The Impact of Barber Shops and Beauty Salons On Black Culture

Arguably, there are fewer occupations and places that have rendered service to African-Americans down through the years and has had a greater impact on black life as barber shops and beauty salons. Invariably, institutions like the family, the church, or the schools we attend are a few of the entities whose impact and influence would be greater than the barber shops and beauty salons that we frequent and patronize.
I dare to say that no other ethnic group in America puts as much stock or significance on these two professions and institutions as black folk. Perhaps one of the reasons that barber shops and beauty salons are so popular and in demand by African-Americans is the texture of our hair.
No other racial group has the type of hair, for the most part (though there are some exceptions), that require as much grooming and styling as ours.
Personally, when I did have hair (many years ago) on my now bald head, it was very kinky, nappy, and hard to manage. Both the barber shop and beauty salon were often iconic and popular places that both women and men patronized in the African-American community. Pretty much everyone has their favorite and personal barber or beautician who they will go to.
Even as hair styles (in both the women and men categories) have changed with the times, fads, and trends, the barber shops and beauty salons have remained popular in the black community.
Seldom, if ever, will people change their barbers or beauticians. These professionals who tend to our hair and scalp in order to make us as attractive and presentable as they possibly can, are much more than barbers and beauticians to the many who patronize them.
These shops are much more than mere places of business. Let me present to you what many of these barber shops and beauty salons mean to many African-Americans and why we often esteem them in such high regard, so much so that they have been the theme and backdrop of quite a few movies that catered to black audiences.
Arguably, at the top of the list is the fact that they are the places where many of the professionals and stylists that African-Americans depend upon to do their hair work. As stated earlier, due to the texture of our hair, we have to find the right artists and stylists who can tend to our hair and give us the style and results that we are looking for. Once we find them, we are very reluctant to switch or to let them go for another. We regard our barbers and beauticians in somewhat of the same degree of trust and patronage as we do our doctors and dentists.
Barber shops and beauty salons are places we frequent due to the barbers and beauticians that we have developed friendships and rapport with.
These professionals often serve as confidantes and counselors to some who are going through troubles of every type. Many of burden-ridden and troubled souls have poured out their hearts to their favorite barber or beautician when the time was convenient and they were alone with them.
Then these places are gatherings where the guys and girls assemble to both share and hear the latest talk, rumors, or gossip. There is not much that goes on in the black community that does not circulate through the barber shops and beauty salons. It was once said by one wise sage that if you are a stranger or visitor to a town and wanted to know who is who and what is what about it, the first place you needed to visit was a barber shop or beauty salon. Then there is a belief by some laymen that some barbers and beauticians who have been doing their practice for a long time have acquired an honorary doctors’ degree through experience and interacting with people in either philosophy or psychology.
Whether that is true or false, we may never truly know. However, it is a cultural fact in the African-American community that our barber shops and beauty salons are the most likely places where blacks will experience any type or degree of philosophizing and psychologizing.
Many people (especially when it comes to barber shops) patronize and enjoy sitting in both the barber’s chair and waiting areas listening while barbers and others in the shop talk, clash, and debate one another on issues and subjects of life that are common to all.
When I was growing up and routinely visiting barber shops twice a week for haircuts, I would often be both captivated and fascinated by the talk and range of subjects that would be discussed and debated in the barber shop – from the Bible, to sports, to politics, and mostly all of the local news and gossip.
At some point and time, these topics were discussed and debated in mostly all of the barber shops in the area. Also, in my experience in the barber’s chair that I sat in, one of the things you hoped that you would not be victimized by was a barber who had bad breath. The few times that I was unfortunate to sit in the chair of a barber with bad breath was indeed a challenge that I would not wish on anyone.
I relish the memories and experiences that I had at the barber shop. Both the barber shop and the beauty salon in the African-American community today are just as iconic and significant as they ever were. There is no reason to believe that either will ever lose its place of esteem in the foreseeable future.