Slave Braiders

It’s been a while…….

A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks, but that’s for the next post. The one I was supposed to be working on, but then I came across this video someone posted on facebook.

I’ve had my hair braided many times in the past, mostly at the local hair braiding “factories” in Harlem. Places where dozens of African teenagers and young women work in rented storefronts braiding hair of mostly African American women. There are so many places and the competition so fierce the braiders often solicit business from passersby on the street or while shopping in a beauty supply store. Some carried their own business cards with their cell numbers for their regular customers. Most of the girls are very talented, can duplicate almost any style with a photo as reference, often for much cheaper than having it done at a conventional salon.

I’ve heard of human trafficking for the sex trade, and some reports of immigrants brought to the US by sponsors who were later exploited as house slaves, and of course, the middle passage of the African slave trade. But not once did it ever occur to me while having my hair braided in one of those salons that any of the girls who did my hair could’ve been trafficked and kept as slaves. But thinking back on the times and places I’ve had my hair done, often in crowded spaces that many times felt like a sweatshop with dozens of other women in sometimes not so sanitary conditions, it all makes sense. The two women in this video from CNN were brought to the US from West Africa under the premise of being provided with a better education. Instead they were forced to work as hair braiders at salons in Newark, NJ for up to 14 hours daily, seven days a week. The family that held them captive made $4 million in profits.

I no longer have the patience to sit for hours to have individual braids and since I have locs it’s not an option anymore. Though occasionally I do get solicited on the street from braiders with requests to twist my locs. What’s your experience? Do you still patronize braiding salons?

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