The power and politics of the black barbershop
July 27, 2018 8:03 PM   Subscribe

A haircut and a healing.

“A haircut, for me, has become a restorative experience.”

I’ve never admitted this to anyone, but what I wanted that late spring day was to feel beautiful, more whole. Men enter the barbershop for untold reasons, and sometimes a haircut is the least of them. We aren’t expected to be beautiful. It isn’t a label typically ascribed to the physical markers of male identity. Despite measures of progress in the media, which conditions much of how people are perceived — I’m thinking of films like Moonlight and texts such as Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped and Danez Smith’s [Insert] Boy — beauty, for all the dimension it possesses, is not how society, on the whole, understands manhood. For black men, this can be especially true.
posted by standardasparagus (8 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This is wonderful. Thanks for posting it.
posted by colorblock sock at 12:23 AM on July 28, 2018

Thank you.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 1:36 AM on July 28, 2018

Now I'm going to check out Very Smart Brothas bc of that quote in the piece.
posted by honey badger at 6:13 AM on July 28, 2018

I didn't realize how much of a thing this was until I walked into one in New Orleans. I knew they were run by black people so I just figured that they would probably know what to do with my very curly hair (most barbers don't) but as soon as I got inside I realized that I was waaaaaay out of my depth. It was just clearly way more than simply a place where people went to get their hair done. I very nearly just left because obviously this wasn't a place that was meant for me, but what ended up happening is that they took me from barber to barber looking for somebody who would serve me (there were probably thirty guys all cutting hair in this huge, cavern-like space, and every single barber and customer was a black man) and then eventually sent me upstairs to a separate room where a very obviously gay stylist named Elvie (everyone downstairs presented as solidly, almost aggressively heterosexual) made me very welcome and took excellent care of my hair. It was a strange experience all in all, definitely a different world.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:55 AM on July 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I sometimes see black barbershops refer to themselves as "progressive" barber shops. I've never known what this means. Does it mean that they have modern styles, or something else?
posted by 4ster at 10:41 AM on July 28, 2018

This was wonderful. This is a barbershop I saw recently. I have no doubt it serves the community much in the ways that this story describes.
posted by 41swans at 12:57 PM on July 28, 2018

I really appreciated the comments on visibility:

"So you begin to wonder if the world had seen Philando Castile or Terence Crutcher or Jordan Edwards as beautiful, perhaps they might be with us today. We are desperate to be rendered visible. We want to be acknowledged by others, assured and held tight. In the heritage of American horrors, black men and boys have paid a particular price for this desire to be seen — and all for what? To be granted some semblance of selfhood, of humanity. It is rarely spoken, but I think men enter the barbershop seeking a form of beauty, be it in their physical appearance or their inner self. Maybe it’s clarity with regard to a personal issue, or the ease of fellowship the space provides. Maybe after a burdensome week, you are in need of release among your tribe. These are intimacies camouflaged in a simple request: Look at me."

Visibility is such a fraught and double-edged thing for lots of marginalized folks, and it's articulated very beautifully here.
posted by ITheCosmos at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I prefer black barbershops but I am never sure if I'm intruding in some way by patronizing those businesses and sometimes feel guilty when or if my haircut takes too long or people are waiting. I tend to be more satisfied historically with haircuts at such joints. I also tend to have better experiences, old white men barbers very often have politics and attitudes I find abhorrent and I don't want to get inadvertently riled up while being a hair hostage as someone regurgitates some evils they heard on Fox News or whatever. Barbershops in general sometimes seem to have connections to community outside of just hair, I went to one once and almost left because it seemed like there was an extended line but several of the old dudes there were just chilling and shooting the shit.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:27 PM on July 31, 2018

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