The relationship between a barber and their client is special and is difficult to replicate.
Perspective as a Child
For as long as I can remember, the identity of a little boy or man was tied directly to their hair. The style, length, cut, design, color and texture all tell a story about the person, way before a word is uttered. As a little boy, my father cut my hair in kitchens, basements and on back porches. Simple cuts with nothing fancy, but this experience I looked forward to even as a young boy. Why? The humming and vibration of the clippers calmed my soul and often found me nodding off in the chair. Truth be told, not all haircuts are created equal. At some point in our lives, we will be a recipient of an unbecoming haircut.
“I do remember making the transition from my uncles to the barbershop. Uncle Danny could cut…but Uncle Joseph slawed me out and I had to go to the barbershop for a corrective procedure. The level of care taken to ensure I would survive middle school without ridicule really was comparable to that of a surgeon skillfully operating in the operating room. That man saved my life.”Kevin E. Christopher, Esq.
As I got older, I became more aware and conscious of how I presented myself to the world. I also noticed how the presence of someone’s hair cut would impact their relationship with other individuals. Furthermore, your haircut is a statement about who you are and what you stand for. For example, in elementary school I noticed the “popular” kids with neat hair cuts and fashionable clothes. In my mind then, regardless of their dress, I thought the haircut was the determining factor!
“If you look good, you feel good, If you feel good, you play good, If you play good, they pay good.”Deion Sanders
(This poster is common in many Black barbershops.)
In professional settings, it is widely known if not explicitly discussed, that your appearance matters and will be one of the determining factors to your success. When I began interviewing for teaching positions, I made sure my clothes were on point and my haircut was crisp. I made a point to be “open casket sharp!” To ensure I had the best possible chance at success, I made sure to get a haircut the day before the interview. Whether I received the position or not, having a fresh haircut helped my self-esteem and built confidence.
“I don’t believe I can fail if I have a perfect fade and straightest hairline on the planet.”Kevin E. Christopher, Esq.
Black Barbershop History
History shows that establishments like barber shops were powerful in the Black community to organize, uplift and support one another. In the 19th century, Black owned barbershops were run by slaves and ex slaves for the purpose to groom slaves for their White masters. With this competition White owned barbershops saw a decrease in their patrons. In 1934 Henry M. Morgan established the Tyler Barber College for Black Barbers and he was instrumental for nearly 80% of the Black barbers at that time. Historically, Black barbershops were places for Black Libertarian Activists to meet and be safe to share thought, bring awareness and shape social reform. Barbershops over time have undoubtedly grown, supported and curated communities unlike any other place in the world.
“A fresh cut can change the trajectory of your day and week.”Trey Willis
Going to the barbershop was an experience. The barbers are positioned in front of their booths and each one has their name etched across the top, on the mirrors’ edge were business cards, family photos, licenses and community flyers. The atmosphere is jovial, compassionate, and sincere. Without any conversation, head nods all around greet you with open arms. As I take a seat I have often unloaded my life’s recent events to my barber’s open ears. He would listen, give advice and optimism. For many Black men, the Barbershop is a therapeutic setting for emotions, ponderings and self-discovery. If the barber is the therapist, the room becomes a “group session.” A strong feeling of communal brotherhood is felt by all who partake with their personal views giving an honest perspective.
The need for community, emotional support and a platform for advocacy are provided in the barbershop. Yes, you will also get a haircut but the experience you gain is so much more. Here milestones are celebrated, discourse is encouraged and value is added to the black community by the rich history shared through a haircut.
In Missouri, Governor Parsons declared a state of emergency on March 13th, 2020 and this decision closed many small businesses in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Barber Shops were essentially closed. This can be a traumatic experience for patrons, barbers, and communities. With not having the outlet for connection, there is a deep feeling of sorrow for the relationships built over time and now severed. On April 9th, 2020, Governor Parsons declared all public schools to be closed for the remainder of the school year. This is devastating news! While limiting the spread of COVID-19 is imperative and protecting our health care facilities from being overrun. School children will continue their learning from online/virtual platforms. The impact of having over 800,000 Missouri children out of physical classrooms, will not be felt for months and years to come. Students without their teachers, is like a client without their barber…the results can be disastrous!
“I have a relationship with my barber…we meet every week.”Jordan Diggs
For each time you read “barber”, replace that with “teacher”. When you see the word “barbershop” insert “school or community”. The pandemic has ravaged the lives of so many. Our students are without their peers and teachers. Communities are having to seek out resources that would normally be provided by their schools. Teachers are without their clients…their students. For the first time in history, schools are facing extended school closure, infrastructure breakdowns and massive uncertainty. Where do we go from here? Will our school houses ever be the same? Can the collective energy of our city fill the gaps for those of us who are struggling most?
During this time of quarantine and social distancing. I miss the camaraderie and connection of the barbershop atmosphere. I miss the buzzing of students in classrooms and in the hallways. I long the experience the electricity of their learning. The barbershop and schools are places of social grooming, and also a place of peace, understanding and solace. Getting a haircut wouldn’t be bad either.
To learn more about the history of African-American barbering we highly recommend reading an amazing book by Quincy T. Mills called ‘Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America’