A black guy walks in to a high-end hair salon in the Hamptons. . . .
That’s as far as I’ve gotten in my attempt to formulate a joke about my experience. But maybe it’s funny enough as it is.
Research for “Art Outside the Box,” which ran in the Aug. 14 edition of The Star, prompted my visit to Salon Xavier (pronounced za-vee-ay) to check out the art, and I can’t ever recall being so self-conscious before an interview. I combed my short, “naturally curly” hair — something I do only a handful of times a year — to fit in as best as I could in the presence of people who pay a pretty penny to be perfectly coiffed.
Growing up in New Orleans led me to believe that hair salons are the last bastian of the separate-but-equal doctrine in the United States. There were black hair places, and there were white hair places, and nothing in between. Even my mom’s hair salon in the swank Uptown neighborhood was the only all-black business in the area.
Needless to say, I experienced a tinge of anxiety on this, my first trip to a (predominantly) white salon, likening myself to the Rosa Parks of beauty parlors.
To my surprise, I wasn’t turned away at the door because my hair wasn’t up to snuff; to the contrary, the receptionist was very friendly, requesting that I sit in the waiting area until the owner was free to talk to me, which I did . . . until I tired of wondering what the three desperate housewives with whom I shared the space were thinking. I then got up and wandered around the airy salon to look at Lane Berkwit’s photography exhibition, because that’s one of the reasons that I was there, after all.
I was stopped dead in my tracks when I stumbled across another black person in the pedicure room, a Tyra Banks look-alike, sitting next to an elderly woman wearing a hat fresh out of the Kentucky Derby handbook. Seeing those two, side-by-side, freeing their feet of dead skin and hangnails, gave me a newfound attitude about racial inclusion at hair salons.
I departed with my head held high. But the more I thought about my experience, the more I questions I had. Just because the Tyra Banks doppelganger had her feet serviced at the salon doesn’t mean she got her weave fixed there, too.
I wondered where black people go to have their haircare needs met in the Hamptons. . . .
Immediately, I pulled out my iPhone and Googled “black barber Hamptons,” and two Southampton businesses materialized: Steve’s Barber Shop and Affricardo. I breathed a sigh of relief until I realized they were located in Southampton, England.
Then I clicked on to blackbarber.net, which, yes, hosts a database for black barbershops. It returned no results for the entire South Fork, and I think I heard it whisper, “Run. . . .”
There was no way I was about to call local barbershops out of the blue to ask if they cut my kind of hair. That would just be silly.
I remembered that Helen Rattray, Star publisher, wrote a column in which she described the various barbershops and salons in Sag Harbor. I thought for sure, with a well-established black community, including the Azurest neighborhood, the article would contain information about where black people go in Sag Harbor. Wrong. Doesn’t she know?
When I think about black Hamptonites, only a few come to mind. Both Colson Whitehead, author, and B. Smith, restaurateur, sport dreadlocks they’ve probably been growing for decades. Hmm. . . . On the other end of the low-maintenance spectrum, Russell Simmons shaves his head. No clues there.
Me? I’ve been cutting my own hair since 1999, when I was a freshman at Morehouse College, a historically black school in Atlanta. (I even practiced on my grandpa and some white folk.) Of course there were plenty of black barbers around, but I cut them out of my budget to allocate more funds to stuff like dining out and drinking, and buying a fake ID.
At $20 a pop, every other week, I figure I’ve saved $6,760 on haircuts, and I’ve become quite the wine connoisseur in the process.
Conversely, when I did away with the expenditure, I also eliminated from my life the black barbershop experience — the maniacal, sports-team-trash-talkin’, white-people-are-crazy, is-this-negro-gonna-cut-my-hair-or-dance?, graphic-descriptions-of-vaginas-even-when-kids-are-around experience. And I kinda miss that shit, yo.
What’s more, I gave up the possibility of donning a trendy hairstyle that only a skilled tonsorial artist can accomplish. No more high-top fades, low-top fades, or anything in the middle. No more mistakes like when my great uncle, my childhood barber, leveled the rat tail I’d proudly grown for three months with one swipe of his clippers. “I didn’t know you had it,” he claimed.
“How? You cut around it for the past three months!” I yelled back at him, in tears, picking up clumps of my wooly black hair from the floor, asking him to reattach it. He was clearly too old for the job.
If I’d had a barber, I would have probably indulged in the recent black mohawk fad. Hell, maybe I would have gotten a couple of razor-carved messages in the back of my head just for old time’s sake. Or maybe an American flag . . . in case anyone doubted my nationality.
Now, I’m running out of time as my hairline is fast-receding. As it vacates my scalp, I remain steadfast not to forget all the good times we had. I’ve dyed it blonde, red, and an unintentional rust-orange. It’s been wavy, straightened, greasy, dry, but never Jheri curled or permed, praise the Lord.
A part of me isn’t giving up so easily. Somewhere in the 1,000-page Obamacare law has to be a provision to cover black hair transplants. If there is, I won’t follow the customary procedure and allow them to take my ass hair and fuse it to the top of my head. I’d rather the silky mane from an Afghan (the hound, not the person). If Michael Jackson can be born with an Afro and die with “good hair,” why can’t I?
I’m sure there are places out here that meet the haircare needs of blacks—or at least I hope there are.
Larry LaVigne II is a reporter at The Star.