This paper presents and analyzes strategies that African salon managers and workers employ in order to ensure customer satisfaction and subsequent optimal revenue in Jamaica-Queens, NY (Nadia AHBS and Antou AHBS18) and, to a lesser extent, in Baton Rouge, LA (Princess AHBS). I argue that the ethnic branding of the service provided (“African hair braiding”) is paired with tactics of customer service that are more typical of American/western business management. I contextualize the postcolonial narrative of hybridity, heterogeneity, and pluralism (Paolini et al., 1999). First, I show how the selective performance of ethnicity is visible through the salon’s insistence on speed and timeliness. These concepts are remote from the common African interpretation of time, even in the workplace. Secondly, I examine social interactions between braiders and customers, drawing on the manner in which braiders compromise and negotiate stances of power for monetary gain and to preserve a form of collectivist organization that characterizes most sub-Saharan societies. Finally, I investigate the reasons for abandoning the traditional African braiding technique in favor of the African American one. I address the managers’ and workers’ perception of the African traditional methods of braiding and conducting business. This paper examines the performance of ethnicity (or lack thereof) as it is commodified and profitized by salon owners, and consumed by salon customers. In concurrence with Comaroff and Comaroff (2009), I argue that the manifestation of ethnic consciousness is extremely selective, as the performance of Africanness is only occasionally profitable in the presence of African American customers.
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