At Yesterday’s Gentlemen Barbershoppe in Flossmoor, IL. Photo courtesy of their Facebook page.

By Lloyd Graff.

The wine shop that sold $40 bottles of French Sauvignons shut down in the elegant red brick storefront in downtown Flossmoor, Illinois, an upscale suburb south of Chicago. The new tenant moved in soon after they closed.

Yesterday’s Gentlemen Barbershoppe & Spa–a Black men’s barbershop, with a shoe shiner.

Across the street is Cutters, a barbershop owned by a woman that caters to White men. I’ve gone to Cutters for many years. When I saw that a new shop had opened across the street I immediately checked it out. All Black clientele, all Black staff.

America 2013, in Flossmoor, Illinois, an integrated community of 16,000 folks, maybe a little more White than Black, but about as close to half and half as you are going to find in America today. But the two barbershops face off 80 feet apart, as different as black and white–or so it appears.

I’ve been a student of race relations in America. I grew up on the South side of Chicago when Black was Black and White was White, and God forbid they should mix. But we did mix. My public grade school, Parkside, had virtually all Irish ladies for teachers. Maloney, McInerney, Chapman, Fealey, are names I remember. Forty eight kids in a class, seated arbitrarily by rows in a rough form of class ranking. White kids on one side of the room, Black kids on the other side. Mottled integration in the middle two rows.

Oh, the good ole days.

After 8th grade graduation, the group split up. Black kids went to Hyde Park High school, with a virtually all Black population. White kids moved or went to Catholic schools in the area. The Jewish kids whose parents could afford it and wanted to stay in the area went to the University of Chicago Lab School where I attended. It’s the school President Obama’s girls went to and Rahm Emanuel’s (Mayor of Chicago) kids now attend. Arne Duncan, Obama’s Education Secretary, also was a Labbie.

We had about 20 Black kids at Lab in our class of 110 students, unusual back in 1960.
The world has changed.

My wife, Risa, is from Charlotte, North Carolina, which was on the cutting edge of racial conflict in schools in the mid 1960s.

When we had children we had a decision to make about where we would live and ultimately send the kids to school. We chose the South Suburbs of Chicago, knowing that it was one of the few places in Chicagoland where Blacks and Whites actually connected on a regular basis.

Then we helped start a private Jewish day school of 20 students where our children learned only amongst their own. America–do your own thing if you think you can.

The Jewish School folded after eight years of unending struggle to survive, and our children then attended the public high school that was becoming more Black each year.

We chose to stay in the South Suburbs, while almost all of our White neighbors moved to whiter neighborhoods. It’s America. You can live where you’re comfortable. We still live in the same house we bought in 1979.

My sons took Black girls to the Senior Prom. My wife’s educational therapy practice is becoming populated with Black students. Blacks and White socialize at our local Starbucks.

But my psyche is still imprinted by color sensitivity. Every Black face is noted – BLACK. RACE is RACE, is RACE. I have made a conscious choice to live an integrated life in America. Well, at least a little bit mixed.

When I saw the new Black barbershop in the old wine shop almost directly across the street from MY White barbershop, I had to check it out – from the outside. I saw all Black patrons that day, but on Facebook they have a photo of a white customer. Maybe America really is changing? Have I?

Question: Is it possible to be colorblind?

Lloyd Graff is Owner and Chief Space Filler at Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert & Co.

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6 thoughts on “Colorblind?

  1. Ken

    I have a good friend who has barbered all his life.
    He told me that black hair is not the same as white hair and this appears to be fact.
    It’s simply not a racial thing.
    A funny story is that this friend who retired from Kraft Foods and lost a huge part of his pension money after the great 2008 debacle in the economy decided he needed a part time job.
    So, I said, why not barber. His response was I can’t my license ran out and I would have to go back to school for two years and I can’t afford that.
    A few months later I find out he took me up on my suggestion, he found that his barber school in Peoria was now in a mostly black neighborhood after 40 years and he would be able to help teach there since he was a very accomplished barber and the students being mostly black needed to learn to cut white hair.
    He only has to attend three days a week, could live with his sister there in Peoria area and it worked out great for the barber school owner, a woman now, and for him as well.
    One day he noticed the black guys who were students were taking way too long to cut a black man’s hair. He told this one student that if he wanted to make any money on the outside in a hair salon or barber shop he needed to move people out the door in 20 minutes. Three heads per hour.
    The black student said teach me how to cut hair fast.
    My friend said with a smile, teach me how to cut Afro hair and I’ll teach you what you need to know.
    So, the student taught him about the Afro hair which really is quite different from other hair types and then my friend turned around and taught him how to move a guy in and out of that chair in 20 minutes. It was a win-win.
    The black students became very good friends with my white 65 year old Kraft Foods retiree and my friend became rather skilled at cutting Afro hair in his 47 years of cutting hair.
    So, the moral of the story is don’t judge or assume anything, sometimes there are real differences but when we identify these and learn to work together everyone wins.
    My friend did and now his student friends can make money cutting everyone’s hair.
    As for where Obama and other rich fat cat Chicagoan’s sent their kids to school……..well that’s just typical of what you see in a big city. The rich will avoid sending their kids into neighborhoods or schools they don’t want to have their children be a part of. That is not a skin color or ethnic issue, it’s an issue of the have’s and the have not’s and I just wonder where Obama got his money in the first place.

  2. Tony

    Good people are good people no matter what their race, ethnicity, religious preference, gender or sexual orientation, the same is true of bad people. My father used to say “It is not what a person is, it is who they are that matters.”

  3. jd

    sorry, no, maybe you have not changed. you mention everyone’s race and religion as if it were a descriptive label of who they are, and segregation is referred to as ” the good old days”. you might want to do a bit more soul searching about that.

  4. Josh

    JD, if you’ve read any of Lloyd’s work you’ll see that the “gold old days” remark is meant to be rather tongue in cheek. I think what Lloyd is examining here is overcoming the biases ingrained in him due to his cultural history. His personal struggles to ignore race and look at the person underneath while constantly being barraged by his being raised in a culture where that wasn’t necessarily the norm. Good on you Lloyd, so many people aren’t even willing to put aside their bias and you’re clearly examining the nature of what you may harbor.

  5. allen

    Nice story from Ken and it underlines one of the very cool aspects of free enterprise – free enterprise has the very neat effect of forcing the prioritizing of prejudices. If you hate blacks, or Jews or gypsies or Indians, but your financial well-being is dependent upon trading with them your prejudices quickly become subordinated to your desire to avoid bankruptcy.

    John Voight’s character in “Rosewood” was a pretty reprehensible character in most regards but he was one of the whites who tried to stem the tide of violence. You can see the same dynamic operating in the real world.

    Not at all as well known as it ought to be is the fact that the bus company that owned the bus on which Rosa Parks made history was opposed to the law Rosa Parks broke and lobbied the city council against its passage. For the bus company humiliating paying passengers who just happened to be black was a less important goal then maintaining financial solvency. For the members of the city council, who weren’t going to suffer any financial harm, humiliating blacks was a goal with no downside.


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