ADVENTURES AT BARBERSHOPS & OTHER MATTERS
by Darryl WELLINGTON, with a footnote by Jean-Marie MAUCLET
If I told you that getting a hairstyle involves self-expression, self- esteem, and even a sense of social identity, I probably wouldn’t be telling you anything new.
And if I told you that since the 1800’s black barbershops and beauty parlors have been significant gathering places and “community hubs” where African Americans communed to swap stories, gossip, or debate, it may not be news either. The folk tradition of black barbershops as social spaces has been popularized in movies including Barbershop and Barbershop: Back in Business.
In slavery times, barbering was considered a lowly, or servant profession, a job that was too “undistinguished” to be performed by whites. Following emancipation, blacks skilled at barbering opened their own businesses which initially exclusively served white clientele. They became the first black entrepreneurs.
There is another amazing story behind the history of beauticians.
Before emancipation, wealthy white women used black slaves or white servants to do their hair. Following emancipation, both white and black women realized the hair care business was a burgeoning financial opportunity. The beauty industry offered women real financial independence! Madame C.J. Walker became the first black millionaire in America by building a beauty parlor empire.
It’s in recognition that a hairstyle is a major social signifier which makes millions of people feel good about themselves and their role in society that conNECKtedTOO is sponsoring “the Charleston Cut,” an occasion for local barbers to create hairstyles for the Lowcountry.
NO SINGLE CUT will be a prizewinner because conNECKtedTOO does not promote competition among TINY businesses. Participants, however, will be identified with their creation on professional, large-format photographs to be exhibited with artifacts from other conNECKtedTOO participants during a celebration of the role TINY BUSINESS plays in Charleston’s neighborhood life.
Ever since I enjoyed Molière, the famous 17th century satyric French playwright, who spent many-a-days in barbershops, claiming they were the best places for collecting real people stories, I wonder if Shakespeare did the same.
After all, besides the Channel and a mere one-generation time gap, the difference is that Shakespeare would have seen a lot of blood letting, as some barbers were still surgeons in his days, and Molière … maybe some tooth pulling on the side, once in a while.
What a difference though! With Shakespeare kings and foes spill ire and blood. With Molière, they are ridiculed.
And what about Rossini, who makes barbers sing, sing … sing?
BARBERSHOPS ARE ALSO THEATRE!
Adventures at Barbershops and Other Matters