Thursday, August 2, 2007

Barbershops - a black institution

My wife has a friend whose boyfriend, "K", an African-American male like me, just moved to Detroit from down south. My wife's friend sent me an e-mail today asking me to help "K" with a task that all brothers who relocate to a new area ask about as soon as possible: where to find a good barbershop.

Unless he's trying to rock the chrome dome look, most black men leave the cutting of their hair to the skilled hands of a barber. Not a hair stylist. Not a hairdresser. A real barber.

And not just any old barber, either. Most brothers wouldn't dare trust their hair to BoRics, Fantastic Sams, Supercuts, or any other chain. No, we would much rather patronize a barbershop located in the 'hood, regardless of our socioeconomic class. And the barbers will certainly be other brothers.

The typical neighborhood black barbershop is a modest place, to say the least. The city of Detroit has no shortage of such establishments. More likely than not, you're bound to see a few missing or cracked floor tiles. And if by chance, all the floor tiles are actually in place and intact, there will certainly be a few that appear to be mismatched. Peeling paint and worn surfaces are hardly uncommon. In other words, brothers don't necessarily patronize barbershops for their ambiance.

As for making appointments for a haircut, yeah, most barbers will take them. Actually having the barber honor the appointment is a whole 'nother story. Invariably, there'll be somebody already in the chair at the time of your appointment who isn't even halfway done when you arrive.

But, then again, this may not be so bad. Sitting around at the barbershop is an integral part of the black male experience in America. There's always likely to be some lively conversation going on regarding the events of the day, especially when it comes to sports, entertainment, or the latest political scandal.

And if you don't feel like participating in barbershop banter while you're waiting for your "appointment", then there's always ample reading material to be found to pass the time. Granted, that dusty and slightly yellowed copy of Jet magazine might be about eight years old, but hey, there's nothing wrong with reading some history lessons.

And despite the fact that the reading material isn't up to date, at the right shops, you may be able to pick up the latest DVDs. And I'm talking about for movies that haven't even come out yet (don't ask me how!).

As black people, we've let go of too many institutions that we used to have ownership in, including party stores, gas stations, and even nail salons. But barbershops that service black people are an institution that we still own and control, and I hope that this never changes. The barbershop is one of the few institutions where brothers can freely congregate with each other and be themselves. I wouldn't even think twice of going anywhere else for a haircut.


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