A brick front building flanked by a Latino grocery store and an insurance agency, just down the street from an Asian market and not too far away from an Middle Eastern cafe-a 20 something black man with a nice fade cut and a black barber's smock over his street wear stood on the balcony so I knew we were in the right place. He leaned over the metal railing, watching the white lady with two brown kids get out of the mini van and head up the steps. By the time we got to the top, he had gone inside but the door quickly swung open as the man from outside silently held open the door for us.
Into the salon with the normal salon fare. Hair dryers, barber chairs, sinks, hair products. A black woman with salt and pepper hair was sitting in one of those chairs, getting her hair pressed by another black man.
"Hi. My son has an appointment with Tyrone."
The second man replies that he is Tyrone. Tyrone has skin that's a rich carmel and eyes that are not brown, more greenish blue mixed with hazel. I can't help but think of the stories I've heard about the Polish occupation of Haiti of long ago; the residual DNA occasionally fights its way through, evidenced in almond shaped Haitian eyes that are green instead of brown. He is also full of salt and pepper, a thick mop of hair on top with kinky twists that create corkscrew curls here and there.
The kids occupy themselves with their toys while the woman and I and Tyrone visit about my kids' hair. As I share about microbraids and loc tightening, another black man comes in the door. He's tall, well over 6 feet, and looking to find someone willing to do a walk in appointment. I wonder how he will fit in the chair while the man who opened the door for us motions for him to sit down and sets to work with a set of clippers. More time passes and we continue to wait.
Eventually it's Kenson's turn as the older woman pays and then leaves. As he hops into the chair, I trip over myself as I explain to Tyrone what I want done. "Just a trim, maybe an inch or two. Something to get the hair out of his eyes. I'd do it myself but I'm afraid of making it look like a mushroom."
And that's when the tripping starts. "And I think its good for him to be here, to see people who look him. I mean, my husband and I can't give him that."
Really? Did I really just tell the black barber that my black son needs to be around black people and that I can't give him that? Perhaps that was an intimate detail about my life that I should have kept to myself. Tyrone just nodded and said, "I understand."
Tyrone and his scissors clipped and shaped; Kenson got impatient and whined and fussed and wanted me to hold his hand. Conleigh played and got in the mini blinds and played on the floor and lost a toy in a hole and found her toy and sat in time out and played some more.
I found myself really hoping their behavior wouldn't be a topic of conversation once we left.
Actually, I just really hoped WE as a family would not be a topic of conversation once we left.
Three more customers enter, the first haircut customer leaves and another heavy set black man takes his place. Each customer knows the barbers by their names and vice versa.
The conversations flow easily. "Hey man! Watcha driving now?"
A 50's do wop hit comes on the soul only radio station. "You know you remember that song. Not like that rap of today."
Between the soul music, the Michelle Obama calendar, the Barack Obama presidential poster, the Vibe magazines on the coffee table, and the sense of community, I couldn't help but wonder if my kids would ever have that sense of blackness. I have never been one to put much stock in this idea that a white person should not parent a black child because they don't know how to teach a child to be black. Nor do I buy into the idea that there is a singular black culture that my child is missing out on. But today I couldn't help but feel a little bit inadequate. I couldn't help but think that maybe my Cosby reruns and jazz CD's were not enough.