A barber shouts from behind a wall covered in Afrocentric art depicting black men and women in nuclear family settings and a shelf with old Jet magazines. The rest of the walls in the barbershop were similarly decorated; old black and white photos are randomly placed and a large painting of black Jesus hangs on the front wall, by the entrance, setting the atmosphere for visitors.
A middle-aged man with a husky frame, jeans and a neat button-up shirt makes his way to the barber. He greets him with a short hug and firm handshake, sits down, and immediately starts a conversation while the barber covers him in a dark blue cape. They’re clearly friends. The rest of the barbershop is full of men of all ages and occupations waiting to get their haircuts. But instead of sitting in silence, they fill the shop with laughter, discussing a range of topics including sports, family and the hardships of being an American black man. The conversations are intelligent, rich and passionate. An elderly man and a local pastor, who’s been a shop regular for nearly 40 years, speaks about his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.
“Yeah, Dr. King was a revolutionary,” he says in a deep, seasoned voice. “But Malcolm was something else entirely.” He speaks to the men like a teacher to his students.
They lean forward as if to not miss a single word of his speech. In this shop, the rules of respect are diligently practiced. And although most conversations can’t carry without a fervent debate, the disagreements are mostly civil. However, the energy shifts when the discussions change to a more controversial tune.
“Men should act like men.” the pastor continues.
All the men in the shop nod in agreement.
“Homosexuals—or whatever they’re calling themselves now—are causing the degradation of this community; the black community. I blame the fathers for not stepping up.” A younger 30-something man responds. As he speaks, his fist are tightly clenched.
The rest of the men add to the discussion by speaking ill of gay rights and gay marriage, specifically in the frame of Christianity and the sinfulness of non-heteronormativity. And for those who don’t overtly express their views through a Christian lens, their disgust of homosexuality is shown through their aggressive tone and nonverbal behaviors. Suddenly, the shop feels less hospitable. The air, once warm, becomes chill and uneasy; specifically, for a teenage boy who’s quietly sitting in the back corner.
He tries hard to remain unseen, shrinking further in his seat. The conversation is making him uncomfortable. Every word pierces his young, impressionable mind. He wants to leave, but he can’t. He wants to cry, but he dares not show his vulnerability—especially now. He feels anger, sadness, confusion and conviction all at once. He questions the normality of his feelings as the men carry on their conversation, unknowingly chastising his existence.
The words of the pastor hurt the most. The boy attends his church every Sunday and has only spoken with him directly on two occasions. Once, when he was younger, with his mother who asked the pastor to pray that he be delivered from a demon spirit. At the time he didn’t know what that meant, but now he understood.
As the conversation continues another barber shouts, “Who’s next?”
The attention turns to the boy who slowly rises from his seat and makes his way to the barber’s chair, offering an exaggerated performance of masculinity as he walks. His head sits high on his shoulders, his chest inflated and his eyes remain forward. The walk feels like a mile, as every step is carefully contemplated. He knows all eyes are on him, including the pastor’s.
He makes it to the chair and sits.
Author: Jermaine Dickerson
Jermaine is the co-creator of BLKBOARD, an entrepreneur and a superhero enthusiast with a passion for art, design and social activism. He hopes to change the world with the power of superheroics.