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Barbershop Chatter by Zaya Kuyena

“There’s one, there’s another.”

“Why can’t someone do it right?”

I disturbingly ask myself.

“At least skim the top off some more, just to level it. My gosh- he’s on television for most of the time…cameras will spot that!”

I’ve become very critical when I deconstruct (New President Elect) Obama’s hair. I was discussing his hair maintenance with a few fraternity brothers visiting Toronto, who live in the same neighbourhood as Obama in the South side of Chicago, and whom share the same barbershop. They said that they would pass on the word to Obama’s barber; but I reiterated that as a learning barber, I see mistakes from left to right top to bottom. Even on the heads of adored politicians.

My concluding suggestion was for David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager to hire a ‘roadie barber’, someone who would have in the last 22 months traveled with Sen. Obama on the campaign and would take on the task of focusing on his hair, of course working alongside the make-up artist. I’m more than aware that Sen. Clinton had one during her Primary run and Gov. Sarah Palin definitely had to of has one as a Vice-President candidate? A barber is similar to a stylist it may use alternate methods in its craft, though still very imperative to have for men, and a particular barber for a black men.

In the latter moments leading up to yesterday’s momentous election, I had begun an apprenticeship a few weeks ago at Onyx Barbershop, one of the best barbershops in the city. It’s been tiresome and inspiring to notice the professionalism, artistic craft and organic multicultural camaraderie that is shared in this shop located a block away from one of downtown Toronto public attractions, Dundas Square.

(sorry, for the marketing better pitch then that)

Almost a month ago, when I nervously begun my sessions, the rounds of cleaning-up the numerous hairs around cracks and corner, buying lunch for staff; one day to my lack of knowledge, I accidentally interrupted the preparations of a political forum that was going to begin at the later part of the evening. The Forum was going to be a third place for people to discuss the issues occurring at the local and national level of Canadian politics. The event included representatives of the four major political parties (the Tories, The Liberals, The New Democrats, and the Green Party), disappointingly there was no presence of a representative form the Bloq Quebecois. I would have enjoyed hearing a French Quebequer explain with zeal, the issue of separatism to Phillipino, Jamaican and Jewish young males all looking to just get a fresh hair cut to start their weeks

The soiree was led by an organization focused on supporting African-Canadian fathers; It’s raison etre was to create a safe location in which organic and intentional conversations could occur with the people being the most comfortable and able to be interactive without the attempts of being intimidated. The demographic targeted was one of the most disengaged people in North America in the political process, young men between the ages of 18-35. There were people who had accidentally attended with the intention of just getting a hair cut, and those who took the time out of their days to take sit or stand by the crowded wall to hear political ideologies presented without any strings, and as one person stated, “on the people’s turf”. The city’s very own hair-cut connoisseurs were also taken aback by the showcase of people that were attracted to the event’s discourse. The evening went well with political chatter, minus the verbal assaults that usually springs from conventional debates.

At my following shift, I met many who had stated that they had enjoyed the discussion and appreciated the relaxed approached and tone of the political candidates; and there willingness not simply to speak but to listen to the concerns of hundred or so young men cramped in shop. Even as I prepared my work station, I had inquired at one of my supervisors about his own opportunity to vote; he disappointingly answered a quiet no with a sigh, stating that after the intriguing conversations, he didn’t find the time between work and family to attend to a polling station. I later asked if he was more interested in the American elections, as many of my young chumps choose to say to avoid from Canadian politics. He simply shook his head, suggesting a stern, no. He did voice that the fact that America was on the verge to voting for a black man was special.

And that was it for that day about politics. The dialogue for the rest of my time there went onto the girl on the King magazine was better than the girl on GQ, and how the Raptors could beet the Boston Celtics.

As I wrestle between my own formative years in the 18-35 age group. I’m taken aback not just by the low voter turn out by young people in the Canadian elections but the complete political disengagement and cynicism of young men impacting all ethnicities and class, including those south of the border. Many of my own educated friends of colour don’t vote, and find various and really creative reasons not to. From voicing that their radical political ideologies are not congruent with those of the candidate’s platform, to “not feeling taken by storm enough by the political leaders”; and finally, the banner reason (or excuse) for my generation “not wanting to vote between two evils.”

Last night’s defining victory that has been the topic of discussion for long hours at the barbershop, has shattered the skepticism that has choked the people I spray alcohol on their head. I hope it provided a paradigm shift for aspirations that may look bleak to in history books, and as I scrap the little hairs on the upper lips of my customers, I hope they learn to re-use their voices for more of a discourse on hope and pragmatic change instead of criticism and disgruntlement with the system.

I don’t want to suggest that they are void from being victims at times of a culture that hasn’t always been the most inclusive, yet what I’ve learn through my studies of political movements in Africa, India, Eastern Europe, that when one refuses to us the little freedom they have to participate in social change, but rather wants to focus on the little hairs of cynicism and deceptive narratives that keep people numb of participating in grassroots change; we create in our society people who look extremely extravagant and beautiful after they leave the barber seat but lead less than meaningful lives with only nihilistic worldview.

Maybe my small chatter over their shoulders about which design they would prefer on their head and which night club they’ll go to tonight, all masqueraded subversively with a conversation about the political leadership tug-of-war in Zimbabwe, would sow seeds of curiosity and possibly and incrementally see minds change. I think there’s a better word for that, called repent. A mystic two thousand years ago, said a new world was upon us all after stating that word. Maybe last night was linear vision of what that may look.

And to my brilliant, gifted and handsome customers, may you have ears to hear, eyes to see, minds to think and hands to toil for change like many people have done before you.

Or maybe you just want to put your efforts and focus on fades, cuts, and the little hairs on your head. Just to let you know, I don’t think the new President-Elect does much of that.

And I’m glad he doesn’t.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Lon November 5, 2008, 4:59 pm

    a beautifully written post Zaya…

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