A friend suggested that I take my antique mantel clock to a repair shop in an unfamiliar part of town. Waiting for the shop to open, I noticed a barbershop beside it. I needed a trim, but the barber’s tinted window did not allow me to see how many customers might be waiting, so I stepped inside.

canstockphoto3884183The tall, young barber said he could take me in half an hour, and pointed to two little boys seated with their family. Apparently, the shop catered to African-American men. That was true of the barber, his customers, and several neighborhood men engaged in conversation with him. Hairstyle wall posters featured African-American models and a large Zulu tribal mask hung next to them.

When the repair shop finally opened, I left my clock next door and came back to wait my turn. The spectators gossiped and joked loudly until the barber motioned me to his chair. Then the room fell silent, a couple of men drifted away, and one who remained crossed his arms to regard my white face with apprehension.

The barber tried to make conversation with me, but I know nothing about sports teams–though he offered opinions about the NFL, NBA, and college football. The bystander, who’d been so talkative for the past half hour, said nothing.

Finally, the barber held a hand mirror in front of me and asked how the haircut looked. “It’s fine,” I said. “The length’s just right.”

Our spectator dropped his arms and broke into a smile. “Yes, sir. It looks mighty fine,” he agreed.

“Hair is hair,” the barber told him. “We take all kinds here.”