Cut The Crap: Why I Believe Barbershop Culture Needs Social Reform
Though they are explicitly created for grooming and hair care, they serve as an implicit and unconscious center where Black people absorb a lot.
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Barbershops hold high significance in Black culture. While these spaces serve to groom you to perfection, they are also hubs where Black men go to exchange words, information and thoughts. As a little Black boy, the words of these men who occupied the space seemed to have been some of the most powerful things I have ever heard. They spoke about everything: politics, sports, women, hip-hop and "the Man."
The Man was code for affluent white folks who occupied the upper one percent and were the tastemakers of media who produced the images of what they wanted the rest of society to view Blackness as. These conversations focused around the Man were my favorite and they were my first taste of exposure to dialogues around white supremacy.
As a child whose family held separate interests and didn’t converse much about the impact of westernization on Black life, I found a bit of solace in these spaces. In fact, the barbershop was the first place I heard the mantra, “I don’t care what politics he holds, I’m always going to vote for the Black man over the white man.” Sadly, the same way my body changed as I grew, so did my philosophies about social justice and reform.
Growing into my Blackness and queerness, I grew to disagree with some of the viewpoints that many of the men held. But that still didn’t take away from how much I enjoyed the exchange of ideas. But with the outburst of, “Man, don’t come at me with that f****t shit,” my enjoyment died and my experience at the barbershop became an hour of tyranny and two weeks of wishing my hair would stay in the same shape forever so I would never have to return. I would then make the conscious decision to think about everything I had been socialized to believe by sitting at that shop at least twice a month for over 16 years.
Like myself, so many other queer folks and women were/are subjected to the foul-mouthed men who not only intently batter the existence of both women and queers, but reinforce the idea that Black men are ahistorically the most victimized person on the planet. These men lack intellectual range, and rather than to engage in the works of actual Black academics and scholars, they lean on the faulty works of Umar Johnson and Tariq Nasheed, who aren’t even disciplined in Black studies. They see everything as the work of the Man. Gay was taught to Black men during slavery and seasoning. Trans folks are disgusting and should have restrictions placed upon them. Women who aren’t submissive are the white man’s “whore.”
You begin to understand that something that once was a critical part of your learning experience was just socialized hate. There are contradictions around every corner. These same men speak of wanting “Black queens” and women who “respect themselves,” all while speaking of running trains on women they will never have the pleasure of courting, and crowding around someone’s phone to watch Kim Kardashian have sex on camera.
When you take away the chairs, the tools and the building, barbershops are really just pissing matches where Black men see who can out-yell the other the best. There’s so much noise, but they’re not really coming up with any solutions for advancement of Black existence, except ones that will center Black men and make even more space for patriarchy. Because they uphold their pride and need to be the center of attention, they disregard Black feminist and queer theory that makes space for all Black folks.
Barbershops need social restructure quickly. Though they are explicitly created for grooming and hair care, they serve as an implicit and unconscious center where Black people absorb a lot. Yes, grown folks are usually the most popular customers for barbershops, but Black kids still occupy these spaces. And Black kids will hear and learn all of the toxicity that these spaces spew — specifically little Black boys. These little Black boys will grow to believe they have agency over the bodies of Black girls. They will believe they are justified in committing certain acts of crime because “white men do it all the time.” They will commit crimes against queer and trans folks because they are agents of pedophilia and sexual deviance.
And as some folks read this, they may think “well he/they is writing this, thought they are a product of barbershops.” This is true. But we have to remember that everyone does not have the same tools and access to resources as others. And to be honest, my queer identity has led me to think way more critically about how I perceive myself and others and how I philosophize issues around social justice than my Blackness has. So, I believe I had an advantage.
So while I'll forever be grateful to these spaces for being the first to immerse me in discourse around Blackness, I believe there are endless faults. It is my belief that the social reform of barbershop culture will help hold Black men accountable for their actions and create better and socially safer spaces for all Black folks, and not just the men.