“Hotel Shampoo is Racist”

For a long time I have debated whether or not to post essays or discussions on my blog, which was initially intended for book reviews. Today I thought fuck it. So let’s talk about systematic racism and hotel shampoo.

“Yeah but you’re white” is becoming an increasingly popular response when light-skinned or white individuals try to raise awareness for discrimination against ethnic and cultural minorities. I want to talk about this response and how ridiculous it is to a) label whatever person you see as white because of the tone of their skin and b) use whiteness as a reason to further stifle the fight against racism. My post will be in response to SHAMPOO. Yes, shampoo.

Firstly, a bit of context. A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Halsey, a musician if you don’t know her, tweeted about how hotels only having ‘white’ hair products could be considered racist. Most of her tweets on the subject have since been deleted, likely due to the volume of abusive responses she received.

One of the responses that Halsey received was along the lines of “you’re white, honey” or “you’re one of the whites, hun” in way of degrading her comment on the issue (and I saw many more like this). This is an incredibly offensive thing to say to someone that isn’t white – Halsey is mixed-raced and because she’s light-skinned, she’s often regarded as white, and therefore, shouldn’t comment on race issues. It is also offensive to any white person that stands up to systematic racism, because you’re (basically) telling them that they don’t have the right to stand up for ethnic minorities because they are white. Obviously this is ridiculous because, if anything, using your white privilege to fight racism and abuse should be your first thought, not pointing out that someone is ‘white’ in order to silence them.

Someone tweeted Halsey as part of the discussion, “You’re one of my favourite female artists, but how in the fuck can shampoo be racist lol dumb for this one.” Halsey replied “how can u have lived ur entire life without knowing that people of color and white people require different hair care products.” – There are so many things wrong with this tweet. A privileged white male fan (?!) degrades an artist by calling out her sex/gender, her views on race, and her intelligence all in one sentence. He opens the comment by negging her (negatively complimenting her) in order to somehow excuse his insult.

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A quick mention on shampoo: The majority of white people do not need intensive hair care products to manage their natural hair. A lot of POC (people of colour) hair, specifically black hair which is relevant to this discussion, needs very different hair care products which are usually oil based. Most high street beauty stores you walk into will rarely cater 30% of their stock to black hair and where most of these shops claim to dedicate their business to representing the wide variety of ethnicities out there, this is pretty poor. Of course you can find the odd independent hair store that does cater to black hair specifically, but that’s not the point here.

A lot of people responded to this discussion on twitter commenting on how hotels just buy cheap, bulk stock of shampoos and conditioners, rather than being racist in their selections. This is false in most cases. Most hotels do not buy cheap shampoos. A lot of top hotel brands use equally pricy brands to stock their hotel bathrooms to invoke a sense of luxury stay. Also, I buy intense hair care products – usually from POC independent shops – for the same price or cheaper than white hair care products. So the fact isn’t that they care so intensely about price, it’s that it’s ‘easier’ to just cater to white people. Yes, you could just take your own shampoo to the hotel with you, but again, not the point. The point is that white people are catered to by hotel businesses for convenience and no one else is.

No, I don’t think that hotels are being intentionally racist by only stocking white hair care products. But I do think it’s a systematic problem that this doesn’t occur to people, especially those that will have a fair amount of business from POC. I think it’s a systematic problem that so many white people respond aggressively and defensively instead of defending the fact that black people should be catered to in the same way white people are. It’s micro-aggressive and passive racism in society. It’s an over-arching voice telling black people that they aren’t on the same level of importance to white people.

Yes, something as small as free shampoo does represent a systematic racism in our modern society. It proves that most people and businesses default to a white aesthetic, to a white beauty standard. People of colour represent a much wider range of ethnicities in this world that are treated as second best to the white standards and it’s issues like this one that prove it. FYI, most oil-based shampoos for black hair also better cater to other ethnic minorities and people of colour that don’t fall under the white beauty standard. And I hate to break it to you if you’re thinking of commenting about ‘catering to a majority is more important’, white hair is not the majority – even for some white people.

So why is Halsey being dragged for calling out this issue? Because she’s not ‘black’ enough to talk about racial discrimination? Because she’s rich and therefore should just buy her own shampoo and stop whining? Or is it because she made a valid point and people can’t handle the idea that in some way there is a systematic problem of racism that they contribute to?

I always take my own shampoo to hotels because my hair is frizzy and dries out really easily when I use ‘normal’ shampoos – again, this is so wrong to say because it further suggests that white is the norm and anything else is different or lesser than. I recognise that I am part of this systematic racism because I often haven’t noticed cases of passive racism in society because white normality is so ingrained in us. Do you recognise your contribution to systematic racism? Or do you you just believe it’s not an issue?

2 thoughts on ““Hotel Shampoo is Racist”

  1. Dear Poppy,
    Wow. Thank you so much for this post. I am from Germany and was surfing through different book blogs until I’ve got immediately curious about this topic. Indeed I knew about the fact that POC use different shampoos. But I never gave it a second thought as to the products in hotels. It is such a good point! Everything matters, even the smallest things. It wouldn’t be such a difference for the hotel industry to offer different kind of shampoos – but as you said: It is the easier way to not care about it.
    Besides the issue about the shampoo I’ve been more shocked about the inappropriate reactions on Twitter. What a stupid idea of thinking that white people (even if she wasn’t – as you said: It shouldn’t matter!) aren’t allowed to stand against racism. Everyone should speak up for the right things – now matter where you are form or what colour or gender or whatever.


    Liked by 1 person

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