Every 8 weeks or so I find myself seated in a faux leather swivel chair as nimble fingers grasp at my coarse curls, combining them with synthetic strands to twist them into sleek, Senegalese styling. I sat, earbuds firmly planted as I toggled through my rotation of NPR podcasts, with a cacophony of English, French, and other African languages buzzing in the background.
I shift in my seat, switching one crossed leg for the other when I observe the flutter of a beautiful mid-length, navy blue, pleated skirt. As I scan up to drink in the rest of the splendor that was this unusually elegant outfit for a Saturday at an African hair braiding salon, I take mental note of each pointed piece. Navy pleated skirt, navy and marigold paisley print blouse, extraordinary naturally long red nails, snow white full beard, deep brown hair with a circular revelation of a pale scalp.
It took a moment for me to piece everything together, for each of the pieces to fall into place as one whole story. Then understanding washed over me: this may be a transgender, gender-expansive, and/or nonbinary person.
Do not misunderstand: The presence of a queer person was not surprising. I was simply taken aback by seeing a white individual who presents in this particular way in a Black beauty salon.
I am not sure who originally made this observation, but it could be said that for Americans, 11:00am is the most segregated hour of the week. I venture to add to that the idea that churches, beauty salons, and barbershops are the most segregated places in the country. Of course, some of this segregation was forced and institutionalized, but some of it is the result of circumstance and familiarity.
History aside, it’s not every day that you see a white person enter into an African-owned salon that specializes in braided styles (with the exception of an occasional Caribbean-bound spring-breaker ::insert eyeroll here::). Rarer still is the sight of someone who presents as someone possessing enough testosterone to produce a Santa-esque beard who is dawning quintessentially feminine attire in such surroundings.
Despite my waxing historical in this post, I don’t know that my immediate thoughts ran quite as deep. In the moment I simply thought to myself “Hm. Maybe they are here to get a fun new do for Pride.”
I restarted the episode of Bullseye with Jesse Thorne where he interviews George Clinton (what a great listen!) but continued to keep my eyes trained on my periphery. As a lifelong champion of the underdog and the outsider, I am always sensitive to the presence of minorities in a room in case I need to intervene in an instance of injustice. Usually, I am on the lookout for outsiders coming into the salon to harass these women from the Continent (it hasn’t happened thus far), but that they became the majority.
As I watched my heart warmed as I watched the owner sweetly crouch down to talk to this person, making sure she understood what kind of style they were looking for. She looked in their eyes and took their hands in hers. Other stylists checked in on them to make sure they were okay and to see if they needed anything. People made sure this person knew they were seen and welcomed in this space.
Although I’ve been a loyal patron of this salon for about 3 or 4 years now, I can’t say that I know any of the stylists intimately well. I do know, however, that the group is comprised of several women from a number of African Nations. Some have families with children, some are single and dating. Some are Christian, some practice the Islamic faith. Some are students, others are stay-at-home moms when not at the salon. But they all work hard and do an excellent job.
On this ordinary Saturday that marks the beginning of the national Pride celebration and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I witnessed the best of America. A beautiful woman came to this country years ago and started her own business, where she employs other women. They all do their part to meet client expectations, with no reservation about what that client looks like or who that client loves or how that client identifies.
What I saw in these interactions was humanity. They treated this person the way any person deserves to be treated. They did not blame maltreatment on religion, or hatred on State rights. They simply showed love and received love in return.
As a Christian, I am hurt when I hear other supposed followers of Christ defend degrading comments and disgraceful acts based on an interpretation of one verse about sex. What would happen if we truly lived out the literally hundreds of verses on love? What if we heeded the commandment that God gave to Samuel?
Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. – 1 Samuel 16:7
It takes strength to move thousands of miles from home and embark upon an entrepreneurial venture. It takes strength to succeed in a society that often roots against you. But sometimes it takes strength to simply exist in a world that does not know how to love you.