When A Black Man Breaks Up With His Barber


Allen Iverson often gets credit for making both cornrows and visible tattoos more, for lack of a better term, “mainstream.” But, although this isn’t brought up as much, he’s also somewhat responsible for what’s been the single most popular hairstyle for African-American men over the past two decades: The Caesar. He had one as a freshman at Georgetown, and he was so popular that it convinced thousands of young Black kids to eschew the fades, tapers, and cornrows that sat on our heads. I was one of those kids. This was 1995. And I’ve had the same haircut since.

Now, there have been some variations. I used to line up the back, and now I fade it out. I also went from sideburns, to the point thing, to the faint beard line when I could finally connect my beard, to the (somewhat) full beard I have now. And the actual amount of hair on my head has varied. But, the basic template — an even cut all around — has remained the same.

Despite the Caesar’s simplicity, its maintenance requires effort. It needs to be brushed a couple times a day, it needs to be shampooed at least twice a week, and you need to have a barber who knows what the f*ck he (or she) is doing. The last point is the most crucial. A Caesar with a jacked-up line-up is a perpetual practical joke, a public gong show where the only prize is dry vageen and you have to stay on stage until enough time has passed (usually between 10 and 14 days) for your hair to grow back enough for someone to fix it.

But a fresh Caesar with a perfect line? Man!!! That’s the shit dreams are made of. Seriously, every Caesar-ed man reading this can probably name the five best haircuts they’ve ever had — when the shape-up and the beard and the fade in the back and the sheen of your scalp all aligned perfectly. And each of those men can probably also give you the names of the five or six women whose numbers they got the week of the perfect shape-up because, even if you look like the construction workers from Fraggle Rock, the perfect shape-up will have you feeling and acting like an Idris/Leonidas hybrid.

And this is why a good barber is the best friend any Black man can have. It’s also why you do what you can to hold on to one. I’ve had the same one for 12 years now.

And this is also why I’m probably going to break up with him.

As you can imagine, the decision to break up with my barber hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve read before that it takes a fourth of the time you’ve been with someone to break up with them. (Basically, If you’ve been with someone two years, it takes six months. Three to convince yourself breaking up is the right decision, and three more to gather the courage to do it.) If this is true, I’ve been breaking up with my barber for three years now. Seems like a long time, but it sounds about right.

He’s not a bad barber. The relationship wouldn’t have lasted this long if he wasn’t. And, when he’s focused on cutting my hair, he’s actually good. The problem is that those moments of focus are occurring less and less often. He takes breaks to text. And to check the messages on the dozens of dating sites he belongs too. And to show me pictures of the women he’s dating. And to talk to me about the NBA draft. And to run across the street to play the lottery. And to run to the corner store for a Cherokee Red. And to run to his car to make sure the windows are closed.

I wouldn’t mind any of this if he was still able to make my line even — well, I wouldn’t mind it that much — but the more distracted he gets, the worse my haircut is going to be.

Also, I’ve traveled quite a bit for panels, conferences, festivals, and parties over the last few years. Sometimes, this travel will be last minute, my barber won’t be available, and I’ll have to go to someone else in the shop. And sometimes I’ll just wait to get a haircut in the city of the event. And, when this happens, my haircuts are always better. Always. 90% of my Leonidas Elba weeks since 2010 have been because of “new” barbers.

So why is it so difficult to get a new barber? If he’s not providing a service I’m paying him for, why not just pay someone who will? Well, it’s not that easy. As I mentioned before, I’ve known him for over a decade, which makes this one of the longest relationships I’ve ever been in. Aside from family, there are only maybe 10 people who’ve been as consistent in my life in that time period as he has. We’ve seen the neighborhood change together. We’ve changed too. Both personally and aesthetically. I’ve been there long enough to see an entirely new group of barbers man the chairs beside him. I also remember his “old” shop — a raggedy storefront on an off-brand corner — and I remember how he got the money together to move to the much, much nicer location he’s in now. I look forward to going there, and talking shit with him and the other barbers about the Steelers or sneakers or strippers or credit scores or whatever the hell else happens to be the topic of conversation that day. And I know he looks forward to my visits too. He’s not my best friend. But he is my friend.

There’s a shop I pass a couple times a week in route to my barbershop. I started paying attention to it last summer after a guy randomly complimented my cut, gave me his business card, and told me he works at the new shop on Baum Blvd. I actually think it’s owned by one of the Steelers.

Since then, I’ve become increasingly tempted to take him up on his offer. But I haven’t. At least not yet.

What’s stopping me? Two things:

1. An irrational fear that my barber will see me walking out of the new barbershop shop, and having to deal with that awkward moment.

2. Who gave me the extra-sharp line up that compelled that guy to compliment me? My barber.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Why Rob Parker Was 100% Right And 100% Wrong To Question RG3′s “Blackness”

When people say things like “I’m in love with…” it’s generally understood that, unless they’re specifically referring to a person they have/had/wish to have a romantic interaction with, it’s always hyperbole. You are not actually in love with chocolate cake, Brooklyn, H&M’s fall line, or Kendrick Lamar, but you like/adore/admire these things so much that “in love” is used as an exaggerated substitute for a legitimate feeling you’re unable or unwilling to fully describe.

That being said, since first learning five years ago that he was going to run for President, I’ve been “in love” with Barack Obama as much as a person could be “in love” with a politician. While I don’t believe he’s perfect and I’m also aware this “love” could be more about the idea of Obama than Obama himself, as the unexpectedly primal scream I let out when seeing that he won Ohio last month indicated, I am an unabashed fan.

Yet, as I watched him on TV yesterday, addressing the Newtown school shooting, I’m reminded this “love” wasn’t unconditional. In fact, one of the main details allowing me to get to this place of “love” had nothing to do with his status as a politician and everything to do with a decision he made twenty years before I first knew he existed.

He married a Black woman. 

Now, would I have supported Obama any less if I learned he was married to a White woman. I’m not sure, but I doubt it. I doubt it would have had that much of an effect on who he was as a person and politician to make me do a complete 180 on how I currently feel about him.

There are two things I am sure of, though.

1. I’m not the only Black person who “loves” and supports President Obama the way I do

2. I’m not the only Black person whose “love” and support for Obama was helped by the fact that he has an authentically Black wife

And yes, while technically there’s no such thing as “authentically” Black—being Black is all the authenticity you should need—it matters that his wife wasn’t just Black, but a dark brown-skinned big-bootied chick from Chicago whose last name was Robinson. We still would have supported and voted for him, but I’m certain we wouldn’t have “loved” him as much. (I even have doubts he would have received the same unconditional “love” and support from the Black community if his wife was light-skinned.)

None of this should matter. But it does. And, because it does, I have to call bullshit on the tidal wave of post-racial self-righteousness coming down on ESPN commentator Rob Parker for questioning the blackness of Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3). Was Parker wrong for his comments? Yes. (More of that later.) Should he have been suspended? Definitely. But, was his opinion—and the line of thinking behind the opinion—any different than the thoughts many of us of had about prominent Black men? No!

What he said about RG3 is said in many of our heads about every Black male politician, actor, athlete, co-worker, supervisor, neighbor, friend, and family member we know. Shit, as much as you all “love” VSB, I have no doubt our support would dwindle if one of us married a White woman. Sure, it wouldn’t change who we were as people or writers, but for many of our readers, we’d be a tad less “authentic,” and I can’t chide Parker too much for using the same means to calibrate Blackness that many of us also use.

It’s ironic that Parker mentioned “talking to some people in D.C.”—a clear allusion to the type of “barbershop” convos Black people have with each other—before going in on RG3 because that’s exactly why he was still wrong for saying what he said. These discussions about authenticity and “levels of Blackness” are definitely had…but they’re not meant to be had in mixed company. You do not ever question another Black person’s Blackness if any non-Black people are within earshot. In fact, you don’t even have that conversation if certain type of Black people are around. It’s only for people you trust to be able to fully appreciate and handle its nuance. Shit, doing that repeatedly will get your Black card revoked quicker than dating any White woman would.

Interestingly enough, I don’t even think Parker’s statements are the result of RG3 having a White fiancee. If dating White women was the NFL’s barometer for Blackness, you could have this same conversation about 80% 30% of the league. It’s more due to the fact that RG3 doesn’t act the way a typical young Black athlete acts. It’s not about him speaking proper English or even him not being seen at KIng of Diamonds every other weekend, but just the fact that the way he carries himself is outside of the range of behavior we expect from people like him.

If he was Rob Griffin the IT guy, his Blackness wouldn’t be questioned because his behavior is within the range of behavior we expect from people like that. But, between his behavior, his background, and his hair—yes, the fact that he has plaits in 2012 definitely matters—he’s “different” because he’s not what we expect. And, for too many of us, a “different” Black guy = “a Black guy who’s not really Black” or even “gay Black guy.” The criticisms leveled at him—questions about his Blackness and his sexuality—are no different than the types of criticisms hurled towards Ricky Williams, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Dennis Rodman and other high profile Black athletes who acted in a way outside of what we expected from them.

Ultimately, RG3 is a 20-something quarterback of an NFL team, not a politician whose personal life choices directly influence his policy decisions—policy decisions that can affect the lives of millions of people. Basically, so what if he isn’t authentically Black? He throws a f*cking football for a living. Who gives a damn who he dates?

Well, Rob Parker (obviously) does. And, as long as it’s true that our “love” and support for Black men is influenced by the color of whoever they decide to marry, we do too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Where Are All The Good Single Black Men? (No, Really. I’m Serious)

Between the shoddy stats (I want to see proof that 55% of the black men in Chicago have felony records), the strange criteria (ie: The assumption that a black man who has dated white women before wouldn’t be interested in black women), and the latent message that every single black woman is, in fact, flawless and completely relationship-worthy, there’s much to hate about the “Where Are All The Good Single Black Men?” infographic posted at BestBlackDatingSites.org earlier this month.

As the homie Jamilah “Don’t Call Me Mario” Lemieux points out, this set of meandering statistics fails at one of the first things any preschool math teacher will tell you. It’s understandable if you’re not sure if 27+27 equals 44 or 54, but you definitely should be certain that the answer isn’t 167,000. Basically, if your answer is completely off-base — and the conclusion of there being three eligible black men to every 100 eligible women is completely off-base — then your methodology sucks.

But, with all that being said, there was a question asked. And, I wouldn’t be much of a crime-fighter if I didn’t attempt to answer it. I don’t know exactly where every missing goodsingleblackman happens to be at the moment, but I can make a few educated guesses.

At the barbershop, waiting for the barber to just cut his damn hair and stop talking about how Lebron’s new shoes are the handmaidens of the Illuminati 

While we all look forward to going to the shop, between your barber pausing your cut so he can run across the street to play the lottery, you waiting for him while he barters with Joe Crackhead and tries to get him to accept a trade of a pack of socks, a steak, and a set of drills for $1.79 (and succeeds!), and the ubiquitous (but hilarious) arguments with other barbers in the shop, I’d say that the average black man spends approximately 85% more time there than he plans to.

Any woman looking for the missing good black man just needs to stick her head inside of Raheem’s Cutz, and she’ll probably find anywhere from 7 to 37 of them hiding out in there, silently steaming while reading old issues of Hunting Illustrated, The Final Call, and Black Tail

Hiding from uber-aggressive white women

This isn’t suggesting that all (or even most) white women are aggressive when pursuing men. This isn’t even suggesting that all (or even most) white women interested in black men are overtly lascivious. But, the few who happen to be aggressive tend to be extreme with their aggression. Basically, if the typical white woman is a non-orthodox muslim, these broads are the coital Al-Qaeda, and they’ll stop at nothing until we’re all dead. (And by “we’re all dead” I mean “we agree to a truck party“)

Good black men know this, and most will try to hide at the one place where these Lisa Lampanelli’s will never be: Tyler Perry movie premieres.

At some gym or wherever the hell they go to do chest exercises

As Lady Champ pointed out to me last week, it seems like every young professional black man has the same mental checklist.

Get a well-paying job? Check

Buy a nice car? Check

Join a gym, and start doing bench-presses, push-ups, dips, and whatever else is necessarily to reverse the pec atrophy caused by sitting at a computer screen 14 hours a day everyday for 10 years and ensure that my chest starts to puff out of my dress shirts? Check 

Seriously, there are so many FedEx diesel” — “FedEx” because that shit happens overnight — accountants, lawyers, Verizon salesmen, and taxidermists walking around nowadays that it sometimes feels like I’m on the set of one of those contrived plotline pornos; you know, one of those flicks with a title like “Teacher’s P*ssy Pet” where Wesley Pipes is cast as an unassuming school principal and rocking a suit and some prison-issue bifocals on the DVD cover. It’s like grad schools have begun passing out Creatine coupons whenever they grant MBA’s.

It’s easy to spot them, too. Just look for the black guy with the college ring, the Audi, and Dwight Howard’s chest on top of Kate Moss’ legs.

Since this is true, I’d advise anyone looking for a good, single, black man to try Bally’s. But, be advised that even if you do find him there, you’ll probably have to wait until he’s completed his 56th set of incline bench presses before he talks to you.

Looking for their missing testosterone

If studies such as the one recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have any truth to them, there’s a correlation between pretty much every “domestic” activity involving men (fatherhood, monogamy, marriage, etc) and decreased testosterone. And, if the long-held theory that black women are disproportionately attracted to hyper-heterosexual men has any truth to it, it stands to reason that while the high-testosterone, anti-monogamy men (the “bad” ones) are cleaning up, the safe, low-testosterone, pro-monogamy men (the “good” ones) are striking out.

Now, I don’t know exactly where one would find some spare testosterone. (GMC? The Greyhound station? A whale’s vagina?) But, wherever that place happens to be, I bet you’ll also find a gaggle of goodsingleblackmen huddled around a makeshift flame, shivering and ready to trade anything — their shoes, their watches, their anal virginity — for another vial of testes juice.

Anyway, people of VSB, that’s it for me today. Can you think of any other places where one could possibly find these missing goodsingleblackmen?

—The Champ

***It’s that time again. The third installment of REMINISCE is happening this Saturday, October 1, at Liv Nightclub in Washington, DC. It’s one hell of a time as we spin the best of 90s hiphop, r&b, and dancehall. It’s FREE before 11PM ($10 after), OPEN BAR FROM 10-11PM, and no dress code. Come party with Panama Jackson since Wu Tang is here forever, MOTHERF*****S. See you then!! Here’s the Facebook invite with all the details: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=172606672819705***