Black barbershop

The coronavirus pandemic’s social distancing prevented many from visiting their barber. —Unsplash photo/Edgar Chaparro

Over the past several months, I have been faced with a challenge that I am certain has recently confronted many men. The challenge was what to do about my hair that was growing longer each day.

The coronavirus pandemic’s social distancing prevented me from visiting my barber. I held off as long as I could. Finally, my “wolf man” appearance forced me to take action. I convinced my wife to permit my barber to come to our home to cut my hair. The plan was to set up an area in the garage for my haircut.

My barber, who has cut my hair for more than 30 years, commented that he had never seen my hair this long. The cost for my haircut was a bit more than usual but the price was worth it.

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Among our topics of conversation were haircuts that could have been borrowed from back in the day.

Out of necessity, and with no alternative for a haircut, many of us simply went back to a way of life from the ‘60s. If you were around back then, you recall the “Afro” hairstyle or what many called “the bush.” This was a statement popular back in the ‘60s that came out of the civil rights movement. For many men and women it was a symbol of pride and signified rebellion and power. This style caught one’s attention and can often be seen in photographs from that period.

The past three months were clearly not the 60’s but many Black males returned to this look from the civil rights movement, not because of style but out of necessity. Those wearing this hairstyle today, because barber shops are closed, perhaps are not as comfortable wearing this style as were the Afro wearing brothers, back in the day.

Some brothers who did not have this challenge as they embraced the Rastafari theology, were influenced by the “roots” movement, or by the musician Bob Marley. These young men twisted their hair into locks. However, during this pandemic, I suspect that some embraced locks due to their inability to get their hair cut. Some people believe that locks along with the Afro represent the most distinctive hairstyle worn by Blacks. Some time ago, I read an article indicating that locks suggested that one had a predilection for smoking pot; an Afro, on the other hand, reflected a form of militancy.

Let us take a look at the issue of Black men and hair. An online article on May 31, 2015, by Rumeana Jahangir titled “How does black hair reflect Black history? Black hairstyles were explored.” This article points out that in early African civilization, hairstyles indicated a person’s family background, tribe and social status. “Just about everything about a person’s identity could be learned by looking at the hair” says journalist Lori Tharps who co-wrote the book, “Hair Story”, which is about the history of Black hair. When men from the Wolof tribe, in modern Senegal and The Gambia, went to war, they wore a braided style, she explains. So, hairstyles had meaning and were influenced by life in Africa before Black folk were forcefully removed and bought to the United States against their will.

Hairstyles were also influenced by slavery, emancipation, the civil rights era, roots and contemporary culture which made Black haircare for men and women a $774 million industry last year. But, hairstyles over the past several months were influence by the need for social distancing and one’s inability to get to a hairdresser or a barber.

With all of the hair on the heads of many brothers, it is likely that some embraced braids. I suspect that lots of hair resulted in some of our younger men wearing cornrows; some just went with short twists. I doubt if lots of hair caused anyone to resort to using conk, or conkalene, a hair straightener, made from lye. We called this “a process” if you recall. If you saw the movie, Malcolm X, you recall the scene in the bathroom when Malcolm X was straightening his hair. Today, the use of conkalene is basically extinct. It fell out of popularity with the Black power movement of the ‘60s. Just like the process, the Jheri curl, has been left, back in the day.

A few weeks ago, I went to the parking lot of my church, Salem Baptist Church, to donate items for our First Fruits Drive. I walked by one gentleman on at least four occasions. Each time he nodded his head, giving every indication that he knew me. After the fourth time, I recognized him. What was different about him? He had his head shaved; he had no hair. His solution, to dealing with closed barbershops because of the coronavirus pandemic was to shave his head and go bald.

From every indication from medical personnel and scientists, this coronavirus pandemic will be with us for a while and return with a vengeance in the fall. You are pre-warned. Prepare for the haircut challenge now recognizing what is anticipated. Save this column for some alternatives or get someone in your household, such as your wife or significant other, to start training to cut hair in case the need arises.

Even if the haircut turns out to be amateurish, just remember that many boys and men sported haircuts that appeared to have been cut with a bowl on their head or the corny fade haircut that features a little hair on top and less or no hair on the sides and back. So, whatever the result, your hair will grow back just as it did during the days of the terrible pre-coronavirus haircuts, back in the day.

Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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