White Mom, Black Son, barbershop revelations

Kathy Osborne
Greensboro, NC

Trans-racial adoption has given me new eyes regarding race. I am Caucasian, my son is multi-racial but appears black to the world. I have attempted to provide the “Black Barbershop” experience for him, thinking he would be getting this cultural exposure if he lived in a traditional family, raised by Black parents. As it turns out, I am probably the one who has received the most “cultural enlightenment” . Taking him for a haircut has resulted in me finding myself in one of those rare experiences where I am in the racial minority in a group. It is from that experience that I allow myself to try and imagine the sense that someone in an ethnic minority must experience on a daily basis. At times, I am looked at with suspicion. I have been asked if I am his foster mother. I have waited for over an hour for his “turn” until no customers remained in the store, only to have the barber ask me if he was there for a haircut. What a curious world we live in.

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11 Responses to "White Mom, Black Son, barbershop revelations"
  1. Kate Candy says:

    It’s not really that curious. Why didn’t you explore these issues before you adopted? Why didn’t you have a game plan? How about this one: join a black church, shop at black stores, eat in black restaurants, get your hair styled at a black beauty shop. How about seeing black people as a part of your everyday life instead of the one off experience of going to the barber shop? What about if you told people you were black, light-skinned. Think about reading The Color of Water to see one way a white mom dealt with having black kids. You are the author of your story. We are all out of Africa. Really.

    • Matt West says:

      Why doesn’t she just put on blackface and single a minstrel song? My descendants left that hellhole of a continent 50,000 years ago. No way I’m going back.

      • Jenny says:

        Hi Matt,
        I wonder what has been your experience to leave you so angry with Africa. I agree that there has been so much terrible exploitation and cruelty, and that it continues today — dictator to citizens, tribe to tribe, religion to religion. It’s terribly painful. And yet there are people and actions of such kindness, grace, and beauty, too…
        If you and I were neighbors I would ask you to go out for ice cream and exchange our stories.
        You never know how sensitive a person will be about some aspect of identity — race, appearance, religion, cultural habits, favorite music! — thank goodness it’s possible to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I didn’t know. Will you help me understand?”
        Please count me as someone who rejoices in the diversity of creation, and who practices peaceful conflict resolution.
        May you be well.

        • Tim Childs says:

          The only way forward is to accept that we all suffer, that being human is so complex, so wonderful and so difficult without all the racism, prejudices of all kinds, and all the s*** we heap on other people. Yes, there will always be people who hurt others in all kinds of ways, and some of them may be so entrenched in their position that you might never reach them, but at least we must try. If it isn’t racism, then it’s class in my country, then it’s religious intolerance, oppression of women, tribal oppression, rich oppressing the poor and on it goes; life is unfair and that’s the way it is and possibly the way it’s always been. We can add to this by becoming like all the other haters and oppressors, ignorantly hating, or we can take a stand and learn to see the same light in others as we hope other people see in us.
          Most people who hate, for whatever reason and even if there is some justification, are not aware that hatred turns inward and will make you ill and unhappy and becomes an addiction where you need more and more to justify your views, unbalanced as they may be. Finally, blaming someone else or another group is a convenient way of refusing to accept you, and all of us, have issues and problems and prejudices too.

      • Angela Shortt says:

        Blackface and ministrel songs were the intentionally derogatory inventions of white Americans. They have NOTHING to do with Africa, past or present. Trust me, no one is asking you to return there, and when your descendents left, it wasn’t a hellhole. Shaken by climate changes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, yes. But I think you are referring the current condition of post-colonial Africa. Yes, the continent has a lot of problems. And so does America, as your post indicates.

    • Angela Shortt says:

      Kate Candy: You know, there are different ways of looking at the barbershop experience. Obviously, I’m black, and I have taken my son to the barbershop on numerous occasions when he was growing up. And it wasn’t a comfortable experience for me, either. It is a male-centric environment in which women can enter, but it’s better to drop your son off and pick him up later. The place became a little too quiet when I stayed there waiting for my son. As he grew up, he requested that I leave. When I asked him why, he said he liked listening to the old guys talk, and they didn’t do that as much when I was around. I was reluctant to leave after he said that. What in the world were they saying? What kind of stuff would my son pick up from them?

      Yes, they did use language that was on the salty side. But mostly, the barbershop provided my son with the gift of learning from a variety of black men’s perspectives. He told me they talked about politics A LOT, from progressive, liberal, moderate and conservative points of view. They talked sports, local news (with more than a little gossip thrown in), religion, education, and yes, women (this bothered me, but apparently there were different perspectives on this, also) Oftentimes, these subjects came up in the form of stories, told with grandiose embellishment, personal revelation, and best of all, with a lot of historical information. I’m sure they didn’t see themselves as modern day griots (African storytellers), but as my son told me about his experiences listening to these men, that is what came to my mind. They are the keepers of the stories that might not be told in other settings.

      Later on, my father took my son to the barbershop, and this became a bonding ritual between them. My dad loved “talking mess” with “other old guys”, which was hysterically funny to my son. He wasn’t always enthusiastic about the stories when he was very young, in fact, he was mostly interested in getting out of the barber chair with the booster seat as soon as possible. But he’s a grown man now, and he looks back on those days with affection, and with the realization that he is now one of the “older dudes” to the little boys coming in with their moms to get their haircuts. And story-telling culture of the black barbershops continues for him. And thank God!

  2. Lisa Stark says:

    amen! my son is bi-racial and goes to a black barber I lived in France and know what it’s like to be out of my element. those times are good for the soul and make you think next time…

  3. WisdomSeed says:

    Sigh… Black people are a mixed-race ethnicity.

    • Tim Childs says:

      I think that most people in the West are mixed race, whether white or black or whatever. The sadness that racism and prejudice has caused throughout history is so vast you could fill a million books with it. When we just see the other person as a human with the same God-given rights as ourselves we make a contribution, in our own small way, to a better world. Hating is the easy way out, actually trying to respect and understand someone else from a different background or skin colour or ethnicity or religion or country or language actually takes work, it takes courage, it means we come out of our ‘mind ghetto’ and see that we are all essentially the same and with the same needs, the need to be loved and respected, the need to get on, the need to be happy and feel useful.

      • WisdomSeed says:

        Most people in the West may be of mixed ethnicities, but not as many are mixed race, but then what is enough of one that it can be sustained in the other and considered ‘mixed’. Not seeing someone’s racial or more importantly ethnic differences is kind of racist in itself. There is nothing wrong with knowing someone is different from you. You can go from knowing to accepting, to tolerating to appreciating, and it is fine.

        It is highly consequential to consider oneself superior to others because of something one had no control over. It is highly consequential to deny someone, based on race or ethnicity (or whatever gender politic one may enjoy) the same rights that you enjoy. It is not wrong to say someone is different from you because of a ethnic or cultural ideology they follow.

        It is human to try and group things like people, to take note of the differences in them, even to be afraid of them because you lack familiarity with them. Those things are all quite human. It is highly consequential to oppress persons who are not like you, simply because they are not like you and you are in a position to oppress.

        We will get though this. But keep it in context that humans have been around for a few millenia, civilzation only 10,000 years and the United States is only a few centuries into this experiment of ‘equality’ and a scant few decades into the harder legislative efforts needed.

        • Tim Childs says:

          Ah, now you’re asking a very good question my friend: ‘but then what is enough of one that it can be sustained in the other and considered ‘mixed” I’m British but the same will hold true most places, in that you meet very light skinned people, almost white, who will say firmly they are black; and likewise there are many people in the British Isles and the US, who are darker skinned, but are firm in the opinion they are white, Anglo-Saxon whatever. Are you then whatever you want to be? Is ethnicity as much identity and cultural upbringing as ‘race’, whatever that really means anyway?

          The PC attitude in England, curiously often from white Middle class liberals, is that we are all the same, which of course is nonsense because we are not. However, what they are saying , I assume, is that we should be treated the same, which of course we should be. But, people being what they are, no matter how nice people want things to be nice for everyone, we are aware that prejudices everywhere diminish some people, and allow others to dominate, exploit and otherwise prosper. As you say, there is no thing wrong to accept we are all different and we should be respected for that. No one complains when they eat other cultures foods or listens to different music from all over the world, or watches films from this country, so why would someone then be prejudiced about another ethnicity?

          ‘It is highly consequential to deny someone, based on race or ethnicity (or whatever gender politic one may enjoy) the same rights that you enjoy.’ Well, that gets right to the heart of the matter. Class in Britain, racism in the US, tribal dominations in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the Maghreb, religious superiority all over the world, and many more operate on the notion of this group being superior to that group being inferior, and this then being the justification for all the ills, troubles, oppression and exploitation that litters the graveyard of history.
          It is understandable that humans group themselves up for many reasons, and it is understandable that people are suspicious of other people, or at least are unsure of them and their motives. We all need a dose of caution in life because it is a hard, unfair and even dangerous world out there. But when hatred is turned on groups of people, for no reason at all, for me it is hard to understand. I could not countenance hating or harming another person for who they are for no reason. The hater, the supremacist, of any ethnicity, is often, but not always, someone who wants to blame their own failings on others; the guy from a broken home or neglect, no values, little education, few if any real prospects, perhaps a drink or drug problem and in and out of prison then latches on to the idea that his skin colour or ‘race’ is something to be proud of, and because it is all he (or she) has and it then becomes a quasi-religion, and family and identity all in one.
          I am obviously aware through your photo that you are an African-American and would be naïve not to accept or understand the centuries of racism, injustice, exploitation and suffering that was meted out to black people in Europe and the US. It was, and perhaps still is, a calumny and injustice that stains the West, and shows the lie that European civilisation was about social justice, progress and democracy when it was never about those things. How can people be racist towards black people when most popular global culture, certainly the ‘pop’ music that dominates the world is primarily African-American in origin? And also the teen and global culture that came from that music and that artistic expression.
          My own story, for what it’s worth is of being (mostly) Irish descent, but equally born in England as Working class English, with poor parents, although bright, doing mostly menial jobs and struggling in relative poverty although not deprived. I have low self worth and many issues to deal with, and although I can’t say it’s all due to ethnicity and background, because many people in England have Irish ancestry, there is racism and there is class, and these are still issues that affect our country today, and although racism in the US is much worse and class in the UK is not as bad, (it was in the past) they have the same roots in history and the same injustice and false cosily held and often unchallenged notions underpin them both.
          So, we cannot change the past, because the oppressors and the oppressed are both long gone, but we can live purposefully in the present and be more cognisant of the future, and may I add we start by accepting that every other person wants a better life, usually has a mum and dad who loves them, siblings, friends, and wants to raise a family and have a better life. God created us all, and there is no favouritism with Him whatsoever.

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