Every Black person knows and understands the importance of Barbershops in our community and that they are so much more than just places we go to, to get our hair cut.
Barbershops are the central hub of the Black community. This is where we congregate, connect, share, learn, laugh and feel a strong sense of belonging. For many of us it is a haven with lively debates, comedy and authentic Black-male friendship.
Here we explore some of the history associated with the Black barbershop culture in the UK in the US.
Black Barbershops in the 19th Century
During the 19th century in America, black-owned barbershops had mostly a wealthy white customer base. It was difficult for a black man to approach a black barber for a shave or haircut.
The rationale used by the black barbers was economic necessity. As long as the white men continued to patron the black barbershops, the barber’s family had stability. The profession was also attractive to the black barber because the conditions of working inside were much better than the fields or back-breaking labor. [source]
The First Chain of Barber Colleges for Black Barbers
After Emancipation, Black barbershops in the US were free to serve Black customers.
Following this, Henry M. Morgan opened the Tyler Barber College in 1934, the first national chain of barber colleges for Black barbers. The colleges spread until nearly 80 percent of all black barbers in America were trained at Morgan’s schools. [source]
At the beginning of the 20th century, barbering brought not only opportunity, but wealth for Black men. One of the first African-American millionaires, Alonzo Herndon, began his empire in 1878 with his first barbershop. Before his death he owned more than 100 rental places, being the wealthiest black man in Atlanta. [source]
The Black British Barbershop Culture
In Britain the barbershop culture is equally entrenched in our communities and forms part of what is widely accepted as the Black male experience in the UK.
These are spaces where Black people who are far too often ostracised can either laugh or cry, or both, and their lived experiences resonate with those around them in a way that isn’t often guaranteed across wider society. [source]
As writer Menelik Simpson notes in his Metro UK article “A trip to the barbershop was a rite of passage, a place to note the latest hairstyles, slang, learn to debate, mix with other generations, and talk sport, women and politics” [source]
The Black Barbershop and Our Mental Health
It is almost impossible to talk about Black barbershops without discussing the impact these spaces have on our mental health.
For many Black men, a trip to the barbershop can feel comparable to a trip to a therapist. These spaces are essential to us.
“Barbershops allow African American men to talk about a myriad of issues impacting the black community,” says Larry Walker, a researcher who has written extensively about black barbershops and mental health. “Important issues including politics, economic development, and wellbeing are frequently discussed. Without barbershops, black men would have very few places to feel physically and emotionally safe.” [source]
This is also mirrored in the UK, where the most recent lock-downs highlighted the impact our Black barbershops have on our very existence.
“There’s a lot of things that Black people face that can impact our quality of life and mental health, so we need one another – and hair salons and barbers are key places where we can talk. It’s the only place we can talk, really and truly.” [source]
As a brand who was born in the barbershop, we have first hand experience of the Black barbershop experience and therefore felt it was important to dedicate a post to the rich history that comes with it.
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