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Superstore - Hair Care Products - Review: Anti-Racist Racist Pizza Party

A new Cloud 9 policy has Garrett taking a rare leadership stance this week on Superstore. Read on for my thoughts on “Hair Care Products”:

At the top of the episode, the Store 1217 employees are having their daily meeting in a new locale: in the beauty aisle. As Dina explains, Cloud 9 is finally removing their (rather explicitly racist) policy of locking up Black hair care products. “Oh yeah,” Garrett says, “It takes a lot of courage to make a gesture this small this late in the game.”

After an attempt at a ceremonious lock opening, a rather unceremonious lock “gingerly unlocking,” and a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Justine, Cloud 9 is officially slightly less racist.

Proud of her “accomplishment” as acting manager, Dina proudly announces “Justice, 1, Racism 0!”.

“I’m not sure that’s the score,” Jonah responds.

When Garrett starts to point out all the ways that racism in the store is definitely not over, Dina offers for him to lead a store meeting to create a list of policies that should be changed. He’s initially reluctant, but after Jonah offers to lead the meeting instead (and then immediately realizes his mistake), Garrett begrudgingly agrees.

The meeting doesn’t go exactly as planned, however, as the discussion quickly becomes not about which store policies the Black employees find offensive and more about which snacks in the vending machine they don’t like.

Jonah and Dina try to pitch in and help, but Jonah can’t help but be overly cautious about not becoming a “white savior” (he’s been trying to “de-center” himself) and Dina can only provide that when she was growing up, she was taught to “not see race.”

“See, I don’t know who started telling white people that, I’m assuming it was other white people, but you shouldn’t ignore race. You should be aware of how being Black affects our daily lives.”

After policy discussion doesn’t work particularly well, Dina asks Garrett to just tell stories of discrimination that he’s faced because of his race. He doesn’t like the idea of “racist story time,” or spending a bunch of his time trying to teach people all about racism when all he wanted was a few policy changes, but he complies anyway.

After the meeting, Garrett bemoans the impossibility of enacting any kind of positive change within the store.

“I mean just look at Jonah. He tried to start a union and ended up throwing away a whole year of his life.”
“Well, I did learn some things. But...yeah - no - yeah, it’s... I wasted that year.”

Later in the day, Glenn, still in quarantine, FaceTimes Garrett to personally apologize for the outdated policy.

“I guess I just never paid attention to those products because most of my Black friends are bald.”
“By ‘most’ do you mean me?”
“No. I have 6 others.”

Acting as the face of white guilt, he prods at Garrett for ways to apologize to the Black community. When Garrett doesn’t provide anything, Glenn decides to throw a pizza party for all the Black employees.

It’s definitely not ideal, but hey, it’s pizza. When Cody comes to Garrett asking for some pizza too, citing his own struggles as a person of color, he lets him in, leading to a parade of Cloud 9’s minority employees lining up as well. Not wanting to be the “racism pizza judge,” Garrett lets them all in.

Meanwhile, Mateo and Cheyenne are trying to beat quarantine blues by hosting an outdoor movie night for all their friends. When they begin to feel guilty for not inviting Sandra (or, more accurately, feel like inviting her would give them a philanthropic ego-boost), they become determined to get her to come.

Problem is, Sandra doesn’t want to go to any parties; she’s taking COVID restrictions really seriously, and feels like Mateo and Cheyenne aren’t (to be fair to Sandra, they weren’t even wearing masks at the time). Convinced that Sandra sees them as “dirty,” Mateo and Cheyenne spend the rest of the episode trying to prove to Sandra how "safe" they are (which honestly just reminded me of this video).

When some of the white employees (read: Isaac) get jealous of the pizza party, Glenn caves and orders more pizza for all of them, essentially turning the event into an “All Lives Matter” pizza party. With this, Garrett finally loses his cool, announcing over the intercom; “Apparently, now everyone gets pizza. Nevermind that the basic infrastructure of this country makes it so that one group of people gets way more pizza than others, or that some of us spent over 400 years forcibly making pizza for white people!”

Mateo and Cheyenne, desperate to get Sandra to come to their party, get COVID tests to prove to her once and for all that they’re “clean.” Even waving their negative tests in Sandra’s face still doesn’t convince her, however, because all the other guests at the party won’t necessarily be negative as well. To finally persuade her, the two agree to uninvite everyone else, change the venue from Cheyenne’s house to outside Mateo’s apartment, and change the movie playing from the spooky “Hereditary” to “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” There goes fun movie night, but hey, but at least they got Sandra to come!

Dina apologizes to Garrett for all the pressure put on him to “fix” the racism in the store. She takes his list of policy changes to send to corporate, to hopefully be able to change them in a few weeks to months - again, not exactly the sweeping change anyone would like to see, but a “step in the right direction?”

The episode ends with Garrett heading home having disposed of a culturally appropriating MC Cool Cloud display. On his way out, several of the white employees offer him 10 pizzas as an apology for crashing the pizza party. Garrett leaves, annoyed, and Jonah starts on a summarizing monologue about white privilege and the like, saying “today was never about the pizzas-” just as Garrett texts him from the parking lot - “Okay, so it’s still not about the pizzas but he would like for me to grab the pizzas.”

It’s not exactly a case of all’s well that ends well, but I still think this was an important episode, culturally. In my advance preview, I elaborate more on how much I love Superstore’s approach to more “topical” storylines. So many shows try to show with episodes such as this one that their characters are, in whatever way, “above” racism or discrimination. The conversation held in most shows is always something along the lines of “Yes, of course we aren’t racist, but here’s this brand new character who is - let’s teach them a lesson!”

I do want to touch on the fact that this episode was not flawless. I felt that Mateo and Cheyenne’s storyline was particularly bland, and while the actual dialogue spurred in the episode was great, the episode structure itself was rather weak (that line about Black women having to lead the way for change was funny, but seriously, why not have Nia take on the policy change project when a vested interest in social justice has already been a rather consistent part of her character?). This is not a great feel-good episode, tying everything up in a neat little bow, although I doubt that it was written to be.

My main takeaway from this episode is that Superstore is possibly the bravest sitcom on network TV right now. It’s never been afraid before to get down into the mud with its portrayal of the working class, and it’s not afraid now of showing some of the more nuanced elements of systemic racism as it is today in America. It doesn’t try to preach at you about the righteousness of any of its characters, for one, but it also doesn’t try to tell you that any of these issues can be fixed with a few apologies and a pizza party. It portrays problems honestly, and, most importantly, it’s able to find comedy in the right pockets of even the most serious issues.

What were your thoughts on “Hair Care Products?” How do you feel this episode handled systemic racism, and the greater effects of the Black Lives Matter movement? Let me know in the comments!

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