As a white man, there are unwritten societal boundaries for me when it comes to race.
Some I understand (don’t ever touch a black woman’s hair), while others I don’t. One of those being white men going to a “black barbershop”—something multiple people told my brother and I wasn’t allowed.
So, last week, I went to get my haircut at a black barbershop.
Before we dive into this thing, you gotta know something about me—the same lady cut my hair for about ten years. She was a white suburban mom, and I started getting my monthly cut from her when I was 15 years old. The only reason she stopped was that I started shaving my head instead of four years ago.
Before going to her, I used to get my haircut at the local barber in our small town. In fact, our town, which is about 99% white, had as many barbers as it had stoplights (two). Naturally, my brother, who is 11 years younger than me, would go there as well.
The only difference? He was the only non-white person getting a cut there. With my brother being the only black person in our family, when he was younger, we struggled for a few years finding the right place to get his haircut by people who understood how to care for his hair—to the point that his scalp was burned from relaxer that was being used on him.
So, fast forward back to last week. My brother encouraged me to go to the barbershop, where he gets his haircut now. He wanted me to experience what it was like to be the only white guy in the place. He wanted me to get out of my bubble and experience something new.
So I did. It was an amazing, eye-opening experience.
First off, no one told me going to the barbershop was an all-day event in the black community. It was nearly five hours between the time I left to get my haircut, and when I finally returned home. And, I also made the rookie mistake of bringing my pregnant wife, our two and a half-year-old daughter, and our six-month-old daughter along with me.
Suffice to say, I was not prepared for this to be an all-night experience on a Thursday evening. But I don’t mean that as a complaint.
You see, every hair salon I’ve ever gone to I was in and out as fast as possible so they could get to the next appointment. Sure, the person cutting your hair would provide some small talk, but it was business.
At this barbershop, many times, I legit felt like I was walking into someone’s neighborhood block party—minus the bbq. Folks would swing by just to say “what’s good” and ask about their families. No one made an appointment online either. They simply would text their barber straight up.
It was jarring but also powerful. Two hours into my wait—with an exhausted pregnant wife and two screaming kids out in the parking lot—I considered leaving. I was the only white guy there and, if I’m blunt with you, I felt uncomfortable leaving because of the perception they might have of me for walking out. So I stayed.
I gave into that fear and stayed. In doing so, I encountered an overwhelming sense of community that was more evident than anywhere I’ve ever been. A community of people that didn’t look like me embraced me, despite me believing the unwritten rule that a white guy couldn’t go into a black barbershop.
Some of the most enjoyable moments for me were the TVs, which only played three things—”Family Feud” with Steve Harvey, both “Big Momma’s House” movies on BET, and “Entertainment Tonight” (that last one I’m still trying to understand). But those TVs were nothing more than background noise to the convos that were happening—except when “Family Feud” was on and the whole place participated and cheered like they were watching the Super Bowl.
After four hours, it was finally my turn to get my haircut. I sat down with a barber who, for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call Melvin.
We began chatting while he cut my hair, but it was anything but small talk. During those 9 minutes he spent lining me up, we got real deep. Then at one point, he dropped this one on me, “I feel like I’m talking to a brother who is a fellow believer.”
OK, God, I see what you’re doing here.
From that minute on, we went down a rabbit hole about our faith journeys and the struggles we’re facing in our lives. Like legit struggles. In those 9 minutes, we went deeper than many of the small group Bible studies I’ve done over the years.
It was amazing.
There were times during those four hours that I questioned being there. I assumed I didn’t fit in because of my skin color. Yet sitting there while getting my haircut, God used Melvin to show me that while society may have these unwritten racial boundaries, God’s Kingdom does not.
I left that barbershop grinning ear to ear and laughing at the whole situation. Yeah, I waited four hours for a 9-minute haircut, but I’m so much better today because of it.
I spent those four hours texting my brother and my non-white friends, all of whom had some great laughs at my expense, but their friendship and encouragement are what led me into that shop in the first place.
God placed people who don’t look like me into my life to teach me about diverse community and help me see what His Kingdom really looks like. And God brought me into that barbershop to teach me I have so much yet to learn about His Kingdom and power.