Barbershop Talk

Jerzy Messan Archive

Photo by Scott Smith via Flickr


The communal environment found in well-established Black barbershops provides customers with a quality haircut, a safe place to voice their opinions and feelings, and an outlet for young men to pick up words of wisdom from their elders.

Black barbershops are a place that have a distinct “grit, rhythm, and attitude,” voiced Masai Minters, Associate Director of the Academic Advancement Program at UCLA and Compton, California native, who believes that barbershops are the second most important place in African Communities after Black churches.

Minters explained that this kind of environment is not found in every Black barbershop but experienced barber shops, like “Tolbert’s” in Compton, have established strong ties with their customers and created an extended family within the Black community based on the productivity that comes with the service.

According to Minters, a good representation of a Black barbershop is “fluid, live, and dynamic” based on the kinds of dialogue that can be heard there on a day to day basis. “Barbers are like bartenders﹣they develop relationships by listening to their customers and providing words of wisdom during a quiet moment, then facilitating discussion in larger groups. Whether it be a slow day when the customer gets to vent about his job, wife, children, and whatever else he’s going through, or if it is on a busy Saturday morning when their is open discussion talking about anything from sports to what been going on in Paris, there’s always something to talk about.”

Minters revealed that he has been going to the barbershop every two weeks since he was 7 years old and that while the culture has changed over time, the veteran barbers have managed to sustain that “cultural richness.”

I find it similar to our college discussion section, where there is an array of different topics and conversations, and you can always expect to be engaged in a prolonged discussion and interaction with others from all age groups and walks of life, but you also have to be strong minded and ready to hold your own on any given visit.

This parallel is extended even further considering how barbershops played historically in political activism by providing immediate awareness to members in the community and even serving as meeting places for Civil Rights groups.

Minters reminisced back to the Million Man March of 1995 and how effective getting the word out was by utilizing the barbershop as a means of communication between those who visited the barbershop and talked about the movement.

“Barbershops are full of brothers who care about knowledge and awareness,” professed Minters.

Black men from the younger generation talk about barbershop culture with the same level of esteem.

In addition to going to get a fresh cut from barbers that can be trusted as masters of the craft, the world of blunt intellect and constant colloquy is something that attracts young men to barbershops.

First year, undeclared humanities major, Alec Bailey feels that, “the Black barbershop experience is one of the few places in America a group of Black men can get together and talk.”

Bailey stated that he has gained multiple mentors from visiting barbershops, and believes that building a community of Black men is the most positive thing that comes from the Black barbershop experience.

“There’s never a dull moment in a Black barbershop. The barbers are always cracking jokes or talking about sports,” convied Takai Ginwright, a first year Film major.

“This experience positively attributes to African American culture because it is a place where there is a strong sense of community. Strong communities and older role models are what Black males need to stay out of trouble,” adds Ginwright.

The barbershop plays an essential role in Black community by providing a safe haven for a diverse group of men to come together and express their feelings on any topic openly and critically, and get honest responses in return.

Minters sums up the discussion of the Black barbershop perfectly by saying that the Black barbershop is, “the place to experience the beauty and power of Black men in the world and develop power in our community. The place to disseminate knowledge and for younger Black men to get information from other Black men.”