A few weeks ago, I had my first cross-cultural haircut experience. While in Atlanta, I decided to get a haircut because the heat was making me miserable. If you have ever been in Hotlanta during the summer, you will understand my predictament.
I stumbled around Atlanta and walked into a shop with a long line and a bunch of young, tough-looking black guys. I quickly walked out not sure what to do. Then I finally found a barber shop that looked promising. I was a little nervous because everyone in the facility was an African American. The thing that made me stop there was a mom who was in the shop with her two boys getting their hair cut.
The situation concerned me for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t know how friendly they would be. I was pretty sure that very few of their customers were white. And I didn’t know if they would take offense to my presence in their establishment. It’s just one of those things a white kid doesn’t do. Or at least I worried that might be the case.
Second, I didn’t know if the barber ever saw people with hair as fine as mine because most African Americans have very course, thick hair. My hair is thin like a baby. I was pretty sure that my hairstyle is not what most of the shop’s clientel would typically request.
Third, I just felt uncomfortable even though I tried no to show it.
Looking back on the situation, I feel somewhat ashamed of my reaction and thought process. The barbers didn’t seem to care what color I was as long as I could pay for the service. It was one of the best haircuts that I have ever had. I had no real reason to be afraid. Any tension that existed was only in my mind.
It was obvious that I was not from the area. One of the first things that the barber asked was where I was from. We carried on a very pleasant conversation admist his banter with the other barbers.
My experience did give me a peak into the African American culture. The men in the shop were talking about one of the woman that passed by the window and one of the barber’s girl friends. Their conversation was not very flattering of women. It included a mixture of slang, four-letter words and sexual inuendo. All of this took place while the mother sat next to her sons who were getting haircuts. She even chimed in with a few strong comments.
The conversation reminded me of what Don Imus talked about when he lost his radio gig. Hopefully, this experience will make me more patient with African American youth who say things that seem completely inappropriate and sexist. Unfortunately, those words and sentiments have become part of the culture, especially for young males under 30. I am not making excuses for it. But my experience showed me that some people act this way because they think it is socially acceptable and is all they know.
It was a good haircut. But it was even better lesson about inner city, African American culture.