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. 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.

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.