More Than A Barbershop

Shuffletons_Barbershop Print

By David Michael Newstead.

As I sat down for a haircut before the holidays, I started thinking about this long series of articles I’ve seen year after year focusing on barbershops being more than just barbershops. And once you start noticing that, you begin to realize that quite a few projects and initiatives have really been built around barbershops and their place in our culture. There’s a historical aspect to that, certainly. But also, we’re in a time when people are collectively bemoaning the loss of genuine personal interactions (etc.) and the connections they help us to form. Blame our busy schedules, blame the latest smartphone app or the retail apocalypse or just fill in the blank with your explanation of choice. But while many things have changed in a few short years, the need to get your haircut regularly remains a constant. And that turns a local barbershop into a communal hub in ways that won’t ever be easy to replicate, automate, or outsource. I vividly remember some of my earliest haircuts and the nervousness that came with each visit. Nowadays though, I just sit back and people watch, while I’m waiting for my turn in the chair. And what I see during those times are barbers on a first name basis with regular customers and their kids, a thriving small business in a conglomerated America, and flexible payment arrangements helped along by the fact that the people cutting your hair know you’ll show up again in a couple weeks anyway. For me at least, there’s something reassuring about all that. That we could get some sense of community out of what might only seem like an errand.


From NPR: Bid To Boost Black Men’s Voting Heads To The Barbershop

By Katie Colaneri.

Leroy Robinson Jr. owns a barbershop in West Philadelphia. He’s been doing this work for 40 years — and he says the trade runs in the family.

“My father’s a barber, my brother is a barber and here I am,” he says.

His favorite part of the job is talking to his customers about, well, nearly everything.

“Right now, the political thing is on the horizon,” Robinson says, “But the biggest thing right now is Villanova.”

Robinson is part of a project trying to get barbers like him to focus less on local NCAA champions and more on the “political thing” in this election year.

The project, called Sharp Insight, is the brainchild of Duerwood Beale, a rapper-turned-local nonprofit director. Beale has been doing outreach work in barbershops for about 20 years, sharing information about STD testing and registering people to vote. Beale says barbershops, which have been called the “black men’s country club,” are the ideal place to reach men of color of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs.

Listen at NPR

From the Washington Post: Gendered Prices

By Danielle Paquette.

Radio Flyer sells a red scooter for boys and a pink scooter for girls. Both feature plastic handlebars, three wheels and a foot brake. Both weigh about five pounds.

The only significant difference is the price, a new report reveals. Target listed one for $24.99 and the other for $49.99.

The scooters’ price gap isn’t an anomaly. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs compared nearly 800 products with female and male versions — meaning they were practically identical except for the gender-specific packaging — and uncovered a persistent surcharge for one of the sexes. Controlling for quality, items marketed to girls and women cost an average 7 percent more than similar products aimed at boys and men.

DCA Commissioner Julie Menin, who launched the investigation this summer, said the numbers show an insidious form of gender discrimination. Compounding the injustice, she said, is the wage gap. Federal data shows women in the United States earn about 79 cents for every dollar paid to men.

“It’s a double whammy,” Menin said, “and it’s not just happening in New York. You see in the aisles the issue is clearly applicable to consumers across the country.”

A Target spokesperson said the company lowered the price of the pink scooter after the report was released Friday, calling the discrepancy a “system error.” (The retailer blamed the same kind of glitch last year after catching heat for selling black Barbies at more than double the price of white Barbies.)

When asked about the price differences of other gendered toys — like the Raskullz shark helmet ($14.99) and the Raskullz unicorn helmet ($27.99) or the Playmobil pirate ship ($24.99) and the Playmobil fairy queen ship ($37.99) —  the representative pointed to a company statement, declining to elaborate: “Our competitive shop process ensures that we are competitively priced in local markets. A difference in price can be related to production costs or other factors.”

Researchers for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs pored over toys, children’s clothing, adult apparel, personal care products and home goods sold in the city. The largest price discrepancy emerged in the hair care category: Women, on average, paid 48 percent more for goods like shampoo, conditioner and gel. Razor cartridges came in second place, costing female shoppers 11 percent more.

Walgreens, for example, peddled a blue box of Schick Hydro 5 cartridges for $14.99. The Schick Hydro “Silk,” its purple sibling, was priced at $18.49.

Across the New York sample, women’s products carried higher price tags 42 percent of the time, while men’s products cost more 18 percent of the time.

Boosting prices according to who’s buying is nothing new. Hairdressers often charge women more. Nightclubs sometimes demand more cash from men for admission.

Price discrimination on the whole tends to be worse for women, though. A 1994 report from the State of California found they pay an annual “gender tax” of $1,351 for the same services rendered to men.

Women spend an average of 25 percent more on haircuts (that require the same amount of labor as a men’s style) and 27 percent more for the laundering of a white cotton shirt, a 2002 DCA study showed.

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The Old Italian Barber

By David Michael Newstead.

The Italian barber isn’t much of a talker. He’s a short man in his seventies with slicked back silver hair who works diligently on one customer after another in the District of Columbia. I went there for a haircut once and immediately started getting compliments from people. After that, I kept going back to his barbershop every few weeks for a trim: on the sides and the back and a little off the top. As months passed, I didn’t really talk to him and he didn’t really talk to me. And that pattern of stoic professionalism would have continued if not for one afternoon when the news was on during my haircut.

The old man shook his head as the TV anchor recounted details about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the damning revelations about CIA torture. Of course, older people tend to be nostalgic in general, often lamenting seemingly benign things. But the barber’s opinions were far from idle complaints about kids today… For a man who immigrated to the United States decades ago, he had a seasoned sense of perspective and some pointed observations – about the economic outlook, about history, and the direction of the country.

The past was the “Real America”, he told me. It was a place of promise and opportunity where he chose to make a life for himself and his family. Contemporary America, you could tell, was some kind of distortion of that dream to him, punctuated by events from the last decade. He wasn’t angry, just reflective, which made a bigger impression on me than any bitter outburst ever could. So, I listened. I asked him questions. I got my haircut and I left.

That was in December.

In January, I stopped by to get my hair cut and the normal pattern of things had returned. I got a trim on the sides and the back with a little off the top. I didn’t have much to say to him and the barber didn’t have much to say to me.

But now, there was plenty to think about in the silence.

The View from the Senate Barbershop

By David Michael Newstead.

Not long ago, I found out the U.S. Senate has its own barbershop and that it’s open to the public. I had to dig around quite a bit to get the phone number, but I was eventually able to make an appointment. So out of curiosity and my need for a haircut, I went to visit the salon to one of America’s most exclusive institutions as Election Day approaches this November.

Just for some context, the Senate Barbershop was originally established in the early 1800’s. It was free for senators until 1979 and even today prices are on the low side of reasonable, catering to elected officials, their staff members, and visitors to the capital. Although I’ve read that senators have the right to bump a regular customer’s appointment if they’re in a hurry, I didn’t experience this. Instead, what I found was a discreet side room in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building, just next to Congress. It was labelled Senate Hair Care and photography was not allowed.

On my way into the building, I saw an ordinary t-shirted American talking to an elected official. I didn’t recognize the senator offhand, but he was a basically an old, average looking white guy in a suit. And as it turns out, that’s an accurate description for the Senate for most of its history. In 225 years, almost 2,000 people have served in the United States Senate: 44 women, 35 Jews, and 9 African Americans. That very exclusive list includes numerous presidents as well as influential names like Fulbright, McCarthy, and Inouye whose votes have shaped American history for better or worse.

Then in between those momentous decisions, they also happen to get their hair cut.

Inside, Senate Hair Care looked to be an old fashioned barbershop covered in tiles and mirrors like the whole thing was straight out of a photograph of 1960. It was clean and seemingly divided between a men’s side and a women’s side. The waiting area had a selection of newspapers and CNN was playing in the background when I sat down. To the left, I noticed a shoeshine station. And running along the wall, they’d framed individual portraits of every current senator.

The barber told me that some senators come by for a trim, but they always seem to be on their way to an important meeting. I smiled and asked if Rand Paul gets his hair cut here. 3 people laughed. The barber said no. Senator Rand Paul, in case you haven’t noticed, looks like a ferret died on his head. But this prestigious legislative chamber is home to other unique hair styles as well. Democrat Jon Tester of Montana, for example, has a notoriously flattop, while Republican Ted Cruz of Texas has the hairdo of a 10 year old boy in 1950. Their photographs decorate the walls and disingenuously smile down at you. I realized that after every election someone has to change the picture frames as incumbents leave and newcomers take their place.

For awhile at least, I sat back and got a haircut worthy of a senator. It turned out pretty nice, I think. To be honest though, there were other things on my mind. When I got there, CNN was talking about the crisis in Ukraine. When I left the barbershop, CNN was talking about the crisis in the Middle East. It’s September 2014 and these are the last days of the 113th United States Congress. It’s been historically unpopular, unproductive, gridlocked, and polarized. It’s passed few pieces of legislation, instead distinguishing itself with a government shutdown, sequestration, and a general lack of action regarding all issues foreign and domestic. But after the countless articles and interviews over the last few years, I’m not sure how you editorialize a record like that. What’s left to say, you know? In a few weeks, some of the picture frames in the Senate Barbershop will get changed out for new ones. The faces will be slightly different, but still mostly old and white. All the problems facing the 113th Congress will still be there for the 114th Congress to deal with. And unfortunately for America, doing nothing is rarely a solution.

But that’s just the bad news. The good news is, I really like my new haircut.