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”)

So, She’s With A White Guy, Huh?

***Hello, everyone. S. Nicole Brown is here again to bless the VSB pulpit. This time, though, I decided to add some, um, “notes” in red to her piece. Not certain if she’s going to appreciate that, but, well, it’s my blog and I can do what I want to***

“That’s your woman? That is NOT your woman. You know that ain’t your woman, man.”

The man was around 35, smooth brown face featuring a neatly lined goatee, cap to the back, Pepsi in his right hand resting on his denim shorts. Before inviting himself into our lives, he was just another black man at the park that day.

(This was her first mistake. Dude definitely sounds homeless. I mean, he’s chillin in some random park with a Pepsi and some demin shorts? In 2012? Come on, man! It’s her fault for entertaining homeless men.)

It took us a moment to realize he was indeed directing his doubting statements at us, and although he was correct in his assumption, I turned my head, eyes wide at his audacity. I could only give a bewildered laugh. The man walking next to me, around the same age as him, slightly spiky brown hair, affable blue eyes, and clad in a “Detroit Soul” t-shirt, turned towards the man, his face serious.

“No, this is my wife.” He wrapped his hand around mine casually, and we kept walking.

(Although the wife move was admittedly a smooth transition, technically your wife would also be your woman, and he should have known that homeless Black men don’t appreciate semantic tricks. He’s lucky he didn’t get spleen shanked.)

This response was met with hushed laughter from the men sitting with our new friend, along with his words trailing us: “I don’t see a ring. That ain’t your woman man.”

(See, I know that’s a lie. Aint no group of Black men in Detroit gonna know what a wedding ring even is, let alone know where to check for it. For all they know, a wedding ring is some shit you find at the bottom of a bowl of wedding soup. Why are you making shit up?)

I shook my head but laughed it off, still in awe.

This would prove to be only one of several instances in which a day at an outdoor summer festival with a friend turned into a social experiment for the writer in me. I noticed all the stares, the shoulder taps on friends sitting next to them, and the not-so-subtle pointing. I was amused and embarrassed by the random and startling honking by cars containing black men as they drove past us, their voices carrying things like “Whiiiiite boyyyy! Yeahhh white boy!” over the music blasting from their stereos.

(I’m not doubting that any of this happened. I’m also not a Black woman who has walked through a summer festival in Detroit with a White man. Still, I do find it hard to believe that this experience is the norm instead of the exception. I mean, I’ve seen Black women and White men together before in Black settings, and aside from random cats asking him to cosign on car loans, they were pretty much left alone. They even occasionally get props and nicknames. And yes, it still counts as a nickname if the nickname is just their first name with “White” added to the front of it.)

I was downright shocked and offended by the three black men who stopped us and plainly asked in so many words what I was doing here with him and why I wasn’t with someone of a brown hue, eyes connecting solely with mine, completely disregarding the white man next to me. I was too much of a “beautiful sista” as one man stated as we passed by his perch, to not be with a black man. I looked around, had to keep reminding myself that it was 2011. It was as if we’d walked into neighborhood full of Crips wearing bright red.

Slowly I realized that the general consensus of the men who’d expressed confusion for our assumed pairing was that I was too attractive to date a white man, as if there is only a certain type of black woman that can date outside her race. Even when I told a guy friend about my experience, his initial response was that “they only said something because you’re attractive. They wouldn’t have otherwise.” I don’t understand. I know more than a few black women who date white men. They’re all very pretty women. That couldn’t be it.

(As your pseudo blog mentor and a person who’s very adept at the ancient art of humble bragging, I just want to say that these last couple paragraphs brought a tear to my eye. Good job grasshopper.)

Eric, my friend, a man who is far more Elijah Wood than Eminem, and primarily dates black women, was baffled himself. “Lisa and I used to come down here all the time, and this has never happened. I guess you are so fly.” He joked about the title of my old blog, but I could tell he was genuinely confused as to why so many brothers felt the need to speak their opinion one way or the other about two people whose relationship had nothing to do with them at all.

(Full disclosure: I have seen Ms. S. Nicole Brown before, and she is an attractive woman. And, because she’s tall and has big hair, she can be rather striking. This being the case, I wonder if the attention she received was due to her being with a White guy or if it was just some brothas having a pissing contest because they didn’t feel like her friend was a worthy partner and thought they might be able to put a bug in her ear. I can imagine they would have acted the same way if she happened to be with a “lame” looking brotha, and I also don’t think it’s a leap to suggest that a Don Draper doppelganger wouldn’t have received the same attention.)

The day was interesting to say the least. From a redheaded little boy pointing out my blackness to his parents, to the unexpected running-into Eric’s ex (black) and her man (white) and the confrontation that followed between the two men (two very square white men fighting over two black women in a park full of people. You can imagine the looks), it was definitely a day of firsts for me.

(I’ve never seen two sober White men fight in public. I know that has nothing to do with the story, but I just wanted to put that out there.)

Frankly, I was shocked. As someone who has seen many, many articles and comments surrounding the supposed stigma of black men dating interracially, white women in particular, and reading complaint after complaint, opinion after opinion from those same men on how black women have an enormous problem with this, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of the issue conversely.

(I honestly think that women “against” interracial dating are more against the idea of it than the actual act. I also think that Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets on a bun with some grape jelly is the best off menu fast-food sandwich you can buy. Whatever you do, though, just don’t try to order it after 9pm.)

I also can’t say I’ve ever witnessed a black woman blatantly confront a black man walking with his blonde-haired, blue-eyed companion, and impose her opinion of their coupledom on them, whether positive or negative. I’ve never seen a black woman say “oh you got you some soul alright” to them as they walked past, minding their own business.

(Of course she wouldn’t confront them in person. That’s what Twitter and blogs are for. Duh!)

I’ve never dated a white man seriously. I’ve gotten approached by my fair share, as the natural hair seems to be a magnet (lol but no, it really is), and had a few dates, but a relationship has just never happened. I love black men and I always will, but I can’t say I’d be opposed to dating outside of that if my feelings led me that way. I for one would not even be here if not for the lovely chocolate-vanilla pairing that was my father’s parents, and my family consists of quite a few mixtures of love, so interracial coupling is quite normal to me.

(This paragraph was sweet and shit. Also, it’s proof that we could never date. Although I’m not particularly racist, I do seem to be attracted to racist Black women. I don’t know exactly why — Maybe I want my kids to be racists? — but I’m beginning to suspect that “racist Black women” just equals “Black women.” Anyway, you’re a bit too post-racial and shit for me.)

If I decided to do so tomorrow though, I am now overwhelmingly aware of the fact that black men will not mind letting me (and my date) know how they feel about it.

(And, by “Black men” you mean “some homeless Black men at a pre-Calicoe concert cookout in Detroit,” right?)

S. Nicole Brown (aka “Muze”) is a writer of fiction, lover of words, and chronic reader happily living the clichéd under-spaced and overpriced life of a NYC writer. You can find her in 140 or less @muzeness or on her blog, Because I’m Write.

***Just wanted to take some time and thank everyone again for the well-wishes and prayers. Like I mentioned yesterday, she just needs all the positive energy she can get. Writing this and reading the responses has definitely helped me, and I hope it’s left me better equipped to help her.***

Believe Half Of What You Hear and None Of What You See?

These guys have killed millions. Of people. A lot.

I realized something a few days ago. And I’m not quite sure how to say this so I might as well just say it straight up.

I like being lied to.

Yes, apparently as a fan of mainstream hip-hop, I appreciate being lied to by some of my favorite artists.

Notice I said, MAINSTREAM rap. For all of you boho’s out there who will think this is an indictment on ALL rap, please read the preceeding sentence again. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

*humming Eminem’s “I’ll Kill You”*

N.W.A. lied to me constantly, Mobb Deep lied to me.

T.I. lies to me. Rick Ross lies to me. Lil Wayne lies to anybody who will listen. Common is lying to us all now. Well you get the point. These ninjas are all lying because they continue to write all of these tales of their current street acumen and all of the weapons they travel with and the drugs they currently slang, etc.

And I am a fan.

Now granted, I don’t actually believe any of these dudes do half of the sh*t they claim to do. I don’t believe that Rick Ross is moving that much snow in the hood or that T.I. is still moving blow in the hood. I don’t believe that any of these dudes have murdered anybody, with the possible exception of 50 Cent and that’s strictly due to one line on his song “Problem Child” from like 2003:

“they say you can never repay the price for taking a man’s life/I’m in debt with Christ cuz I done did that twice” – 50 Cent

I’ll admit, I do question the veracity of that statement and maybe it just sounds good in rhyme. But, errrum, most rappers tell you that they WILL kill you, as in future tense. 50 says that he HAS done it. Somehow, that makes me a little nervous. Luckily he isn’t in any jeopardy of going to Heaven anyway as I do in fact believe his posters are plastered through the Great Hall of Hades as one of the biggest proponents of Hell.

But for the most part, I don’t believe most of these rappers. And I’m not saying that none of these dudes sold drugs. I’m sure that T.I. did as I’m sure that Jay-Z did. I’m sure 50 Cent did as well as a slew of other rappers. Of course, there are lots of questions about how big these “drug dealers” were as even Biggie’s own people have said that he wasn’t nearly the drug dealer he claimed to be. Many of these dudes do indeed have the soul of hustlers so I believe that many of them have done SOME of the things they claim in rhyme. Let’s just say that amongst the lies they share resides some segment of truth.

But between all of the murders these rappers claim to be willing to commit and all of the weight that they claim to be moving and the fact that I don’t actually believe any of them are as big time as they claim, it just seems that I like being lied to. I mean, I buy into it as it relates to their persona on wax. And somehow, they seem to buy into their own stories enough to convince me to buy into them. And I’m not alone. For some strange reason, as far as our mainstream rappers go, with the possible exception of Kanye West, we all like to hear about how hard these dudes are and we can easily look past the fact that their entire catalog is filled with odes to drug slanging and killin’ ninjas on the block.

Now for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’ll let this type of sh*t slide. The lies, I mean. Most normal people detest liars. People that will lie to you are the very people you’d not want to be around. Yet in mainstream rap, being able to convince people of your street respectability, be it fabricated or not, is paramount. If somebody found out that Kenny Rogers had never played a game of poker, well, how upset would the country music world be? Or what if the Dixie Chicks were from Canada? Or what if Guns ‘N Roses didn’t live the life they sang about? Of course, that’s an impossibility because if you’ve seen the vh1 Behind The Music on the Guns, you’d realize, them white boys and Slash were nuckin’ futs.

I guess this all ties into the very notion that even as an educated black man, respect and pride are very important. I live in a black neighborhood and you don’t want anybody to even think about wanting to mess with you. Somehow, these are the problems we concern ourselves with. So I sometimes walk around with this air of “don’t f*ck with me or this might be a bad day for you”. We all know I’m as gangsta as they come, but we also all know that I purchased a Hillary Duff CD. The key is to not let anybody else know it. And I think this is a problem that is unique to the black man experience. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that we spend a lot of time trying to scare the bejesus out of white and black people. Hell, we don’t have anything else…all we have is our respect.

Or so we say.

And maybe that’s why we like to be lied to so much. We spend so much time trying to be the dude that everybody wouldn’t want to mess with, kind of as a manifestation of our idea of self-preservation, that despite the sheer impossibility of many of these rappers claims, we see them as a lot like us, even if we may come from totally different circumstances. Right?

I remember during the last episode of Season 3 of The Wire, after Stringer Bell, had been gangstaliciously murdered by Omar and Brother Mouzone, Detective McNulty was in Stringer’s apartment looking through his books and possessions and couldn’t believe the types of books String had been reading. It was so astounding to him he wondered aloud who in the hell was he chasing?

I wonder if a lot of these dudes are indeed like that. They all seem to look up to Tupac and we know the intelligent hoodlum he was. I know a lot of people don’t like Tupac as a rapper, and I have my days as well, but as a person he was the epitome of the young black man so many of us wish to be. Educated but respected by all. He had the pedigree, he had the struggle, he had the ability to rise above it, and he went out in a blaze of glory. Actually, nix that last part, I’d rather go out while drinking some Kool-Aid when I’m 98.

All in all, I wonder if the reason we love being lied to so much is because so many of us spend time lying to ourselves about who we really are. From white suburban “thugs” to some of the inner-city black “thugs”. Yeah the white boys get to grow out of it, but so many of us black men still fall victim to the idea that we have to be able to be respected in the streets, at age 30.

So yes, I like being lied too. Hell, I enjoy it thoroughly. And I think I don’t pay much attention to it because in some kind of weird way, I understand.

Besides, if I want honesty, I’ll just listen to Milli Vanilli.

So what about you? Do you like being lied to as well or do you even pay attention anymore?


Introducing VSB Live

Hey VSB Fam,

Per yesterday’s announcement, we are bringing you the livestream channel of the FAMU Forum for Black Men panel featuring Panama Jackson, Wale, Dr. Steve Perry and Enitan Bereola. You can find the video player, chatroom and social stream on our (new!) VSB Live page. You can view, chat and tweet about the event all from our VSB Live page. Make sure to log back on to VSB Live tonight at 7 PM EST (or 7:30ish) for the livestream to begin.

FYI: We don’t have any control over the show or the stream, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that it all goes as planned :) If not, Liz will be MIA at the time of the show (flying somewhere!), and won’t be able to update the site, so you might wanna check FAMU Man Rising for any last minute details and changes.

Hope you guys enjoy!

FAMU Black Men Forum

A Forum For Black Men: Featuring Panama Jackson, Wale, Dr. Steve Perry and Enitan Bereola

What up VSBers,

This is just a quick note to let all the folk in the FAMU/Tallahassee area know VSB’s Panama Jackson will be speaking TOMORROW (Thursday) at their FAMU Man Rising conference. He will be on the Forum For Black Men Panel with Dr. Steve Perry, Wale and Enitan Bereola. Peep the details:

If you’re going, or are in the area and wanna meet up with P, hit us up for more info. The event will be livestreamed too! If and when we get the embed code or link, we’ll create a new post (and possibly a chat) here on VSB tomorrow at 7pm EST. Now back to our scheduled post for the day.