as European hair on the curriculum in Coventry's colleges. On the other hand, the historical influence may not be the reason why black people use current stylisation practices, but factors such as choice and culture could be influential. White and White (1998) state that in the past Africans were influenced by the stylisations and practices through their connections with the New World. Therefore cultural and historical influences affect performance.

Considering theories of identity can help when discussing concepts that affect the individual (Simon, 2004). It is important to focus on identity because it discusses the centre of all social enquiries which is the self; it is a causal chain and connects the physical body to society (Simon, 2004). Moreover, including the body within sociological enquiry has been overlooked; sociologists have been busy discussing the effects of social structures but have often neglected to discuss embodiment, which involves how a person behaves and experiences society through their body (Shilling, 2012).

How a person identifies or categorises themselves affects their interaction with others: this can indicate reasons why intercultural groups have difficulties overcoming prejudice (Simon, 2004). People concentrate on performing certain roles, termed impression management, so that they will be perceived as they would like to be. Goffman (1969) explains that individuals use their bodily deference to reinforce positions of dominance and inequalities are reinforced through their actions. It could be inferred that some black women attend black salons because they feel more relaxed around others with whom they identify, or with whom they have a similar sense of community. However, this ignores the social interactions that occur within groups of black women. Tate (2009) labels this as 'the gaze' or 'the look' and discusses the blight and oppression that black women experience by other black women, where a person may receive a disapproving look from another. Tate's explanation for this is due to beauty being aesthetically racialized and the social acceptance that beauty is iconically white (Tate, 2009).

Nevertheless, black women are transforming their culture and are using their hair to demonstrate their liberation, displaying new forms of power, carving new identities and different ways to embody what it means to be black (Taylor, 1999; Tate, 2009). The explosion of knowledge about black hair on the YouTube internet site forums and the recent addition of written knowledge by authors such as Laflesh (2010) and Davis-Sivasothy (2011) about caring for black hair has meant that black women have created a space to share knowledge and celebrate diversity. Progress for black women seems blighted by constructed hegemonic discourses that relate to purity and whiteness as being beauty personified, while black signifies depravity and inner ugliness. These societal attitudes remain embedded and should be problematised (Taylor, 1999). I argue that this discourse continues to be reproduced because subtle practices are not challenged.

Taylor summarises the focus of this article powerfully: 'racialized standards of beauty reproduce the workings of racism by weaving racist assumptions into daily practices and inner lives of the victims of racism' (Taylor, 1999:17). I have taken the daily practices to mean stylisation practices which are performed, and knowledge which is taught on the curriculum. Joining with Young (1971) I intend to shake up the idea that the hairdressing curriculum is passively passing on stylisation and hair-care skills, by asking what type of knowledge learners are given. The curriculum, also known as the syllabus, is a course of study in a school or college (; it is a source of knowledge, and it is a tool that directs learners and their teachers about what will be taught. Young (1971) contributed towards a paradigm shift in the Sociology of Education when he attended to the neglected questions about knowledge. Instead of building on truth claims and adopting standpoints, Young asks questions about which subjects are made legitimate and about the hierarchy of subjects (Whitty, 2010). This article seeks to expand on this by asking why Afro hair is taught separately and treated as specialist knowledge, where learners are able to opt out. This leads to the consideration of politics and the regulation of hairdressing.

Indeed, the law is unclear about what standards a hairdresser must achieve. I state this because the Hairdressing Council created a statute stating that hairdressers could voluntarily join the council once they met 'a reasonable and sufficient standard to qualify him to practise' (Hairdressing (Registration) Act, 1964). The word 'sufficient' is in question here and needs to be explored further: we should scrutinise what 'a sufficient standard' means and how this is understood by diverse groups; therefore, phenomenology is an important function of this study. There are a variety of learning routes to hairdressing: National Vocational Qualifications, apprenticeships, or work-based training. All of these are overseen by Habia which is the government standards organisation and National Occupational Standards (NOS), who provide the structure for the hairdressing curriculum and hairdressing industry. The Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964 set up a voluntary register where hairdressers can become state registered after achieving NVQ Level 2 (The Hairdressing Council, n.d.). This could mean a state registered hairdresser would never have had to touch Afro hair to achieve this.

Black hair is political (Taylor, 1999; Tate, 2000) and it helps us to discover how marginalised groups experience citizenship (Caldwell et al., 2009). They add that black people are already disenfranchised, stating that there are high numbers of black people in the criminal justice system and black people obtain low educational outcomes (Ratcliffe, 2004).

The approach of Caldwell et al. (2009) is to learn about citizenship by building on feminist and ethnographic approaches and move beyond historical roots. They inspect global forces by looking at local experiences and review intersectional processes such as racialization, gendering and transnational economic changes (Gewal and Kaplan, 1994; Yuval-Davis, 1999). This approach is helpful because it contextualises why black people make the choices they do, which could be crudely compartmentalised within the constrained choice framework (Ratcliffe, 2004). However, Gidden's structuration theory may be used to better explain choice, because it does not dichotomise between agency and structure (Ratcliffe, 2004). Therefore, black women may choose not to visit generic hairdressers for a number of reasons: it could be because of historical reasons, cultural affiliations, identities issues, lack of trust that generic hairdressers will have 'sufficient' knowledge or it may be because of economic issues.

The economic reasons why Afro hair is specialised may relate to the reason that specialist hairdressing prices are usually higher than generic hairdressers. This is possibly due to the time-consuming stylisation techniques involved in extensions, cornrows and braids. However, why black women decide to style their hair in ways that involve such time-consuming practices returns us to how society views beauty. This is why Tate states that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but the eye of society (Tate, 2009), where some women attempt to achieve iconic beauty. The literature review has led me to ask the following questions which are further developed through interviews and a questionnaire to explore the issues:

  1. Who provides hair-care for black women within Coventry?
  2. Are black women satisfied with the hair-care they receive from hairdresser within Coventry?
  3. How does the hairdressing curriculum within Coventry colleges cater for the needs of women with Afro textured hair?
  4. How does this compare with other hair types, i.e., European and Asian hair?
  5. Could the curriculum be improved to meet the needs of black women? If so, how could it be improved?
  6. Are there reasons that prevent black women from entering generic hairdressers? If so what are they?
  7. How is the hair-care for black women being improved within Coventry's hairdressing industry?


In order to explore human processes and structures a post-structuralist mixed methodological approach was utilised. Materials were generated from a pilot study, questionnaire, ethnographical observations and semi-structured interviews with a female, Afro-Caribbean hairdresser, two female European lecturers, a female European receptionist, and a male European college director. I also conducted a telephone interview with a European female representing Habia. Ten manual and electronic questionnaires with ten black female consumers were conducted, and a blog was kept. Mixed methods were used because both quantitative and qualitative methods have distinctive characteristics, which makes combining them is particularly attractive (Bryman, 1992), Different methods were used to yield different perceptions and being aware that objective reality is not possible, my approach to seeking understanding was interpretive (Denzin, 1989).

I wanted to find out who looked after black women's hair, how satisfied consumers felt and what barriers prevented them from attending generic hairdressers, thus targeting questions: one, two and six. The objective of the interviews was different because they targeted questions three, four, and five and were directed at hairdressers and colleges. Interviews were used with the hairdresser and lecturers because I wanted to gain in-depth knowledge about the curriculum. Finally, I approached Habia through a telephone interview to find out information for question seven. The sample frame involved people from Coventry and Nuneaton. An ethical approach throughout was maintained, involving reflexivity and honesty about my emotions and experience. My main approach to the field was to remain ethical, therefore applying Stengers' (1997) 'cosmopolitics' (Pryke et al., 2003: 100) which requires learning processes to be collaborative. Being ethical is really about being moral and behaving ethically (Spinoza, 1677, cited in Pryke et al., 2003). This involved me following the British Sociological Association's Statement of Ethical Practice, 2002 protocol, in order to perform ethically throughout the research.

The research was designed to ensure no one was psychologically, physically, legally, socially or economically harmed. Therefore, to protect confidentially, all participants' names have been changed, recorded conversations erased and computer evidence is password protected. Data was produced collaboratively and was the product of the interactions between the researcher and the researched (Latour, 1999). 'Working together' Stengers (1997: 90) was important in order to help to overcome the dichotomy of realism and constructionism (Pryke et al., 2003: 92).Thus, building on Spinoza's suggestion, this article is a demonstration of ethical research because I aspired to behave ethically throughout and I would argue my approach to research in relation to the question is ethical because it challenges society to stop paying lip service to anti-discriminatory practices.

Coventry is the study's focus because it has relatively a high level of multi-ethnicity in comparison to other towns. The population of Coventry consists of 74.1% European, 12.34% Asian, 3.10% Black, 2.37% Mixed and 1.47% Chinese (Guardian, 2011). The city has rapidly changing demographics, partly due to having two universities, and migration trends: some people come to live in Coventry for a short while (Facts about, 2012). It is felt that collaborating with colleges, hairdressers, and consumers will help to produce rich data for this topic. These are the identities and roles that distribute, consume and are affected by the curriculum.

I decided to conduct a pilot study to test if my hypothesis was legitimate and worth pursuing. I telephoned forty hair salons within the post codes areas of CV1 and CV2 and ten respondents agreed to participate and complete a brief questionnaire. This pilot study served some purpose, as it helped to demonstrate that my hypothesis was valid: being able to observe segregation within some salons, and learning more about the educational backgrounds of the hairdressers, was really helpful. I restricted the consumer sample group to include only women that I defined as having Afro hair. However, restricting the sample in this way was problematic because classifying hair is as complicated as defining 'race'; hair is as individual as the person.

I contacted all the colleges in Coventry to request participation. Network sampling helped to select participants for the interviews and the questionnaires. I formed network relationships with some hairdressers from my pilot study, made links with an Afro-Caribbean Society at a university and distributed an online survey to members using Google docs. I used purposeful sampling techniques, which is judgment based sampling, to choose participants for the manual questionnaire, identical to the electronic questionnaire, through links with my church.

One limitation I am aware of is that an important voice remains silent, that of the learner. I did ask the lecturers for help with access to the learners; unfortunately, I was unable to gain access to this group. Having to rely on gatekeepers to help with access has been a challenge for me. I had great difficulty accessing the lecturers and when I requested access to any learners I faced barriers. Most lecturers simply did not respond to my request and during an interview with a lecturer, although learners were in the same room, I was refused access to any learners because of organisational difficulties.


The purpose of this qualitative study was to view how far along a continuum does the hairdressing curriculum provide equal access to generic hairdressers for black women in relation to its daily practices within a locality. These are the seven major findings developed from the pilot study, ten questionnaires and five in-depth semi-structured interviews and a conversation with Habia.

  1. Most women manage their own hair. Interviews and questionnaires confirmed that black women customer numbers are declining.
  2. In general black women are satisfied with their hair-care, and of those that see hairdressers all attend specialist hairdressers. The customers who attended specialist hairdressers reported being happier with the quality of hair-care they received, than those who looked after their own.
  3. The hairdressing curriculum does not formally cater for black women in Coventry, but informal knowledge is available. No colleges in Coventry offered formal training in Afro hair. However, learners are able to learn about Afro hair through their apprenticeships if it is conducted in a black hair salon. On enquiry lecturers suggested the unavailability of formal training was due to the lack of black clients who did not use college salons.
  4. The hairdressing curriculum caters for other hair types that are similar to European hair.
  5. Most participants agreed the curriculum could be improved to cater for the needs of black women, but two participants suggested black women need to attend college salons for demand to improve.

    Mark: 'And if I tell you there is a market for these things we definitely put a course on. … But I know when we tried short courses specifically for Afro-hair there hasn't been the take up.'
    And Fiona: 'We don't get the clients.'
    Others believed the curriculum should remain separate because the hair textures between Afro and European hair is so different. Participants suggested courses were not long enough for both Afro and European hair to be taught together.
  6. Lack of knowledge, attitudes, trust issues and finance were reasons that prevent black women from entering generic hairdressers and 'lack of knowledge' was the most prominent theme. All the interviewees indicated that there was a shortage of knowledge about Afro hair. It was also suggested that the awarding bodies should improve knowledge about Afro hair. Another prominent theme was about 'attitudes', the findings revealed attitudes of black women customers and institutions seemed to be a barrier to access.
  7. It is hoped that hair-care for black women is being improved within Coventry's hairdressing industry. I learned Habia still promote the separation of knowledge because the majority of courses teach either about European hair or Afro hair. Conversely, Habia have started to deliver a small number of courses that teach about combined hair-types. This course teaches about different hair textures, i.e., Afro and European hair and focuses on the classification of hair-types rather than categorising a person to a certain 'race.'

The findings were distilled into three prominent themes: 'lack of knowledge' about Afro hair within the hairdressing curriculum, 'consumer and institutional attitudes and behaviour' and 'lack of demand'. The findings revealed institutions partially addressed the needs of black women having access to generic hairdressing. Thus barriers lie at all levels; with the individual, institution and at the structure.

The theme' lack of knowledge' could be located amongst Young's (1971) theory of hierarchy of knowledge. Young suggests that because knowledge is hierarchical, some subjects are considered more important than others and have been located higher by those who have the most power and I concur that this is happening to black women. For example, Angela is Afro-Caribbean and is the proprietor and hairdresser of a specialist salon. She explained during her training that she almost did not complete her assessment because she wanted to conduct her assessments on Afro hair; however, none of her lecturers were qualified to assess her work on Afro hair. It was only through determination that she succeeded. Angela's accreditation was threatened because she persisted in pursuing a career as a specialist hairdresser, even though her training was mainly conducted on Afro hair within her apprenticeship, she was still expected to be assessed on European hair. Her experience signifies a barrier to learning that may be juxtaposed with White and White's (1998) findings when black slaves attended to their own hair and the hair of their white master's wife. I say this because black people are expected to accommodate for European hair, but this is not reciprocated for Afro hair, therefore black people face 'racial' hierarchy.

At the end of the interview Angela pondered the idea that Afro hair is treated as a specialism in England, whereas in the Caribbean it is the norm. I queried, if the tables were turned and knowledge about Afro hair was dominant could European hair be catered for? Angela stated that 'if you can manage Afro hair, it's easy to manage European hair, but with you doing European hair it doesn't always work that you can manage curly hair.' This indicates that knowledge of Afro hair would not exclude or undermine knowledge of European hair. Habia's recent actions seem to support Angela's notion, after speaking with Habia, I found that they are moving towards providing training for combined hair types: this includes units that teach about Afro hair and European hair. They plan to move towards teaching about types of curl pattern and use the LOIS system (appendix 1) as a way of classifying hair instead of the individual. However, obstacles for Habia's progression may exist. I was informed by a representative from Habia, who set standards for the United Kingdom, that Habia relied on industry consultations to agree before being able to initiate changes. I was also informed that a college had successfully implemented a combined hair-type program.

When I interviewed Mary, who is European and a lecturer, I found she was keen to express her experience. Eight years ago as a white trainee lecturer teaching in a college salon that specialised in Afro hair, Mary described feeling threatened, uncomfortable and a sense of hostility because the black women in the college salon, both clients and students, felt she was invading their space. Mary said it felt as though the people were asking: 'what is she doing in our territory?' Mary believed that salons should be a professional and welcoming environment, regardless of ethnic identity. It appears Mary was disenfranchised as a result of her identity. This is interesting because it demonstrates that in some places black women are dominating spaces for themselves and are excluding subjugated others from their bodies and out of their space; this is political and demonstrates a reaction to racist ideology (Gill, 2010). Being disenfranchised promotes its perpetuation and the creation of ghettos, even within a salon. Theory suggests that black women are preoccupied with locating themselves within black politics and aesthetics (Tate, 2005), because whiteness is used as a yardstick in relation to the embodiment of beauty (Bush, 1990; Hobson, 2005). However, some black people have reacted to centuries of oppression by holding onto binary perspectives; upholding blackness and naturalness as positive and whiteness and unnaturalness as negative (Tate, 2005). Upholding this type of opinion would negatively affect the attitudes a black consumer holds towards a white hairdresser. Indeed one consumer stated she would not allow a white person to touch her hair and this is supported by Mary's experience.

Simon (2004) states that considering identity helps to indicate why intercultural groups have difficulties overcoming prejudice. The findings seem to support the theory; however, what has not been considered is Mary's approach to the situation. During the telephone interview I questioned further and found that during Mary's training she also taught at a European college and she expressed feeling some hostility but it was not as bad as the Afro college salon. She sensed the students felt they were being scrutinised by her. Mary said: 'I had to legitimate myself to them and show them I had the ability to teach.' I wonder whether Mary had to learn how to legitimate herself to all the students she trained, and whether she entered the Afro college salon with preconceived ideas about black people, which affected her approach and interaction? This seems to concur with Simon (2004) who states how a person identifies themselves affects their interaction with others and suggests why intercultural groups have difficulties overcoming prejudice (Simon, 2004).

Institutional attitudes are not innocent within this discussion: participants indicate 'lack of demand' as being the reason for not pursuing changes. Mark, who is European and a director for a college salon, and Fiona, who is European and a lecturer, both spoke about the lack of demand from black consumers. Undeniably lack of demand seems to stem from trust issues which arose from consumers who were wary of generic hairdressers' ability. Consumers' 'lack of demand' could relate to managerial and marketing deficits within the hairdressing industry, including the curriculum. Most interviewees, agents within institutions, agreed that Afro hair should be treated separately and knowledge remain separate; the sample, however, is not large enough to generalise. For example, Fiona stated: 'you're not going to get a good service if they're spread across all of it.' Additionally, Angela was ambivalent about black women accesses generic hairdressing. She concluded women should stick with specialists because generic/European hairdressers lacked knowledge about Afro hair and could not cope with it.

Perhaps if the hairdressing industry, including the curriculum, moved towards being market orientated this would help to reduce the unintentional perpetuation of subtle racism. Habia states it is customer focused (Habia, 2007); customer-focused businesses often experience myopia, as they seek to gratify the short-term perceived needs of their customers (Slater and Narver, 1998). In contrast Shapiro (1988) supports market orientation because it goes further, targeting the type of customer that suits a business; it is interfunctional, shares information between departments, collaborative, is open about mistakes and works hard to make and maintain good relationships. My findings suggest that there are cultural barriers that prevent black women's needs being met. Certainly, communication and relationships between Habia and Afro-Caribbean hairdressers require improvement, because their most recent published report states they had difficulties obtaining enough response from this community (Habia, 2007). However, Habia seem to be moving towards market orientation, because Habia have been able to identify relative strengths of subcultures. Habia are also demonstrating cultural adaptability and some transferability (Harris, 1997). This offers room for innovation but depends on whether agents are prepared to change their attitudes.


This article provides support for the hypothesis that the hairdressing curriculum neglects the needs of black women. This article concludes that embedded societal views about iconic beauty standards that are affected by racist ideology affect the attitudes of those in institutions and consumers. These attitudes prevent subjugated others from entering and sharing citizenship, and this can affect anyone. The separation of knowledge regarding hair types promotes cultural segregation within salons as black customers seek to visit specialist hairdressers. This is supported by institutional attitudes which could be seen to place responsibility on black women customers for lack of demand and therefore the maintenance of segregation. However, this research found subtle practices of racism that promote the separation of knowledge between European and Afro hair added to black women's distrust of generic hairdressers and seventy per cent of the participants did not visit a hairdresser. Information is power and how knowledge is promoted matters (Young, 1971) and if the transmission of knowledge is restricted for some, then information is restricted for all.

Changes rely on the attitudes of everyone in particular the whole hairdressing institution. It could be suggested that implementing a market-oriented philosophy within an institution may address some barriers caused by attitudes. Institutions which are adapted to being market oriented have a chance of successfully meeting the needs, wants and demands of customers and Habia are trying to move towards this direction. However, barriers still remain because within the UK hairdressing industry they need to be flexible, therefore agency attitudes are pivotal.

This subject is important because it extends debates about 'race' and highlights the division that is experienced within the hairdressing institution within a locality. The promotion of combined hair-type courses by Habia validates this study's aims. However, the reasons for spatial divisions require further examination because the hairdressing curriculum may only be a symptom of the problem. People have different types of curl pattern, texture, and thickness on each of their heads (Davis-Sivasothy, 2011). A limitation of this article is the absence of learners' voices: this is unfortunate and illustrates the difficulty that arises from access issues. Also the sample size is small; a lack of resources can limit the sample size which has resulted in the fact that the research cannot be generalised. However, using thick description (Denzin, 2001) improves the study's transferability.

This article is important because it uses a part of the physical body as an apparatus to reveal societal structures; this addresses a neglected discussion about how the body experiences society (Shilling, 2012).This way of looking localises problems and brings issues closer to home because it uses something that we all have; which is a body. Utilising this method could provide scope for challenging other inequalities and this process can be transferred to challenge different issues, such as, the beauty industry's provision for black skin, or the provision of diverse cultural diets for elderly ethnic minorities who live in homes for the elderly. Further investigation should focus on whether other institutions behave similarly and if so why. Indeed close attention should consider why black women tend not to consume. As Habia continue to promote combined hair-type courses, further work should examine attitudes towards learning about combined hair-type amongst: learners, hairdressing industry and Awarding Bodies.




I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants who spent time with me, giving their energy in order for me to learn about this topic. Thank you for the laughs and for sharing your stories with me. I really appreciate you and hope you enjoy reading this article.



Appendix 1: LOIS System

The LOIS is a natural texture hair typing system that defines straight, wavy, curly and kinky hair into categories. This comprehensive system is based around the letters; L. O. I. S. which is an acronym for the different types of hair pattern that exists on individual head.

It begins with identifying/classifying the curl pattern:

L = Bend; strands of hair that could be described as zigzagged shaped would be described as being a 'L' daughters;

O = Curl; strands of hair that form a circle are described as 'O' daughters;

I = Straight; strands with no curl pattern but are straight are described as 'I' daughters; and

S = Wave; strands that have a loose curl pattern that form the letter 'S', are described as 'S' daughters.

Next the system classifies the strand thickness, which can be fine, medium and thick.

Hair texture is classified by considering the following

Thready: low sheen, high shine, low frizz

Wiry: sparkly sheen, low shine, low frizz

Cottony: Low sheen, low shine, high frizz

Spongy: high sheen, low shine, high frizz

Silky: low sheen, high shine, high frizz

Shine is hair that reflects the light and sheen is a sparkle to the hair.

All individuals have a variety of these types on their head, and so can be difficult to classify. Once again, individuals can have variety of different strands and textures on their heads (Davis-Sivasothy, 2011).



[1] Zoey Rhodes has recently completed a BA (Hons) Social Studies degree at the University of Warwick. As a mature student she won first prize for best spoken presentation at the ICUR 2013 and was a student ambassador. For the future Zoey is considering a Masters degree in Social Research.



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To cite this paper please use the following details: Rhodes, Z. (2013), 'Subtle Racism: Viewing Race Through Hair,' Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, BCUR/ICUR 2013 Special Issue, Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.