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Don’t shop where you can’t work and be treated as a human being

October 13, 2009

by Patricia Pittman Mitchell

“I am a woman came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations … I have built my own factory on my own ground. I got my start by giving myself a start … I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.” – Madame CJ Walker, first African-American millionaire

Ebony Beauty Supply, 4820 Third St., in Bayview Hunters Point, San Francisco - Photo: Patricia Pittman Mitchell
Ebony Beauty Supply, 4820 Third St., in Bayview Hunters Point, San Francisco - Photo: Patricia Pittman Mitchell
Did you know that African-American women spend billions every year on Black hair products and that the business has the potential to bring dollars and employment to our neighborhood?

Did you know that in his eye-opening investigation, filmmaker Aron Ranen revealed that “Koreans have come to control virtually every aspect of the multi-billion dollar black hair care industry, from manufacturing to distribution to retail sales, while simultaneously employing tactics to put African-American merchants and wholesalers out of business?”

Well, I didn’t know that fact, but what I did know is how badly they treat you while you are patronizing their stores and how they follow you around as if you are going to steal something and, moreover, how they speak to you, your parents and your children. It seems to me, the more you patronize them, instead of becoming friendlier and appreciative, the worse you are treated. A clear case of familiarity breeds contempt.

I have observed this since I have lived in this community and my final straw was last week when I asked the owner a question and she spoke to me in a very condescending and dismissive manner, turned her little body around and marched off to take someone else’s money. I believe she did not recognize me as a constant patron of Ebony Beauty Supply on Third Street. I believe she assumed, because I was “dressed down,” that I was just another “N word.”

I believe she thought that I did not deserve to be treated as a human being, but just to purchase her products, and “get on.”

I believe she made a BIG mistake. The anger of my ancestors rose up within me. “How dare you speak to me like I am an animal,” I yelled. I stood in the middle of the store and asked all the people in the store, about 20 Black folks, “Why do we spend our money here when they treat us like animals, when you can’t even ask a question about a product and get a decent response?”

Patricia Pittman Mitchell will be outside Ebony Beauty Supply passing out fliers and aiming to build a movement for community respect and self-respect every Saturday after 2 p.m.
Patricia Pittman Mitchell will be outside Ebony Beauty Supply passing out fliers and aiming to build a movement for community respect and self-respect every Saturday after 2 p.m.
Why is our self-esteem so low that we take this kind of treatment? Why do we constantly support these people; 99.9 percent of their clientele is African Americans. We are 10 percent of the population, yet we buy 70 percent of the hair care products purchased here in the United States.

Why do they duplicate everything African-Americans manufacture, then say our products are not in demand and put us out of business? Why, because they own 80 percent of the distribution. They brag about how we change our appearance every week and we are a cash cow. They have no respect for us.

The question is, “Do we have any respect for ourselves? If Rosa Park hadn’t sat down on the bus, we would still be riding in the back of it. I know this younger generation doesn’t want to hear any more civil rights stories, but you need to. If you tolerate disrespect and spend your money while being disrespected, what does that say about you and the future generations that are witnessing this injustice?

Don’t you think you are valuable enough to be treated as a human being? Why do you spend your money where you can’t work or be treated as a human being?

On Saturday, after I worked my job as a community college instructor, I returned to the store and I passed out fliers calling for a boycott of Ebony Beauty Supply, in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. I will be there again every Saturday after 2 p.m., passing out fliers and building what I hope to become a movement for community respect and self-respect.

Join me in demanding that Ebony Beauty Supply

  1. Hire and train 10 people from the respective communities;
  2. Provide training that enables employees to acquire transferrable skills;
  3. Ensure that at least 50 percent of the products in stock and on display are manufactured by African-Americans;
  4. Provide sensitivity and cultural competency training for owners and staff; and
  5. Provide a newsletter identifying your progress and commitment to giving BACK TO THE COMMUNITY!

Patricia Pittman Mitchell is an instructor at City College, a writer and a resident of Bayview Hunters Point. She can be reached at or through Facebook.

9 thoughts on “Don’t shop where you can’t work and be treated as a human being

  1. Selina

    Why patronize people who do like you why not create your own beauty shop, restaurant, barber or gorcery store STOP WHINNING ABOUT BAD TREATMENT GO BUILD YOUR OWN WHINER !!!!

    Protesting and making demands on group of people who were brought to this country to make money off of black people will not help. Look around you do you see any Arab or Asian businesses in WHITE Communities NO if you want respect you better demand respect BUILD YOUR OWN….


  2. phyhau

    First we need as African American people to stop hating on each other long enough to do the right thing and build our own businesses. We first need to love ourselves and each other and stop disliking each other because we feel that one of us is getting ahead and leaving the other’s behind. Too often we sit back and complain about how other ethnic groups are coming into our communities and building wealth this has ben going on for years. We have wealth in the Black community but it is more about how we spend our money. In order for us to work together we have to not hate each other in our hating on each other how can we expect other people to love us. These same people who have these businesses in our communities probably have done their homework and know that we do not have our own businesses. So it starts with us getting off this hatred band wagon toward ourselves and build our own wealth in our own communities. It starts with one person at a time.

  3. Physal

    Very interesting piece. But… you knew that was coming. You seem to assume alot on you interactions with people. As if they must adjust their behaviors to you. Your statements regarding “condesending and dismissive manner”, “talked to me like I’m an animal”,”a clear case”, and “I was just another N-word” are very inflamatory, but might be reflecting a culturally insensitive attitude.

    Since you are claiming “they” always treat their black customers this way and that 99.9% of their clientele are black, maybe you should adjust yourself to a possible cultural confussion about Koreans. Not every culture has the same standards for rude behavior.

    Now if there were any racial bias going on, you probably didn’t help by standing in the middle of the store yelling at people, my guess is that they get yelled at alot already. Remember, Love your enemies (those who harm you) and you will eventually change them.

    As for you list of demands. All of them are some form of taxation on the business that would eventually raise prices on the customers, thus hurting the community and possibly ending the business in the area. Thus causing people to travel farther using more fuel and creating greenhouse gases. This could be a great opening for someone to take over, but someone has to do the work.

    Read the story on Madame CJ Walker here:

  4. Patricia P. Mitchell

    I expect all people to be treated with respect particularly if they are patronizing a business. I know how I want to be treated and its non-negotiable. You can see I am grown.

  5. hyphelonious

    You find whatever you lookin for and lady you aint grown. I’m suprised you got a teachin job. Standin around cussin people out aint help nobody. My neighbor is alway cussin somebody out, two dirty kids in the yard while she screamin at the top of her lungs all kind a b’s an ho’s and she go thru her whole day mad as hell, think everybody disrespect her when its her doin all the disrespectin. JES LIKE YOU. Take the chip off your shoulder and look at your own behaivor. If you show politeness and respect, you get it in return. From your language in your article, its clear you are the one who is the racist.

    They got a black owned coffee shop down in a affluent area by lake merritt over here in Oakland, bunch of white folks and asian and everybody else up in there and everybody get along fine, the business doin great. Somethin tells me if yo sorry azz went up in there, you’d find a problem, like somebody disrespected you. Big baby is what you iz!

  6. lamijo

    @hyphelonious…she did not say she cussed anyone. She Just asked a question of the other patrons.

    @Patricia. You are absolutely right. The same thing happens all over this country. There are a few who have come to being polite but they have still conspired to monopolize that market and in just the manner you described.

  7. wynter mitchell

    So interesting that you’d ask the author, my mother, to adjust her attitude and that she is clearly a “racist” or being disrespectful when your immediate response is to be aggressive towards her article. If this article does not appeal to you, step on. But in the meantime, making comments like @hypehlonious calling her a “sorry azz” or spelling “just” j-e-s, just shows your ignorance. Even if she were not my mother, I’d still think your commment was rambling and ignorant. Spell check, use it.

  8. EyesOnThePrize

    It is interesting that so many black people in America have forgotten the struggle of the 60’s which enabled all people from other countries to come to America and be prosperous. In fact prosperity eliminated black Americans to being African-Americans. People who come to the United State from Africa are able to get small business loan and most of them consider the local black American person as “a man without a country.” Those Koreans who go into the predominately black communities and open businesses with SBA Loans (taxpayer dollars) apply the BFOQ method to not hire local blacks to work in their organizations and the blacks don’t demand hiring standards. Africans are also able to obtain SBA Loans and they do not hire local blacks. If local blacks would think and actively reconsider WHY SHOULD ONE SHOP WHERE ONE CAN NOT WORK? Perhaps, those local business owners would reconsider their hiring practices.


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