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

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 MitchellDid 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.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.