Just wanted to put that out there.
Anyway. Back to the blog at hand. Today, our blog is about:
Haircuts and Thick Descriptions
I must preface this article by saying that where I live, I am surrounded by crackers. Cracker-ass-crackers. Fat crackers, skinny crackers. Old crackers, baby crackers. There may be one black person in Fayette County, WV, but I've not even seen him in a while. Probably because it's been so cold.
It makes sense, though. There are a lot of things for white people to do here. Hunting and four-wheeling and snorting pills are among them. The coal mines are great places to work. A lot of us are here for the world-class rock climbing. Basketball? No, fool, I said rock climbing. There's also a real nice ice-skating rink in nearby Charleston. Every year, Fayetteville hosts "Bridge Day", where something like 200,000 white people crowd onto the western hemisphere's largest arch bridge and watch a bunch of other white people jump off of this bridge like lemmings with parachutes. Imagine that. Fayetteville also has the distinction of being the "Whitewater Capital of the United States", each year drawing over 50,000 white people from all over the U.S. to pile into rafts and go down the New and the Gauley Rivers. Does the idea of paying an inflated amount of money to get into a raft guided by some hung-over stoner white kid to risk life and limb on a dangerous river sound alluring to you? Do you like the idea of getting cold and wet? Would you tip your guide at the end of the trip because you liked that he flipped you in the turbulence of some cold rapid? Would you turn a blind eye to his none-to-subtle advances on your underage daughter or even your wife? If you answered "yes" to these questions, then chances are, you are white. Does this vacation scenario sound stupid to you? Then you are probably black. Whitewater rafting is a classic example of the retarded things that white people do. Not only do they do it, but they pay to do it. They eat it up. It's not called whitewater for no reason.
|Fayetteville, WV--all cream and no coffee. A man can't swing a cat without hitting a white person in this town.|
Anyways, I miss having black people around. If you are black and you are reading this, PLEASE get all of your friends up in your ride and come to Fayetteville. PLEASE!!! Our town is too white--it needs some funk, some soul. Some melanin. I want to see sassy and voluptuous women hollering at each other from Waterstone to The Vandalian. I want to see some real ball being played. I want to see b-boys break it down in front of the courthouse. I want to see some game, like real game. I want to see switches hit all the way down Court Street. I want to hear bass. I want to see dubs. I want to see these dubs up on three!!! That last paragraph--the one about all that stupid stuff that goes on here--it was all a lie, I swear it. You'll love it here. Promise.
|Court Street, the way it could be. Believe...|
So recently I took a trip to Norfolk. While there, I decided to get a haircut...
Okay, so it went down like this: Carrie and I take a trip to Norfolk for my 32nd birthday to see our buddies, the Fussell family. Rachael is a mega-talented superphotographer and Jon, or 'Fuss' as he is called, is a Navy SEAL, just like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. Their two little girls, Reagan and Scout, were, coincidently, having their 3rd and 1st birthday parties, respectively. Being the party animals that we are, we decided to make it into the mega-birthday-blowout. The theme of the party, Reagan's idea, was Toy Story. Who would win in a fist-fight--Buzz Lightyear or Woody?
|Fuss and his brother, Chris, are Navy SEALs, just like Charlie Sheen and this other guy. Kick-Ass!!!|
Grand Opening! Haircuts--$5!!!
Carrie notes the unkempt scraggle of my mop and suggests that may not be a bad idea, what with the party and all, to take advantage of this opportunity and make myself look sharp. I agree. It's not every day that a man can get a five-dollar haircut. We pull over.
As I approach the front of the shop, it becomes apparent to me that this establishment is different from other places I've gotten my hair cut in the past. A man, who I presumed to be a barber, was smoking a Newport out front by the sign. I begin the interaction.
So. You guys cut hair?
Um...do you cut hair like mine?
Yeah, dawg. We don't discriminate. Come on in and have a seat. You're next in line.
Word. Let's do this.
In his The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), the famed anthropologist Clifford Geertz uses the term thick description to illustrate his then cutting-edge methodology of an ethnographic study. The thick description of a human behavior is one explains not only the behavior, but also the context within which the behavior is observed. Thus, the behavior becomes meaningful to the outside observer. Put simply, the observer becomes a participant, deepening his or her understanding of the observed. This methodology has become one of the standard modes of operation for contemporary social anthropologists and ethnographers.
With this in mind, I had been thrown serendipitously into what i perceived to be one of the epicenters of black male culture--the barbershop on a Saturday. Sure, I've seen The Cosby Show lots of times, but here I was in the thick of it. As I sat in this barbershop waiting on my haircut, I could not stop thinking about Geertz, and how the thick description was first revealed to him.
Setting the scene for The Interpretation of Cultures, is an essay entitled Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. This essay describes Geertz's first experience observing a cockfight in a Balinese village in the 1950's. Despite cockfighting's extreme popularity among Balinese men, the Indonesian government had outlawed it. When the police broke up the cockfight to which Geertz was attending, he split the scene and hid along with the other participants, thus legitimizing himself in the eyes of his Balinese subjects as an active participant, as opposed to just an observer. The tension between himself and the participants of the cockfight had been effectively dissolved by his participation.
In this essay he describes the importance of the cockfight and gambling as ritual within Balinese male society, as well as how it is an embodiment of social structure and kinship. At the cockfight, the men can be men. They can gamble, drink, gossip, brag, and fight. Social taboos can be cast aside. The "cocks", strutting about, laden with double-entendre, are used as metaphors for the Balinese men of this particular village.
So here I was, a white guy in a black barbershop on a Saturday. From here, the weekly news and gossip disseminates. The men put down their guard and talk about guy things. They leave not only well-informed, but looking sharp to boot. My own little Balinese cockfight. Don't mind me, guys, I'm just getting my hair cut. I'm a participant. One of you...
|The barbershop is a cultural icon of African-American male society, as exemplified by Ice Cube in The Barbershop.|
1. The direction in which the hair grows. Very important!!! White people hair grows in certain directions. These directions are nonuniform. It is imperative for the clipper operator to be aware of this strange racial phenomenon and wield the clippers accordingly, that is, against the direction of growth, not with it. It's like wiping. You want to go front to back. Otherwise, you'll run into problems. When my barber friend started running the clippers back to front on the top of my head, I realized he had probably never cut the hair of a white fellow. I refrained from comment and let him do his thing.
2. Style of the bangs. Although there are lots of ways in which white men wear their bangs, straight across in a laser-level line is not typically one of them. Unless you are:
a. under ten years of age
b. a burgeoning rapper
c. in a boy band
this hairstyle is just not really accepted. This mode of a man wearing his bangs in this fashion was immortalized and sanctified by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber (1994), one of white cinema's most seminal films. In white culture, few men are more respected than Mr. Carrey. Since the revelation of this iconic film, few white men have had the gall to wear their hair this way. It's kind of like an unspoken respect thing. To be so brazen as to wear one's hair in this fashion is similar to blasphemy. I would not expect a black barber to be aware of this bizarre cultural nuance. Regardless, this hallowed movie completely reshaped white culture, from the ways in which we wear our hair to the ways we hear music. Take a minute and reflect:
and make sure you watch this...and remember how your life was changed...
3. Our Beards. I know, our beards look scruffy. We look like lumberjacks. Why? I don't know. I guess we like them this way. Does this unkempt fashion validate our manhood? Maybe. At any rate, although we do trim the length of our beards, we typically do not strive to achieve chiseled, laser-precision lines with our facial hair. With a trim and symmetrical beard, it is more difficult to prolong the hoppy taste of the dark and expensive microbrews we drink. This type of beard also looks strange with pretentious outdoor outer-wear. Again, some do wear their beards in this way, but they have transcended racial limitation.
I digress. And you're brain is swamped with information. You'll be smarter because of it. Okay, back to the haircut. Those three rules about white boy hair--my barber didn't follow any of them. I'm not blaming him, though--it's not like it's his fault. I just think it was a new experience for him. Just like I had never gone to a black barbershop. How ridiculously ethnocentric was I to expect him to know how to cut white people hair? How smug of me to entertain this notion. How arrogant.
As he chiseled away at my sideburns, bangs, and beard, my arrogance became clear to me. I realized I was getting exactly the haircut I deserved. He finished and spun me around to the mirror for me to revel in my own reflection. I gave him a whitey-guilt tip, put on my hat, and left for the birthday party.
|One of the hundred pictures of me from the insert that comes with my boyband/rap-guy album. Photo by Ben Gilkison www.bengilkison.blogspot.com|
Three days later, I went platinum. I am my own backup dancer. I don't even remember any of y'all. Peace, snitches.