HomeChinese AmericanBrooklyn Nail Salon Brawl Lights Up Racial Protests

Brooklyn Nail Salon Brawl Lights Up Racial Protests

The nail salon at the center of this controversy was formerly called New Red Apple Nail Salon in Brooklyn, NY. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

On Monday, protests broke out in front of New York City’s 888 Happy Red Apple Nail Salon, formerly known as New Red Apple Nails, in response to a violent fight between a customer and it’s employees, according to CBS News.

The nail salon is located in East Flatbush, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is 86% Black and 1% Asian, according to census data.

The fight broke out last Friday night after Christina Thomas, a 21-year-old African American woman, refused to pay $5 to nail salon worker Huiyue Zheng because she was dissatisfied with her eyebrow service. The situation quickly escalated into chaos when Thomas delivered a blow to the nail salon worker. 

Footage of the brawl went viral across social media, accruing over a million views. The video shows the Asian nail salon workers fighting back —  grabbing on to her tank-top straps as an attempt to hold her down.

One worker is seen spraying her with a bottle of acetone nail-polish remover. Another is seen repeatedly beating Thomas’s back with a broom as she flees the salon. There is even a lady who attempts to throw a chair at her.

Thomas and Zheng have both been charged with assault. While Zheng is being treated in the hospital for minor injuries, Thomas refused to seek medical care.

Perceived as an act of racist brutality, protesters gathered in front of the nail salon urging Black locals to spend their money elsewhere. Neighborhood residents were encouraged to boycott the business.

Protesters were heard chanting “No more! No more!”, demanding the permanent closure of the nail salon. Signs read phrases such as “It’s time for us to come together and unite as one” and “Black $$$ Matters.”

“There is no respect for people in this neighborhood,”  said Gavid Gibbs, an East Flatbush resident to the New York Daily News. “Anytime a store doesn’t respect us, we’re going to shut it down. We will come, we will picket it and we’ll do whatever we have to close your store down.”

Boycotters are using online platforms to protest as well. Dozens of negative reviews have been written by protesters on the salons’ Yelp page. One-star ratings and variations of the phrase “DO NOT SUPPORT THEM” have flooded their reviews.

While the protest remained civil, some protesters perceived the conflict as a dehumanizing offense to the local Black community.

Referring to Asian-owned businesses in East Flatbush, Black resident Stacy Ann Thomas told the New York Times, ”They just see dollar when they see you. They don’t see a person. They don’t see you, me — they just see the money.” 

One man was seen waving a pan-African flag over police barricades. Another protester allegedly screamed “Where is ICE?”, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Broomsticks were also placed against the shop window as reminders of the attack.

However, not all local residents agreed with the protest’s intentions.

Denise Benn, a 66-year Black woman who received a manicure in a neighboring nail salon, blames the incident on the customer rather than the salon workers. “These people don’t bother anybody,” she says. “They work hard, 12 hours seven days a week, my God, and the people come in there and they don’t want to give them a tip,” she told the New York Times.

News sources make further judgments that this incident has exacerbated racial tensions between the Black and Asian American residents in the neighborhood.

The New York Times compared this incident to a violent 1990 conflict between a customer and the manager of a Korean-American grocery store in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Black local residents at the time boycotted the grocery story in response to the attack.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported that protesters made racially-targeted comments towards Asians. One protester supposedly said that “Until they open a soul food restaurant in Chinatown, we ain’t eating over there”.

Kyeyoung Park, an anthropology and Asian American studies professor at UCLA, doesn’t believe the brawl intensified existing racial tensions, however.  

“It’s not the same thing as the 1990s,” she said to the New York Times. “Overall, I would say the tension has been contained”.

Although the Gothamist reached out to 888 Happy Red Apple Nails on Wednesday morning for an update, they did not respond.

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