Shannon Williams

Barbershops are the best places to not only get a good haircut or eyebrow arching, but also to get schooled on a variety of topics.

My cousin, Tom Jones, has been a barber at Leon’s Barbershop on Indianapolis’ east side for as long as I can remember. Leon’s, or “The Shop” as many in the community refer to it, is typical of old school barbershops. You have the soda machine, the table littered with various newspapers and magazines, the television that some people are completely focused on or others hardly notice and, of course, Leon’s has the occasional neighborhood resident who stops by to ask to sweep up the floors, try to sell something or simply to say hello.

The shop is also reminiscent of yesteryear because everything is so familiar, from the barbers who, like Tom, have been there for several years, to the ambiance in general. The shop is comfortable, safe and feels like home every time I go there.

Tom arches my eyebrows, so I am at the shop on a pretty regular basis. Generally I go there, say my hellos, indulge in small talk with the other barbers — one of whom is one of the longest-serving female barbers in the city — and then take a seat in Tom’s chair and listen.

I am always amazed at the conversations at the barbershop — they range in topics from politics, to entertainment, current events and definitely sports.

I like to just listen and observe, because I am almost guaranteed to hear something insightful, funny or downright ridiculous. I also listen to be educated. There are all types of people who come to the shop: professionals, retirees, blue-collar workers, youth, parents, college students, people looking for jobs … the list goes on and on. Each person who walks through that door has their own sets of experiences that make their perspectives on various topics unique to them; that intrigues me, so I almost always listen with minimal interruption or participation.

The last time I was at the shop, I knew I had to write this column, but I wasn’t sure of the direction I needed to go. I wanted to talk about the Black Lives Matter mantra and why it is important for our community to not only recite those words, but also give life to them through our actions.

Violence is all around us. And if we are honest, we know that Blacks are robbing, shooting and killing each other at alarming rates.

Yes, racism is bad. So are discrimination and police brutality. And Black-on-Black violence is also bad. I asked the barbers at Leon’s why they thought Blacks hurt one another and if they had any hope for the future of our people. Here is some of what they had to say:

Self-hate

One barber said oftentimes the people who are so comfortable hurting someone else do so freely because they actually hate themselves. In other words, if people don’t love themselves or value themselves, how can they see value or love in another person? He believes once we begin loving ourselves more, we will see a reduction in crime.

Materialism

Tom said, “There is nothing wrong with wanting or having nice things. However, there is something wrong with killing each other for them.” He said people are so focused on getting the things they want that they have adopted a “by any means necessary” approach. Unfortunately for many, that approach means hurting another individual, oftentimes with little regard. Tom also said because many people lack compassion, they don’t think what they do is wrong.

Lost identity

During my chat with the barbers, we spoke briefly about the origins of slavery and its impact on our community. Fred, another barber at the shop, believes we have lost pride in ourselves, largely because we don’t have much evidence of our lineage. He said if we understood where we came from as well as the traditions, strength and perspectives of our ancestors, Blacks would have more pride in ourselves and our families.

Building a bridge

Tom said one of the best ways to combat violence in the minority community is to bridge the gaps from one generation to another. He also thinks bridging the gaps between different classes will help, as well. If more upper-class people understood the plight of the lower class, perhaps their perspectives would change and there could be more solidarity toward helping the disenfranchised.

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