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Winning By The Hair?

Last weekend, I met a Korean-American guy who, because of his parents’ business, claimed to know more about African-American hair than African-Americans! He then proceeded to describe to us around the table, none of whom were African-American, how “hair relaxers” work. He nostalgically spoke about the days when his parents’ store was the largest in the area and he would even go as far as to sell his wares at his high school. Now it seems Koreans are running each other over to get a piece of the profitable beauty supply industry.

Coming from an economics background, I’ve begun to wonder what it means when the distribution of ethnicity-targeted  products are controlled by a different ethnicity. 80% of this particular market for African-American hair care products being dominated by Koreans is rather unusual, I think. Check out the mini-documentary below that explores whether or not race is an issue in the marketplace…

Here’s my concern: Is business conducted in the same manner from Asian to Black versus Black to Black? If Asian businessmen take profits from African-American communities and spend in their Asian communities or suburbs (largely absent of African-Americans), without ever contributing to the development or growth of the communities which the business is located in, is that a structural form of oppression? Does the Christian faith separate the priorities of business and community? Or is faith a complete non-sequiter to how we handle ourselves in the marketplace? I know a businessman or woman may not care outside of the P/L statement, but what does a Christian entrepreneur do in light of the fact that they are now conscious to the fact a healthy cycle of economy may be broken?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

6 responses to “Winning By The Hair?

  1. elderj

    This is something that comes particularly close to home for me as you might imagine. Business is business, so I don’t take issue with Koreans selling products to Blacks. It does seem a bit disproportionate however, given the relatively few number of Koreans in the country that they would so dominate an industry. The export of dollars from the Black community is something that has happened for generations – Koreans are just getting in on their share of the American dream.

    What is more troubling for me is the unchallenged ethnorcentrism/racist attiudes of many koreans towards Blacks from whom they derive their livelihood; that such attitudes are held by people who are usually church-goers (if not actually Christian) is greatly discouraging. Nevertheless the failure to challenge such attitudes is not unique to Koreans. It is always hard to challenge the economics of your parishoners – no matter what their color.

  2. Wow, so much to say on this.

    I will say this: if it wasn’t for African-Americans spending money in many Korean-owned businesses I think a lot of Korean-Americans would not be in college today and without their college credentials would not be getting the jobs that help them eventually make their living.

    I’m not sure what’s the best way to give back to the African-American community, but I think most first-gen. KA’s would be most open to giving to churches in the African-Am community and partnering with them in various ministries.

    As for second-gen. KA’s I think we could do more, also, in partnering with African-American churches and serving the black community, but to be honest I’m not really sure how to do this.

  3. james kim ⋅

    Wow… I’ve been thinking about the subject for quite awile. I think the issue first surfaced for me during the LA riots. There is obviously a deep issue here that needs to be addressed. The reality is, the black community found God in America while being enslaved by the men who claimed to worship the same God. The is a testimony to God’s amazing grace.

    We are able to come to this country and thrive in its economic abundance because of the black race. If black men and women had not endured such harsh treatment all the way through the equal rights movement in the 60’s, no minorities would have the opportunity they have now in this country. We owe to the African American community a great deal of thanks. More importantly, God obviously used them as race to overcome racial separation and hate, and it would be a travesty not to glorify God by not recognizing the hardship endured by our African American brothers and sisters.

    We are an incredibly ethnocentric people, dictated by culture more then Biblical principles. There is certainly a great deal of animosity from both sides, but as men and women of God begin to let the Bible dictate their lives, such social inequity can slowly change.

  4. I LOVE YOU DAVID PARK–in a “guy-love” [SCRUBS] sort of way.

    First, elderj, I have to beg to differ. “Business is not business,” it’s power. And the Scripture’s admonition for proper use of power is to “do justly.”

    And, James, the Black community did not find God in America. Phyllis Wheatley was wrong and a victim of American-bred self-hatred. Even if one chooses to discount every faith tradition other than Christianity, one has to remember that Israel (most of the Middle East region, for that matter) has historically been considered a part of the African continent, though quiet is kept about such things. Plus, the migration of the message of Jesus south into the heart of Africa are documented even in the Bible (do you remember the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunich?).

    Nonetheless and more importantly, thank you for having this conversation. May God bless you.

  5. james willialmson ⋅

    Thank you for this enlightening presentation. This presentation is helping support my next article for the local Black newspaper, The Grand Rapids Times. I will be writing with a theme “Amazing Grace in Reverse: Broken Fellowship in the African American Community.

    The lyrics of Amzazing Grace state, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. If you reverse these lyrics, you get,”I once was found but now I’m lost, was seeing but now I’m blind.”

    Part of this blindness has to do with willful blindness. This willful blindness has allowed Koreans to pimp the African American community for their own Asian prosperity. Where is the outcry from our local, regional, Congressional and spiritual leaders? Have we all become willfully blind? Have we so mentally brought into the theory of integration that we surrendered our integrity and dignity? This is reflected in Maya Angelou’s poem in that we have forsaken the God of our ancestors and our children can no longer find their way?

    Elder James E. Williamosn

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