The rising cost of a haircut made me think about how expensive it can be to maintain one’s appearance and, in turn, self-esteem. Poverty forces some people to invent cultural trends to make up for what they can no longer afford.
My barber said he needed to show me something. Located in the front of the barbershop, I knew the only thing up there was the pricing board. I asked him, “How much more do I owe you?”
Prior to sitting down in the chair, I had given him $40. It has been the cost for a haircut for the last few years. But the sign said that times had changed; my haircut would now be $50.
That’s $50 a week or $200 a month. I started to question the frequency of my visits. “Am I really going to the barbershop every week?” I am having these thoughts as a gainfully employed person.
Gone are the days of the $12 regular haircut and the $8 shape up. Consider the cost of a haircut for young boys and teens.
Has the rising cost of haircuts impacted the trends we are currently seeing in the African American community? Young boys and teens are rolling up ski masks, folded up to give the appearance of a hat.
Poverty sometimes gives rise to creativity. The regular observance of hooded heads in various settings has become the standard. I do wonder how many trends are developed out of economic struggle and not personal choice.
Perhaps they have weighed the cost of a haircut and figured those resources could be better used to support the needs of the home or a younger sibling. The easy-to-reach conclusion would be that one would choose to have clothing rather than a weekly haircut.
But it was a real struggle for me as a youth when my hairline would grow in, showing my widow’s peak. I knew my peer’s references to the batman symbol had something to do with my hairline.
I didn’t walk confidently. There was no charisma present as I engaged with friends.
However, with a fresh haircut, my confidence was restored as soon as the barber removed the cape, and I got up from the chair.
But these African American boys and teens walk with confidence and pride aside from having a new haircut. Who would know if it has been a struggle for them to obtain the financial resources for a haircut?
A trend is established in the manner in which young boys and teens navigate this world, absent of the perceived cultural norms. It says something about how a struggle can evolve into an established norm without negotiating with society.
Consider how lobster was seen as a subsistence food consumed by the poor and lower classes out of desperation.
In the 1860s, soldiers were rationed canned lobster. Others far from the shores of New England were able to enjoy canned lobster and craved the taste even more after consuming fresh lobster on trips to Maine.
The shipping of live lobster around the country caused its price to increase, essentially phasing out the delicacy once enjoyed by the working poor.
What am I saying? Life circumstances can pivot something to becoming a way of life even more than it being a trend. Leave scrapple alone please because the prices of oxtails have been impacted by a pivot.
To be clear, I am not judging African American youth for allowing their hair to grow longer as a form of cultural expression or personal edification. I am simply looking at the rising cost of haircuts and how those with limited financial means must create new trends in an effort to maintain their sense of self-worth and dignity.
Historically, trips to the barbershop have been an integral part of the development of an African American male. The barbershop is a safe place for many. It’s more than sports banter and the sharing of ideas across an array of subjects.
Waiting for your turn to get a haircut allows you to visually see the possibilities of who you may become. The gleeful look a young boy displays when he looks into the mirror and the finished product. A man postures once the cape is removed and the chair spins and then stops in front of the mirror. The boy and the man are seen and validated out of the reach of the eurocentric ideology of beauty and masculinity.
White supremacy has never appreciated the manner in which African American boys and men could display an array of hairstyles with confidence. So, whether covered with a hood or a ski mask rolled up, continue to walk confidently in who you are.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for African American / Black History Month. The previous article in the series is:
How the Double V Campaign Brought Social Antagonism and Racial Transformation | Fredrick Douglass Dixon
Pastor at both Rivers of Life African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Mechanicsville, Maryland. He contributes to humanity by parenting two daughters alongside his wife.