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The Black Barbershop

My in progress book, "The Headmasters of Brooklyn: Barbering, Blackness, and Brotherhood" is based on three years of participant observation and dozens of interviews with patrons and barbers, including the owners of surrounding barbershops (to get a more comprehensive picture of the role of black barbershops in the social life of the neighborhood). My book argues that blackness and racial relatedness are a situated interactional achievement, and that places like the barbershop become moral spaces that invoke and shape racial performances. As an educator using W.E.B. Du Bois’ classic concept of the double consciousness, I illustrate how black men perceive their beliefs, values, and practices in relation and in opposition to whites. I also show how they use the barbershop as a “racial backstage” to work on issues of individual and collective black identities in the absence of white scrutiny. Specifically, I find that the men use talk that identifies whites as the (often morally inferior) “other,” self-critique, storytelling, and mentorship to construct their values and culture as distinctly “black.” And I show how the barbershop facilitates the men’s efforts to discuss, affirm, and police what they say constitutes an authentic black male identity.

Hair Supplies

Future Research:

The Black Beauty Salon

I became interested in the topic of the beauty salon while conducting my dissertation fieldwork. My personal experience with being a patron in a black beauty salon for over twenty-five years helped me realize how the racial performances I witnessed in the barbershop were distinctly masculine ones. In order to analyze gender differences in racial performance, I have begun an ethnography of a comparable black beauty salon.

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