New Category for African-American Barbers

+9 votes

I've created a new occupational category for African American Barbers (subcat of Barbers.) After profiling 600+ soldiers from the all-black 54th Massachusetts regiment and their families, there's a strong correlation between men working as barbers and the potential for intergenerational wealth. Men working as barbers also seemed more likely to attain a higher rank in the military, and also seem to be more likely to be light-skinned, at least around the Civil War era, which could make for an interesting study on Civil War era colorism. Will be adding gentlemen to the category as I go and backfilling existing soldiers as I have time. I hope you'll join me if you encounter any Black or Mulatto (Census Race) barbers as you do your own research. Thank you!

in Policy and Style by K Raymoure G2G6 Mach 2 (20.5k points)
edited by K Raymoure
Probably worth adding the "categorization" tag, so we can get an official opinion on whether this is the most appropriate way to achieve what you want to do.
Will do. Thanks, Paul!
In the Categorization project, we became aware of some categories added to profiles as "Mulatto" and "Black" and are going to discuss it with the African-American project. (Personally, I have a dislike of census categories, even though they may be useful for a few purposes, but breaking them down further by occupation, race, or anything other than place makes me crazy. Do you know how many categories we would have? AAAAHHHHH! hah.)

Perhaps you could coordinate this effort with the AA project?
Natalie, this seems like a great idea! Despite an impressive number of Contributions to my name, I've mostly focused on data entry here and actually have no idea how to coordinate efforts with the AA project. Halp?
Sarah Heiney is the leader, and Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz is the coordinator. Here is their page:

You could contact both of them in one email. :-)

Good luck!

4 Answers

+4 votes
Maybe it's just me but this category makes me a little uncomfortable, which might be due to cultural differences. In England a barber is a barber, it doesn't matter what colour their skin is. It would in fact be viewed as racial discrimination to treat somebody differently just because of their skin colour.

Possibly in the context of a purely U.S. tree a category like this might be fine (I wouldn't know as I am English and white), but how does it work for a tree that is supposed to be global? We presumably would like to have members from all over the world, so how would somebody from Africa or the Caribbean feel about having to classify their ancestor as a Black Barber rather than just a Barber?

From 1841 to 1981 UK censuses did not even include a question on race, so it would not even be possible to know whether or not somebody should be in this category.

I am sure the original intention was well-meaning, with the stated aim being to carry out "an interesting study on Civil War era colorism". However I think the category then belongs somewhere other than occupations - maybe under United States Civil War would be more appropriate?
by Paul Masini G2G6 Pilot (415k points)

We have a problem of color blindness in the United States that you're touching upon. It's an idea many white people (including me, for many years, before I started really dismantling my own racism) have that skin color is irrelevant, when everybody except white people will tell you that's just not the case.

If black WikiTree folks find this category problematic, I am all ears, but my impression is that this distinction is very pertinent for more reasons than I know, some of them not limited to the US. The one that seems more obvious is that black hair requires different care than non-black hair so most black people look, to this day, for a black barber or hair stylist (ask a black friend, you don't have to take my word for it!)

I don't think this is about just the American Civil War; I just can't speak to any other era because I haven't and don't plan to study any other era. smiley

+5 votes
I agree with Paul. I  think you've made a case for why an occupation category is genealogically useful for this group of people (which isn't true for most occupation categories, in my opinion), but your preferred category title is way too broad. If the interest is in a specific place and time, that should be reflected. Combining the ethnicity and occupation into a single category makes little sense outside a very specific American context.
by Suzanne Doig G2G6 Mach 4 (40.6k points)
It's an important American context for a bunch of reasons. Aside from what I've noticed historically, not every barber can care for black hair properly (many white people have no idea that black hair even needs different care), so it's still significant anywhere, as far as I know. I've noted on the category page that it is "Barbers of African-American descent." Does anything further need to be done?

I've seen several black authors note that black Americans rarely had the opportunity for more than menial labor for their occupation even long after the Civil War had ended, and that's been largely true during this project so far. While I haven't found other occupations that I think deserve a spotlight, I think this one does for a lot of reasons. Black barber shops were also community hubs, for another. Being able to easily identify black barbers in America is a gateway into more topics than I can guess at. I'm so grateful we're in this remarkable age of information; getting it filtered in useful ways matters, and I firmly believe filtering Black Barbers matters.
In that case, I think your category should be African-American barbers. Black and African-American are not the same thing.
Legit point! I'll move towards that for now. Thanks much, Suzanne!
+3 votes
I believe having a category such as Black Barbers is a bad idea. How does this category further the purposes of genealogy? Are Black Barbers all somehow related? Does finding one help you know where to find more? How does labeling a barber as Black help you with genealogy? Do we need a White Barber category to go along with it? How about a Jewish Barber category?

My point is, categories aren't badges. Categories are used to make it easier to group people for genealogical purposes, such as those who may be related or may come from the same place. I see no value in have a special category of this type.
by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (366k points)
To answer your specific question: Lots of cases of barbers fathering sons who become barbers or even 3-4 generations of barbers, which is a useful genealogical purpose, especially if surname spelling shifted between generations.

There are plenty of occupation categories on WikiTree (see, for instance: Clerks, which is probably a little hard to justify for "purposes of genealogy.") Occupations can help identify census records when name variants occur.

I've totally found relevant census records for black Americans armed with only their birth year, occupation, location (or birth location) and census race when spellings varied.
I understand that knowing an occupation may be important for genealogical purposes.  And I also know that there are lots of categories for occupations, and there is one for Barbers. But why set up a separate category for African-American Barbers? What USEFUL genealogical purpose does adding a Wikitree category specifically by race serve?
To borrow on some of your words, Black barbers may be related when they come from the same place.

I have a great example where father, son and two brothers-in-law were all barbers, which finally helped me identify the married names of two sisters. I have over 1,000 profiles I manage and I cannot find the profiles to save my life right now, but when I run across their family again, I'd be happy to share the link as a great example of how this is helpful.

In general, my experience is that black genealogy work and white genealogy work in the USA are leagues apart. White people have, especially in the 19th century and earlier, waaaaay more public records, and are way more likely to have benefited from a wealthy white relative somewhere in their ancestry who had the time and money to research and write a whole book on the family history. Whatever we can do to help with bridging that gap seems like a win to me.
+6 votes

I think K has shown that being a barber was a common family trade, so the occupational category is genealogically useful since it can help make connections.  Because of the history of racial segregation in the US, defining the category by race is also useful.  Two African-American barbers with the same or similar last names may be related--that link can be investigated.  Meanwhile, an African-American barber and a white barber with the same last name are very unlikely to be related.  K has also pointed out that connecting African-American profiles is generally much more difficult than connecting white profiles because of the relative lack of available records, so categories are a very important tool.

I can understand if there is some hesitation in dividing occupational categories by race.  If that's the case, then maybe this could be categorized under a historical category?  Specifically African-American History?  There are other occupations that might be useful to categorize in this way as well--one that springs to mind is undertakers/funeral home managers, also a common family trade for African Americans because in many places they were not allowed to be buried with white people, so they developed their own specialist family businesses.

If we categorize these under African-American History instead of generic occupations, there's a sense that we're placing the occupation in its historical context, which is obviously significant.

Maybe someone from the Categorization Project could weigh in here? :)

by Sarah Heiney G2G6 Mach 5 (54.0k points)
I agree.  We should put African American Barbers in the African-American History and Civil War categories.  During the early years, barbers often doubled as surgeons. . . especially during the Civil War.  They had the tools and expertise for sensitive cutting.  This could earn African Americans a higher status than others.  It can be useful when looking for records as more may be found for the camp barber than the average soldier.

I agree with your thoughts and reasoning, Sarah.  There is definitely a genealogical purpose for identifying African-Americans in some occupations in some time periods. Even in current times, the barber shop is culturally significant (See the film Barbershop!) In that film, a son is handed down the barber shop by his father.

Also, placing it under the parent category of  AA History is a good idea. But I think, since barbering is still an occupation, it needs that parent category, too.

UPDATE: The categorization is in place. I created a subcategory of AA History for AA Occupations. There needs to be text added to the AA Occupations page, explaining use for occupations that are culturally significant to African-Americans. (I mean, we don't need a AA Cabinet Makers or AA Nurses, do we?)

Thanks, all!

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