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OPINION

Opinion: The Mielle Hair Oil Controversy is More Than Empty Shelves 

Photo courtesy of Refinery29.

The virality of the Black TikTok community has never been a secret. Besides the annoyance of having to type “Black person” after a search, the platform has become a well-known virtual market where Black creators can share everything from their favorite Amazon Skims dupes to the best products for hair care. But recently the space has taken on a more contentious air as white creators posting of the Mielle Rosemary Mint Oil has caused the product to be up-charged, sell out and be unavailable to its original Black and brown audience. 

Circulating TikTok since 2021, amongst Black women and content creators of color, the oil has been known for assisting in rapid hair growth and overall scalp health. With marketing towards those with “protective styles, including braids and weaves” according to Mielle Organics, the oil appeared to be reaching its targeted audience, but spikes in a controversy surrounding the oil’s use arose when popular white content creators started to share usage of the product.

“You go to their [Mielle Organics] website you see it’s made by a Black woman, and they’re really emphasizing how it works for Black women,” shared content creator Ronelle Tshiela in a Tiktok video. “By now you know there are not a lot of products on the market for us… does it not feel a little weird to still buy the product and then go online and hype it and tell everybody else to buy it?”

Other users like Kita.Io, echoed similar sentiments commenting on the product’s most effective usage being on curly hair. “Take race out of it…you read the instructions and it says you’re not supposed to dilute it and …you know that your hair doesn’t do well oily…what made you think that walking through an ethnic hair care aisle to buy a $20 oil that was not made for you was going to work,” Kita.Io said. “It’s giving colonization.” 

We’ve seen this happen with the 2021 viral “Renegade” dance controversy and it being miscredited, and even with the misuse of African American Vernacular English words like “chile” across the internet. So, the Mielle hair oil controversy might be new, but it is not one of a kind, rather it speaks to larger issues of the white co-opting of space, trends, and/or ideas that take away from original audiences and groups.

The problem is not that white creators shouldn’t use or promote “Black products,” but rather the lack of conscious care when these products are promoted. Promoting a product directly geared towards people with curly hair and that serves an underrepresented group garners careful promotion to ensure it continues to reach its target audience. Beyond careful promotion, the controversy brings into question the importance of knowing when to sit back and allow others to take up space. 

Black content creators and those with curly hair have historically been barred from conversations about beauty and the hair care industry. While brands like TPH by Taraji P. Henson and Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross continue to serve the hair care needs of Black women, they are still a few lines amongst a broader sea of haircare that doesn’t work for Black women and those with curly hair. So when Black and brown women find a line or product that works well, sometimes the best thing to do is allow them to take up space, virtually and physically, and be the face and voice of those products. 

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Simply put, the Mielle hair oil controversy is a conversation about respecting Black spaces. So much of society pushes those who have different hair, different skin tones, different bodies, and more, to the sidelines. It upholds systems of beauty that continue to disenfranchise those it doesn’t deem worthy to take up space – those it doesn’t deem worthy to have multiple aisles and sections of hair care, beauty products, and clothing. 

The controversy offers people a lesson in providing room and space for those who are given the least to feel centered and heard when they speak up on the things that work just for them. To allow them to be the voice for their products and trends, and be not only okay with them claiming it, but being proud that they each can have something that works just for them.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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