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Barber Shop Not Exactly Comb One, Comb All


Published November 10, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.

Poor Mike Aldrich. After turning away a black patron from his barber shop, saying he wouldn't be able to help the guy because he wasn't good at doing black hair, the Bellows Falls barber has become the target of some substantial community ire. The Associated Press reported that Aldrich's refusal to barber the patron — Dr. Darryl Fisher, of Taos, N.M. — sparked a demonstration by people who claimed his denial of service was racially motivated. 

Oh, you gotta love Vermont and its knee-jerk PCness. Well done, white people, for making a fuss about something you know nothing about — black hair.

It is entirely possible that Aldrich is, in fact, a racist who didn't want to cut Fisher's hair because he doesn't like people of color. If that's the case, I best not be defending the guy. But let's assume for the sake of argument that Aldrich is a stand-up guy who loves all people regardless of color, creed, political persuasion or sexual proclivity. Then this story makes a lot more sense. 

When Fisher walked into Mike's Barber Shop, he asked Aldrich if a barber was around to cut his coif. Aldrich, the barber who owns the shop, told Fisher the barber wasn't in. A few hours later, Fisher walked by the shop and saw Aldrich cutting hair. Clearly, dude was a barber. And clearly, he's also a bad fibber. 

But, as Aldrich told the AP, he was simply trying to mitigate embarrassment for both men. See, Aldrich, like 99.9 percent of white hair stylists, doesn't know how to cut black hair. That's understandable, since he lives in Bellows Falls, a town of 3000 white people and 11 black people. If you're the aggrieved patron, Fisher, why would you want someone to cut your hair who doesn't understand the complexity of your tresses?

When I was in college, one of my roommates was black. Her hair was important to her and, as such, she spent almost as much time on her 'do as she did on her schoolwork. Our room was full of products that I had never seen in my local Rite Aid — oils, lotions and home relaxers that made our tiny cell of a room smell like the set of Queen Latifah's Barbershop franchise knockoff, Beauty Shop. Occasionally my roommate's mother would drive three hours from her home to set up a mini salon on our room. When she left, everything in the room was covered in a fine layer of spray sheen. I couldn't talk on the phone without the handset slipping from my grip.

If I ever suggested to my roommate that she save her mother the trip and just get her hair done at my salon, she would have looked at me like I had horns, a tail and cloven feet. White people don't know black hair, she would have said to me. And she'd be right. We don't.

Similarly, if my roommate suggested that I get my locks lopped at a black salon, I would most likely have balked. It's not to say that the hair dresser wouldn't have been able to muddle through and give me a halfway decent cut. But, honestly, I want to get my hair cut by someone who has experience cutting hair like mine — you know, a messy red mullet. If you want to get a wedding dress made, your first stop is not going to be a tailor who makes bespoke suits, right?

The "ethnic hair" industrial complex is a $9 billion business. There are products for silky hair and products for natural hair and products to give you more hair (in the event that you lose some from all the chemical treatment). There are weaves and perms and and braids and locks. Oh, my. Thorny cultural and aesthetic issues aside, clearly this is a specialized industry where some expertise is needed.

So, assuming Aldrich is an upstanding human, it sort of makes sense that he would plead ignorance regarding black hair. And maybe it's just as well for Fisher. I'm sure he didn't want some whitey brush cut, anyway.