Barber and hair shop talk – breaking through pandemic myths

Michael Brown (l) with a barbershop customer. Black salon and barber shop communities should work tirelessly to reach the goal of defeating COVID-19.

President Joe Biden has declared June a national month of action as the United States pushes through what is hopefully the tail end of the more-than-one-year pandemic. The White House is launching an effort to team up with 1,000 Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons across the country to help the Biden Administration reach its goal of 70% of adult Americans receiving at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine by July 4, 2021.

With the White House’s latest effort in mind, the Black Coalition Against COVID (BCAC) recently hosted a conversational question and answer event called ‘Making It Plain, the Colors of COVID: Barbershop and Salon Talk—From Vaccine Hesitancy to Vaccine Confidence.’ It was a two-hour discussion featuring prominent members from the Black barbershop and salon community as well as minority healthcare professionals who hoped to build on the White House’s ‘Shots at the Shop’ initiative that has been successful in several barbershops across the country. This could be a new national model with barbershops and beauty salons offering vaccines as well as haircuts, shaves, and hairstyles.

June’s Facebook Live town hall comes during a very delicate stage in the struggle to end this pandemic. Cofounder of the BCAC, Dr. Reed Tuckson, said Black Americans’ relationships with their barbers and hair stylists are very vital to keeping our communities informed. “One-by-one in the chair is the motto of many lifelong Black and Brown barbers and stylists,” Dr. Tuckson said. “And that special relationship is one of the cornerstones of Black and Brown culture, a relationship that extends well beyond the latest hairstyle to engage the very lifeblood of our communities.”

Currently, approximately 64% of adults in the United States have received at least one dose of a vaccine. However, vaccine hesitancy is still running rampant in Black communities where around 24% still have a wait-and-see mindset.

Dr. Cameron Webb of the White House COVID-19 Response Team said Black barbers are an essential part of the White House’s effort in Black communities to build more vaccine confidence and chip away at vaccine hesitancy. He reminded us that Black barbers have been in the business of giving good information for a long time.

“We believe if we give people the right information, they’re going to make good decisions, good decisions for themselves, their family, and their community,” he said.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith echoed Dr. Webb’s message as she spoke to her Black salon sisters. “We love our time at the shop. We do a lot of talking,” she said. “I’m hearing people in the shop talk about things like magnets and infertility and other things that we know are not true and debunked,” she said. “We’re all going to be in solidarity together. And let’s be in solidarity to make sure that we’re not letting the shop be a place where misinformation spreads.”

Mike Brown, a barber and certified community health worker, offered another interesting perspective on how to dispel COVID-19 misinformation. He said some Black brothers and sisters are at the “hell no” wall when it comes to taking a COVID-19 vaccine. But he said he’s found an effective way to deal with the mistrust he hears in his barbershop.

“You have to meet them at their level,” Brown said. “And then once you get down to where they are, then you can start to talk them out of their mistrust or their misinformation.”

We’re getting ready to fire up our grills for family barbecues and attend other outings. Co-host Omar Neal said having family conversations is key to returning to our summer celebrations. He made a lighthearted remark that sums up how many of us feel about returning to family get-togethers and other events we’ve sorely missed during the pandemic. “If we can get the vaccine now, we can be ready for the 4th of July,” Neal said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful that everyone that’s eligible to get the vaccine has been vaccinated when they come to the family gathering so you can go around and hug everybody again?”

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