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Modern Racism

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The Barber Shop and Modern Racism

The Barber Shop

1- I accompanied a friend of mine, Phillip, to his barber shop in his neighborhood at 49th and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. In this neighborhood, I was instructed by Phil to carry my legal weapon being the lone Caucasian in the predominately black/Hispanic neighborhood, due to the violence of gang activity. So after being instructed to wear neutral colors such as white or black, we went so he could get a haircut. My normally clean cut self is definitely out of my environment. We park his car in a parking lot on the corner, and he is immediately greeted by a group of 3 young dark skinned black men, in dark baggy oversized clothing with brand new flat brimmed hats and Jordan basketball shoes. They exchange a handshake and we move towards the barber shop. At this point I am observed as the outsider, from the little kids playing on the corner to the gang members selling what I can assume is crack, judging by the tweaking, raggedy, twitchy individuals dropping money off and running away. We enter the barber shop that was built in, what appears to be the mid 1950’s. Inside, is a replica of the Eddie Murphy movie, “Coming to America” except for an old Jewish man there is a surprisingly, a 65 year old Asian man named Han sitting in the corner. There are 3 black barbers who address myself as cracker when I enter with phil. There are photos of famous, powerful African Americans on the wall. Dr. King, Henry Aaron, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. The three pepper haired men, though refer to me as cracker, insist ‘I sit down white boy, and shut up.’ The chairs, three of them, are worn brown leather chairs with tarnished worn-off chrome on the hand rails. The room smells of hair spray, baby powder, and not trying to be racist but fried chicken. The men and Phillip engage in conversation, catching up like old friends. One of the gentlemen, named Clarence, tells me I have nothing to be worried about, that this shop is neutral; he then reaches behind the chair and pulls out a pump shotgun. Overall, the first 25 minutes of the adventure is a crazy, emotional roller coaster.

2- Being the only white male, and only the 2nd non-African American inside the shop; the power definitely did not fall into my hands or the other non-African American hands. We were in their world, and being in their world, when they made off-color race related jokes, regardless of if it offended me, I had to lightly laugh. They were definitely in power.

3- While talking with Clarence and Phillip, the subject of women naturally came up. Women were referred to as bitches, hoes, and skanks. They were talked of in a derogatory fashion, except for mothers and wives. A young African American woman walked by, and cat calls came out of the wood work towards this young woman. There was then a 15 minute conversation about what you butt looked like, and how ‘I should make sure the woman I choose, has big ole booty.” Due to the lack of females in the conversation, it’s hard to say which group would hold more power, however based on the simplistic conversations I had; the males seemed to be in the position of power.

4- Phillip and I are both in our mid 20’s, were definitely in the minority of these barber shop patrons. The gentlemen, Han, Clarence, Carl, and Douglas are all in their late 50’s to early 60’s. There is definitely a dynamic at play, where the older gentlemen command respect and respect for their elders. The dynamic is respect your elders, and don’t trust the white man.

5- As the lone white man in this scenario, I am definitely the oppressed party however there was not a scenario in which I was not the oppressor. However women who were verbally oppressed during our conversation, would definitely hold more weight and power had there been any women there to put all us men in our places.

6- Clarence Browne, aged 66 years old. His father bought the barber shop from another man in 1983. He comes from a long list of barbers, he has no formal education in being a barber. He was in Vietnam from 1969-1972, fighting the good fight with the Army. With both of us being army infantry, we were able to talk and connect to on a deeper level. We discussed the war, his and mine. He travelled after the war and at one point was cutting hair in Harlem. When his father died prematurely in 1986, he brought his family, wife Margret (a white woman), and his 3 children back to Kansas City, he described a much different scene then when he left then when he returned. The crack epidemic had spread and took over, leaving the neighborhood crippled. Within a year of their return, they had divorced due to the unsafe neighborhood and the constant bloodshed. When asked why he didn’t leave, he said it was his father’s store and he had to protect it. His wife later remarried, and he now has grandchildren in the area. He gave me a very reasonable haircut for a very cheap price, he called it the veterans price. I inquired how the neighborhood has changed, how the people has changed. He told me how there are less white people and more of those ‘taco eating mother fuckers, you know them wetbacks.’ I said I know the people you are talking about. I said so how do you still survive here, he says that the black community needs to work together, all these gangs are ruining the He neighborhood. It needs to be black owned, with black money, with black people.’ The other guys chimed in, including the Asian Han, about how the white man is bringing the black man down. I responded with well you don’t have to worry about me, I don’t have any money.
7- When I first walked in, I was nervous and scared. I was in a new environment, surrounded by people who did not like me right off the bat. It was like I was back in Afghanistan, just waiting for something to pop off. After entering the barbershop, I was still nervous but was welcomed into their close knit circle with relative ease. After a couple hours of being there, I felt comfortable right up to the moment they started talking about black hate towards the white man, at which point it got relatively hostile relatively quickly. But once I left there, with the invitation to come back anytime, I feel I left a little bit more humbled and with a new friend.
8- I grew up in the suburbs, with money. Ive never really associated with individuals outside my parents tax bracket, however this experience gave me a better understanding about how people live, work, and survive. I entered the ghetto, and emerged with some friends. I cannot say that it was not an extremely humbling experience.

Structural Functionalism is a sociological theory that attempts to explain why society functions the way it does by focusing on the relationships between the various social institutions that make up society (e.g., government, law, education, religion,etc). I don’t believe it relates to this circumstance very much, except for the subculture of black hate within the drug culture of the inner city. Conflict theory suggests that human behavior in social contexts results from conflicts between competing groups. Conflict theory originated with the work of Karl Marx in the mid-1800s. Marx understood human society in terms of conflict between social classes, notably the conflict in capitalist societies between those who owned the means of economic production (factory or farm owners, for example) and those who did not (the workers). Subsequent thinkers have described different versions of conflict theory; a common theme is that different social groups have unequal power, though all groups struggle for the same limited resources. Conflict theory has been used to explain diverse human behavior, such as educational practices that either sustain or challenge the status quo, cultural customs regarding the elderly, and criminal behavior. The power structure amongst the men in the store, and the perceived knowledge they had of myself, they definitely felt oppressed as compared to the white man, rightfully so, with all of them being alive through the civil rights movement, and how race played such a crucial role in there lives. Critical Realism is any doctrine reconciling the real, independent, objective nature of the world (realism) with a due appreciation of the mind-dependence of the sensory experiences whereby we know about it (hence, critical). In critical, as opposed to naïve, realism the mind knows the world only by means of a medium or vehicle of perception and thought; the problem is to give an account of the relationship between the medium and what it represents. The position was associated especially with R. W. Sellars (1880-1973), whose Critical Realism (1916) was in part a reaction against the supposed simplistic realism of Russell and Moore. In 1920 a number of philosophers including Lovejoy and Santayana contributed to Essays in Critical Realism, which served as a manifesto of the school. Symbolic Interactionism the view of social behavior that emphasizes linguistic or gestural communication and its subjective understanding, esp. the role of language in the formation of the child as a social being. All of these theroies can apply to my situation, due to the overt racism, the external struggles, and the conflict between people, their thinking and themselves.

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