Bianca Dawkins called ahead.
In making an appointment at the Denny Kemp Salon and Spa in Minneapolis, Dawkins informed the receptionist that she had "textured hair." What Dawkins wanted done was very simple: a wash, a blow-dry, and a flat iron treatment, leaving her with straight hair. Because Dawkins has "really curly, tight curls," she told the desk assistant her hair would need up to two hours.
When she arrived there on Friday, Dawkins found the stylist wasn't exactly ready for her. And it wasn't clear if he ever would be.
According to Dawkins, the man grabbed some of her hair and informed her he couldn't handle it, referring to it as "an animal that can't be tamed." Later, she says, he brought around a handful of other staff to look at Dawkins' curls. None was up to the task.
At that point, Dawkins had had enough. "So, what? Black girls can't come in here and get their hair done?" she asked.
According to Dawkins, the stylist replied, "Well, it isn't the 1950s or '60s, where we can just put up a sign in the window."
This was the last straw.
"In that moment, I was having my identity attacked," Dawkins says. "I couldn't believe what was happening. I just put my head down and walked out."
Later, she posted on her experience on Facebook, where many friends shared it, and a lot of others took their issues directly to the salon, communicating their anger through emails and phone calls. Denny Kemp Salon and Spa leapt into action... sort of, issuing a statement later Friday that said a stylist had made "inappropriate" and "improper and offensive" comments.
"Though we believe that our stylist meant no harm and simply spoke inarticulately," reads the statement, "his words were perceived as hurtful and completely contrary to what our salon stands for."
Dawkins says the salon's namesake, Denny Kemp — owner of one business in northeast Minneapolis and another in Edina — reached out to his wronged customer directly. But with Dawkins, a 24-year-old "social entrepreneur," they'd crossed the wrong woman. Dawkins says she wasn't appeased by the offer of free spa treatments on Friday, or, when he called back the next day, the argument that more than two dozen peoples' jobs were on the line.
To Dawkins, the issue was that one person's job wasn't on the line: the stylist who'd offended her so deeply. She was informed that the man would keep his job, and wasn't subject to "disciplinary action," as Dawkins had hoped. She also wanted the spa to pursue cultural competency training and to "identify clear gaps in their services to people of color."
Of late, Denny Kemp hasn't announced much in the way of radical change, but did share a photograph of a sign reading "BLACK HAIR MATTERS," adding, "We completely agree." It's all a bit hollow for Dawkins, who was, last Friday, set to get her first salon hair treatment in 18 months.
Back around the turn of 2015, when a "natural hair" look was catching on among her friends, Dawkins got the relaxer cut out of her hair, shortening it immensely — "at first I looked sort of androgynous," she says — and then did nothing to it but shampooing and a self-conditioning regime. Some days she wrapped a bandanna around it. This period marked the first time in her life she wasn't opting to have her hair professionally treated or styled in some way.
"It was a big step with my identity," Dawkins says.
The experience was a trying one, and Dawkins eventually relented on getting professional treatment, as she was having difficulty maintaining her look as she wanted it. She just picked the wrong salon, on the wrong day. Not that she's going to have any trouble finding qualified hair-caregivers in the near future.
A ton of local stylists have contacted Dawkins since her experience was widely spread.
"It surprises me that race was even a factor here," she says. "I've had probably 20 people reach out to me to offer their services, and 80 percent of them are white."