There’s no doubting the important role that Barber shops have within black communities. Barber shops are more than just places to receive a haircut – and to think of a haircut as simply an exchange of services would be wrong. One of the main reasons that barber shops are pillars within black culture, is due to the deep rooted history and experiences which have been passed through generations.
In the early 19th century before the emancipation of black people – working inside and providing haircutting services to white people was understandably more of an attractive option than working fields or having a back-breaking labour job. Check out Smithsonian Museum – Beyond the haircut for some really interesting and thought provoking insight on this.
Barber shops in the early 19th century proved to be a safe haven for black people – and although times have changed, the feeling of a safe haven remains today.
Barbers that work in their local barber shops will see a variety of different people take a seat in their chairs. All of these people will be at different stages of their lives and will have different problems, motivations and needs. Due to this, Barbers will unofficially take up much more than just the role of a barber. They will be a friend, an uncle, an entertainer, a role model, a community leader, a therapist and a listener.
There is still plenty of work to be done to raise awareness and support mental health amongst males and there’s even more work which needs to be done when when it comes to tackling mental health amongst black males. For these reasons the role of a barber becomes even more important – the one to one personal experience and opportunity to listen or provide some support or words of encouragement or advice is something that can go a long way to helping how somebody might feel.
Black Barber shop environments traditionally tend to be cultural hubs and a bubbling pot of raw-energy where ideas, thoughts, opinions and debates are sparked. In fact, it was for these reasons that a barber shop became the focal point of a Channel 4 sitcom called Desmond’s back in 1989 -1994. The iconic comedy show perfectly encapsulated what a barber shop experience would be like in 1990’s in Peckham.
The cultural significance and relatable nature of Desmond’s made it a hit and those that frequently visited Barber shops, would understand the environment and the quick-witted humour that the jokes were delivered in. Although Desmond’s was a sitcom, the importance of a Barber shop being the focal point for the show – highlights the synergy between black communities and their Barber shops.
There’s no ignoring that barber shops are an essential part of the black community and hold much more significance than what we might initially think.