How the barbershop became prominent in Black culture
Chop it up
At one point, barbershop culture in America seemed to be dying off, but its importance in the black community never faded. Generally, when referencing American barber culture, we tend to focus on the black barbershop, because of how frequently it is mentioned in black media. Clearly, the barbershop serves a key role in the lives of black men.
Barbering in the media
The barbershop has been featured regularly in black media, which gives us an insight into the significance of its role in the black community. There’s even a movie called Barbershop, which revolves around the social life in a—you guessed it—barbershop. In the Marvel TV show Luke Cage, the barbershop acts as a peaceful ground for everyone in the community, which is similar to how it ties communities together in real life. Over on HBO, there’s a show called The Shop, which stars LeBron James having conversations and debates in a barbershop with celebrity guests. Now, there are even celebrity barbers who have large followings on social media.
Here's a clip of The Shop featuring Travis Scott and Pharrell:
History of Barbering in Black culture
Barbering has been around for centuries, with the earliest records dating back to early Egyptian civilisation. Even back then, a clean cut was necessary. At one point in Europe, you could even get a tooth extracted from the barbershop—kill two birds with one stone. However, what made it the subculture it is today started when Jim Crow laws (state and local statutes legalising racial segregation) were still enforced in the US.
After the Civil War, the barbershop offered economic mobility to black entrepreneurs. While laws were put in place to segregate, the barbershop became a refuge for black men to escape from discrimination and humiliation. Eventually, it became a place where black men could talk freely and endure the inequalities of the outside world.
Its importance to the Black community right now
Similar to the times when segregation was prevalent, barbershops continue to be more than just a place to get a fresh cut. It is where patrons can be vulnerable and talk about issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Customers may also play games like chess, cards, and dominoes while catching up on gossip, politics, and community matters. The modern black barbershop has taken a role akin to a social club. Vibe Magazine’s Editor-In-Chief, Datwon Thomas, gave us a glimpse into what life is like at the barbershop:
"The barbershop was like the homeboy club. Different days would give you different experiences. Thursday late might get you a wisdom session from the older heads that would come after work. Friday night would get you the hustlers with the cars and big cash and they would talk in coded slang. Saturday afternoons got you a mix of everything, single Moms with scared sons, basketballers explaining how they lost a game, big storytellers. And what I learned was how to take all of that and read people. My barbers were the most knowledgeable cats, they dealt with so many different classes of money and education that they kind of spit out these nuggets of life gems that helped navigate me through certain situations. Especially with women, haha!”
The Black barbershop, Black churches, beauty shops, and the Black press built the foundation of the Black public sphere. It has been proven to strengthen community ties and improve the economy in Black neighbourhoods. As one of the most thriving Black businesses since the twentieth century, its longevity makes sense. The barbershop is more than just a place to get a good haircut; it's a place that positively affects the livelihood and identity of those living in its community.