About That Barbershop Video…

So any time I want to make a reply on Facebook that ends up being more than a sentence or two long, I try and redirect it over here to the blog. This is one of those times.

A video has been going around about a white girl who stops by a black barbershop with her boyfriend, and one of the hairdressers becomes highly critical of their interracial relationship. All three of those people are actors hired by a show called What Would You Do. Their schtick is that they put people in uncomfortable situations and see if anyone will speak up. I have a couple of criticisms about this video, some of which are from personal experience and some of which are from plain old critical thinking.

The first is this: While it is not stated, the video heavily implies that the terrible behavior on the part of the “hairdresser” is a common occurrence, when in reality, it’s completely set up. It’s important not to conflate this piece of performance art as the current state of race relations in barbershops.

Second, everyone except the “hairdresser” behaved either neutrally or in support of the “white girlfriend.” While in a situation such as the one presented, neutrality might not be the best response, but imagine the same scenario without the setup – neutral or supportive behavior would have made for a perfectly pleasant trip to the barbershop.

And third, while no one has the right to deride any human being in such a manner, I still have a hard time processing the idea that the onus for maintaining race relations has shifted to the black community. There ARE still plenty of examples of racism and discrimination in housing, education, employment, stop & frisk policies, unequal sentencing laws and incarceration rates. Like I said, no one should behave like this “hairdresser” did, but I also don’t think the black community needs to apologize for being pissed off about actual injustices.

Now for the personal experience part. I had occasion a few years ago to find myself as the “white girlfriend” in a black barbershop in Atlanta. I got some curious looks, my then-boyfriend vouched for me by saying, “She’s with me,” and then everyone smiled and I was introduced around. By then, I had come to expect the whole “curious look – vouching – welcoming” process, and in four years I never experienced anything more unpleasant than that in the black community (the white community made me far more nervous on a few occasions, though). I had exactly the same experience that everyone in that video would have had if there were no planted actors and camera crews.

Don’t get me wrong, this video gave me a lot of warm fuzzies to see people standing up for one another. We all should do that in real life when we see injustices. But let’s be sure that we’re addressing actual, real-life injustices rather than getting snowed by inaccurate videos designed to prey on our compassions.