The politically voiceless, economically visible, and racially indeterminate middleman minority status as noted by sociologists Edna Bonacich and Pyong Gap Min hardly comes to mind when scholars envision women of Africa and the African Diaspora. Still, when considering the ways the global black hair industry acts as a mechanism for work, production, value, agency, and mobility, we would be remiss if we did not include a discourse on the black hair industry, for it alternately critiques, challenges, and participates in binary conceptions of race, socioeconomic class, and citizenship. Further, while the traditional concept of the middleman minority subsumes the female identity under that of the male head of the family, the global black hair industry—largely established, fueled, and energized by black and African women—centralizes the female. Like many industries with a commanding economic force, black hair as an industry acts both within and without the bounds of the patriarchal state, macrocosmically, and the male head of the patriarchal family, microcosmically.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah, while concerned with her protagonist's mediation of the “Americanah” identity—the repatriated immigrant “with odd affectations, pretending to no longer know” home (2013a, 78)—also presents a unique observation of the ways that black hair and its commerce are also attendant, if not central, to notions of feminist ideology, both African and Western, advocated by Adichie in her feminist treatise “We Should All Be Feminists” (2013b). This paper seeks to illuminate the questions that Adichie raises in Americanah regarding the centrality and alterity of women, who, like traditional middleman minorities, act as consumers and producers within a market that is deeply entrenched in the racial, political, and economic framework of the larger patriarchal society, while also operating with a great deal of autonomy.