The accustomed aptitude is to hug. But Shirley Paul, a salon approved in her forties, offers her stylist, Ursula Stephen, a afraid bend bang instead. “It’s my COVID hug,” Stephen says through a careful affectation address her initials, “US,” of the now socially adequate greeting. “I absence adhering people,” Paul says. It’s mid-June, and three months accept anesthetized aback Ursula Stephen The Salon, a seven-year-old adorableness mecca amid in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was aftermost open. Stephen—best accepted as the celebrity stylist to Rihanna, Zendaya, and Serena—suspended business on March 21, aback best of New York City was ordered to break at home, save for capital workers. What qualifies as “essential” is article Stephen has anticipation a lot about aback then. “The one affair white girls were fatigued about was mostly their beard color,” she says. “Well, a amber girl, we charge everything. We charge a conditioner. We charge cuts. We charge accent and a relaxer.”
Also, we charge time. Because of the complication of Black hairstyles—box braids, Senegalese twists, a acceptable press—and the hours it takes to assassinate them correctly, family-level relationships artlessly bloom in this affectionate environment. For me, the 12-plus hours in the salon armchair with a stylist accustomed me to appetite my Blackness. Box braids bottomward to the attic at the breakable age of seven? Yes, please! Or chatting with my stylist-turned-friend about the woman who asked to blow my beard at work, and the acknowledging “Can you believe?” that followed. The salon has connected been a colonnade of the Black community, a abode area the best important contest are hashed out. Alike in the absence of a concrete affair place, Stephen and her stylists connected to accommodated consistently on Zoom while the salon was closed. “We’d allocution business at first, and afresh we’d gossip,” she says.“‘Girl, you apparent that?’ It’s like how we would commonly be at the salon.”
Given that COVID-19 has disproportionately afflicted Black and amber communities, Black salons accept had all the added allurement to reopen, as cautiously and as anon as possible. At Stephen’s, audience now sit six anxiety apart, dejected antibacterial Barbicide can be begin at every station, accessories are staggered, and temperatures are arrested at the door. All calendars, everywhere, are very, actual full. And why wouldn’t they be? For women of color, the salon has connected been admired as a angelic space. “I acquire a abundant amore for the cut and advance of Black beard salons, the account and the drama,” Emma Dabiri writes in her new book, Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Beard Culture. “The beard salon is a armpit area we can beam a apple of civic issues, witnessing how, already again, Black beard accepted a battlefield on which cultural and ancestral tensions were reproduced.”
Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Beard Culture
Black beard is inherently political. In 2019, California became the aboriginal accompaniment to canyon the CROWN Act, which outlaws bigotry based on beard blazon (at columnist time, it had been allowable in seven states). The legislation was connected overdue, aggressive by high-profile microaggressions directed against accouchement at academy and women at work. Research shows that Black women’s beard is 3.4 times added acceptable to be accounted amateurish in the workplace. In the adorableness and appearance worlds, we see our trends baseborn and presented on runways after credit, and we can’t advice but apprehension that our concrete ancestry (in some cases, aperture or bark tone) alone assume to become contemporary aback a white being chooses to adapted them via makeup, injections, or alike surgery—aka Blackfishing. And yet we abound with our community—best exemplified by the salon. “The salon is a absolution from the world,” explains Mika “Constance” English, a stylist at Stephen’s salon. “I’m a therapist, stylist, and acquaintance all at the aforementioned time.” Yene Damtew, the buyer of Aesthetics Salon in Arlington, Virginia, agrees: “We do added than aloof hair.” For Black women, she says, the salon represents “a abode area audience can appear to a common amplitude and accommodated new people, accomplish new friends, and body a abutment system. There are a lot of conversations about ancestral equality, politics, leadership.”
Just weeks afore Stephen’s reopening, and bald blocks from her salon, bags took to the streets in Brooklyn to beef the biased murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and endless added Black lives lost. And, too often, the killers abide chargeless after arrest. At this moment in time, Black Babe Church—a amplitude area best bodies in the allowance accept apparent and been afflicted by racism, in abrupt adverse to the cardinal of Americans aloof alive up to its reality—feels added bare than ever. “When you’re in a beard salon, honey, we’re all sisters,” Stephen explains. “This is area we do it, this is area it is, honey.” It’s a safe anchorage for Stephen and her stylists, who accept already had endless discussions over the years about the murders of Black individuals at the easily of law enforcement. They’re aback calm in person, talking about activism, badge brutality, and admired ones who’ve been absent due toCOVID-19. In person, at atomic for now.
The adept stylist welcomes change. “Everything happens for a reason,” Stephen says as she sits alfresco her salon bouncing to neighbors in the community. And her community—resilient, creative, and essential—can acclimate any storm.
This adventure appears in the September 2020 affair of ELLE.
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