They are an amalgamation of a lot of different races, basically a preview of American in the next century. If pressed, T1 would self-identify as black. He looks like Will Smith. T2, on the other hand, is actually relatively paled skinned, with freckles and bright blue eyes. T2 is seriously confused by the whole concept of racial identity, considering himself equal parts white, black, Filipino and Martian.
Cass is one half Irish-German-white person and one half Filipino. She is 100% super-hot.
I am extremely white, you guys.
The boys haven’t been raised an any specific cultural tradition. As a family we tend to steal what we like from all the different cultures and make it our own, a tactic that I like to think originates from my own European background. One part of black culture we have adopted, at least insofar as the boys are concerned, is that we take them to a traditional black barbershop to get their hair cut.
This is mostly out of necessity. If we take T1 to a regular hair cutting place, say the Hair Cuttery that is in our neighborhood town center, there is an 80% chance, and there is no other way to say this, that they will completely fuck his hair up. Like, badly. The very nice Asian and eastern European ladies that do a majority of the scissor work there have no idea what to do with his thin, kinky, prone-to-spontaneously burst into an afro hair. T2 is easy, he has this beautifully thick and resplendent with curls hair that is apparently a joy to cut. He always looks good. T1 ends up looking like he lost a fight with a weed whacker.
So his mom demanded we take him, and by extension his little brother, to a “black barbershop.”
Can I say that as a liberal white guy who, if we are being honest, didn’t really know very many adult black people until we moved to Northern Virginia, that for a very long time I would inwardly wince every time she said “black barbershop.” I was a little concerned that saying “black barbershop” was racist. I mean, why isn’t just a “barbershop?”
We’ve gone a bunch of times now. It’s not racist. It’s totally a “black barbershop.”
It’s called “Cutt N’ Up.” It’s not exactly like the barbershop in the Ice Cube starring series of Barbershop movies, but it is fairly close. It’s in a strip mall about ten minutes away from our house. It’s basically one big, brightly lit room. The floor is checkered linoleum. The barber chairs line the walls, four or five to a side, with the center being open. There are a couple of televisions mounted on the walls. We’ve been going there regularly for over a year now and for that entire time they have been doing some sort of construction in the back. There is a glass counter that runs parallel to the front wall, crossing about one third of the way through the shop and splitting it into 1/3rd waiting area and 2/3rds working area. The glass case is filled with a hodgepodge of stuff that I guess you can buy. Hair products. Headphones. A surprising variety of kids shoes. There is an older gentleman who sweeps up. There is no receptionist.
This threw me a little at first. It’s first come, first serve with people being pretty good about not jumping in line. You wait in the metal and fabric chairs that line the walls of the waiting area until it’s your turn and a barber opens up.
The barbers are all men. The vary in age from the early 20s up into to the late 50s. Their style of dress ranges from natty slacks and button down shirts to ball caps and sweatshirts. Race aside there really only seems to be two common factors among the men who work there. They all take two things very seriously:
- Cutting hair
- Fucking with each other and, to a lesser extent, the customers
Case in point, we were there during the NFL season. The man who I believe owns the store was holding court about the Redskins chances in that day’s football match. The other barbers and he would yell back and forth at each other about offense, defense, players, all the sort of thing. Generally speaking, everyone thought they were right about everything and weren’t shy about making fun of how wrong their friends were. T1 was amused. T2s head was on a swivel. The best part was when a customer, waiting in the waiting area, piped up that the owner of the shop was wrong. The owner asked the customer who his favorite team was and the customer explained he didn’t have one because he liked college football, not pro football.
The scorn heaped upon this customer, from every dude with a pair of scissors or a buzzing clipper in his hand, was epic. “It’s easy to talk smack,” pointed out the owner, “when you’re not going to actually take a position on anything.”
That was the nicest rejoinder.
To the customer’s credit, he took it all in stride and while everyone was piling on, they were managing to do it without actually being mean. Which is a good trick.
I’m the only white person I’ve ever seen in there. I fully realize that being the only white person at the barbershop mimics, in a very small way, a situation that black people find themselves in all the time.
I am not claiming to understand the black experience at all. I feel like the last five years living with T1 has certainly educated me a bit but I’m no Ta-Nehisi Coates. I do really wish that more white people had just a few minutes’ worth of this type of experience though. People talk about white privilege all the time and it drives me crazy when white people try and act like it’s not a real thing. It’s not a thing the naysayers understand because they have only experienced it from the privileged side of it. Hell, I don’t understand what it is like to not be white and therefore not have all the myriad advantages that go along with that, but at least I recognize that it’s an actual thing. I can leave the barbershop and I am suddenly once again in the demographic that is, by accident of birth, a privileged class. It’s foolish not to accept that as real.
These are the sort of things I find myself thinking about a lot now, now that I have a teenage son who is black. I never thought about the implications of race much because I had the benefit of not having to. I still know next to nothing but I guess knowing I don’t know is a start.
Anyway, I am treated with a polite amusement by the barbers. Our usual trips are the boys, me and Cass. We sit in the waiting area, listen to the banter, watch some television, and when it’s our turn and a chair opens up, one of the boys goes and sits down. Cass tells the barber how she wants the cut done and they get to work.
Nobody, in the ten to twelve times we have been there, has ever asked me if I want my hair cut. It’s just implicitly understood by all parties that I’m not really there for that.
These men take real pride in their work. They are meticulous. Hair comes off by the millimeter. Clipper and scissor and scissor and clipper. It takes way longer than it seems like it should. They do a fantastic job.
Whenever he is getting his hair cut, T1 gets a very serious, almost mad look on his face. T2 and I sit in the waiting area and mock him. When he is in the chair, T2’s face slowly and constantly drifts from the straight on position to looking at me over in the waiting area. The barber has to regularly and gently move his head back center.
It’s spring break this week and the boys were looking raggedy. On Monday, I decided we were going to haircuts.
“Without mom?” asked T2.
“Yup,” I said.
“Hmm,” he said. “Well. Okay then.”
We showed up right after they opened and the boys were quickly taken care of. Well, relatively quickly, anyway. I had cheated and texted Cass, asking what I should ask them to do. I memorized her instructions so as not to look totally clueless and relayed the instructions to the barber.
I suspect he was disappointed it was just me and not my other half. I think I detected a slight downturn of mouth when he realized that the white dude who occasionally comes in with the two kids and the good looking mom was without the good looking mom, but that’s a reaction that I am well used to and he didn’t let my solo status get in the way of doing a really excellent job on both the boys’ heads.
The man is a professional.