Last month, I took my 2 year old son to get a haircut. A friend recommended a hip barbershop in Minneapolis where he had taken his 3 year old. My husband also needed a haircut, so we decided to turn it into a family affair. From the moment I walked into the barbershop, it was clear that the “vibe” was centered on particular notions of what it means to be a man. There were vintage music posters, loud rock music, and the chairs were made to look like they came from motorcycle parts. The implicit narrative was that being a man meant being tough and acting tough. That’s what makes you cool. That’s what makes you a man.
The time came for my 2 year old son to get his cut. A physically large male stylist came over to get us, barely greeting, or making eye contact. I could sense my son’s immediate nervousness and reminded him that he should be brave. The barber’s interpersonal style was not particularly warm, but he was efficient in his cutting. Halfway through the cut, the barber turned on a blow dryer to remove loose hair from my son’s neck. The loud noise startled my son and he started to cry. Using a gruff tone, the barber responded, “Stop crying, stop crying…oh stop it, stop being a baby.” I tried soothing my son in an effort to not ruin the “vibe” of the salon, but he continued to cry. The barber, clearly agitated, then roared out “WHINERS GET SHINERS.” I was stunned. Hot rage in my gut. Did this man just threaten physical harm on my 2 year old son? I quickly responded “He is only two years old. That is not how we do things in our family” and he shot back “Well that is how things are done in my chair.”
I froze. Unsure of what to do. Pull him out of the chair, half cut hair and leave, or politely allow him to finish? I chose to repeat my statement that it isn’t how we do things in our family, continuing to calm my scared son, and quietly waited for the haircut to be done.
When we left the salon, I shared what had happened with my husband. I began criticizing myself for not saying more, not standing up, not making a scene, and walking out. It made me think of the times I haven’t stood up, spoken out, and resisted. We are often told to stand up for what is right and to say something if you see something, but this experience was also a reminder that sometimes, in those moments, we freeze unsure of what to do, too stunned by the act itself to even react.
What does courage look like in these moments? How do we stand up, when our bodies don’t listen to what our brains are telling them to do? When we see or hear something, but we perform politeness, we act like we didn’t hear what was said, or we are afraid to get in the middle of something?
Community work often places us at the intersection of justice/injustice.
We called the barbershop the following day and requested the manager. She was horrified as we recounted the interaction. The barber no longer shows up on their staff page.