It is cool to attack white people.
A major US magazine just published a bizarre diatribe claiming beards are racist. The outlandish article further highlights that it has become trendy to demonize white people. Alexa ranks The Atlantic website as one of the top 500 websites in America.
What follows is the lost story of American facial hair. Like countless other histories, it is rife with contradictions. It begins with white Americans at the time of the Revolution who derided barbering as the work of “inferiors.” It continues with black entrepreneurs who turned it into a source of wealth and prestige.And it concludes with the advent of the beard—a fashion born out of desperation but transformed into a symbol of masculine authority and white supremacy.…A series of urban public health crises also had dire consequences for the shop. Sanitation in American cities remained haphazard to say the least. In New York City, for instance, monstrous pigs continued to bear responsibility for garbage disposal throughout the early 19th century. Not surprisingly, cities were ravaged by epidemics, making many Americans newly cautious about interpersonal touch. Health writers D. G. Brinton and George H. Napheys advised men to shave themselves, for “it is not pleasant to be lathered with the brush which the minute before has been rubbed on the face of we don’t know whom.”The most important explanation for whites’ anxiety about the shop, however, involved black barbers’ growing wealth. For many, the success of leading African-American barbers seemed to threaten the social order. As white customers were shaved by men with fortunes worth many thousands of dollars, some must have wondered who was serving whom.But the real problem ran deeper. During the 19th century, intellectuals increasingly subscribed to pseudo-scientific theories of race. Some even believed that people of different races had been the result of separate acts of creation. The German biologist Karl Vogt called whites and blacks “two extreme human types” and wrote that people of African descent “remind us irresistibly of the ape.” All of this helped buttress notions of African-Americans as primitive and intrinsically violent.White fears were further fed by a string of slave rebellions, from present-day Haiti to Nat Turner’s Virginia. For many whites, these seemed to confirm not the injustice of slavery but blacks’ “innate” propensity for violence. As a result, some white customers began to cast a wary eye on their barbers, who commanded resources and occupied positions of authority within their communities. Few seemed better poised to lead an insurrection.These fears were made powerfully manifest in American fiction, where the figure of the murderous black barber became a fixture during the 19th century. Among the character’s more vivid appearances was a little-known 1847 vignette entitled “A Narrow Escape,” in which a wandering sailor enters an Alabama barbershop and watches helplessly as the shop’s barber slashes the throat of a customer. But the figure also appeared in better-known works of fiction, including Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno.The results of these fears were dramatic. Between the turn of the century and 1850, American elites abandoned black-owned barbershops in considerable numbers. In major American cities, the number of barbers relative to the populations they served declined dramatically, as demand for their services plummeted. Ambitious young African-American men began to view barbering as a dead-end career.Meanwhile, at the other end of the social spectrum, immigrant barbers—many of them Germans—catered to a growing population of working-class customers: men too poor, and in many cases too resentful of black barbers’ success, to patronize the best black-owned barbershops. Thus, while whites, according to Douglas Bristol, constituted a mere 20 percent of Philadelphia’s barbers in 1850, by 1860 they represented a near majority. A handful of elite black barbers continued to prosper, but the days when African-Americans dominated the trade were coming to an end.…At first, these untamed beards proved controversial. Many Americans continued to harbor 18th-century fears that beards marked maniacs, fanatics, and dissimulators. But by the late antebellum period, they were more widely accepted, thanks partly to a strenuous public relations campaign that reimagined the beard as a symbol of white, masculine supremacy.A 21-part series in Boston’s Daily Evening Transcript, published in late 1856, was typical of such efforts. In these wide-ranging articles, pro-beard polemicists argued that the beard represented a rugged and robust ideal of manhood, proving white Americans’ dominion over “lesser” men and “inferior” races. The pseudonymous “Lynn Bard,” for instance, claimed that men took up shaving “when they began to be effeminate, or when they became slaves.” Ancient Britain’s manly Anglo-Saxons, he claimed, “wore their beards before the conquest; and it is related as a wanton act of tyranny, that William the Conqueror compelled the people to shave; but some abandoned their country” rather than submit.” (Incidentally, Victorian Englishmen were going through a beard revival of their own at that time, though for different reasons.)An anonymous “lady on beards,” writing in an 1856 issue of the New YorkTribune, made the case even more succinctly. The “bearded races,” she proclaimed, “are the conquering races.” And in “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman transformed the case for beards into poetry: “Washes and razors for foofoos … for me freckles and a bristling beard.”