Black UT students turn to each other for hairstyle needs

Alexis Tatum

Black students at UT are faced with an peculiar problem: finding someone they can trust to do their hair.

While there are a number of barbers and hair salons in the vicinity of campus, not many of them cater to the needs of black students. James Nelson, owner of Wooten Barber Shop on Guadalupe street, said that while Wooten tries to accommodate every student, there are some difficulties.

“Right now, there are a lot of unique haircuts,” Nelson said. “We’re not real big on putting design lines in. It’s a tradition thing. (Black students) have a very, very tight nap and that’s real challenging to get into a fade on.”

Plan II freshman Anthony Douglas said most black students prefer going to black barbers because they want to ensure that their barber has experience with their hair texture.

“You have to do a test where you let the barber give you an edge up and see what’s going on,” Douglas said. “If they do your edge up right, you go back.”

Douglas expressed frustration in trying to find a barber and said it took him most of the school year to find one.

“This semester, I had to search and ask around a lot and I finally found my barber, but the bus ride to get there is an hour and thirty minutes,” Douglas said. “I have a struggle deciding if I want to spend four hours to get a single haircut that’s going to last me two weeks.”

For Communications freshman Morgan Flowers, the cost of getting a haircut is a harsh factor. 

“To be honest, when I was getting ready to come here, I didn’t expect any black barbers to be around here and in a way my expectations were met,” Flowers said. “It’s kind of hard trying to get a cut because sometimes I don’t always have the money. Living in Austin is expensive.”

It is difficult to find public hair salons or barber shops within walking distance of campus that specialize in the natural hairstyles for black students, such as dreadlocks, braids or fades with designs. As a result, black students with coarse and coily hair types are forced to find a supplementary route to styling their hair. Some students, such as undeclared freshman Joseph Tibiru, teach themselves to cut or style hair and do so from their dorms or apartments. 

“I used to do hair in the (Malclom) X Lounge, but then I moved to Jester West,” Tibiru said. “So now I do hair out of my dorm or I go to other people’s dorms.” 

Tibiru said he was encouraged to start doing hair for students by peers who saw his work. Since he started at UT last fall, he’s done a number of styles for black women in his free time.

“I’ll do one person’s hair and then more will follow because I’m so accessible,” Tibiru said. “People told me I should make an Instagram account for hair and that I should start doing it on the side — so I did.”

Tibiru credited black women on campus with helping him find a purpose for his hobby.

“Hair is just a hobby; it’s just something that I like to do for fun,” Tibiru said. “What’s really helped me is the black UT girls. That’s how I’ve had so many people come to me — through word of mouth. They really do right for me and I appreciate that so much.”

Douglas said he thinks the problem remains because it’s not relevant to many outside of the black community. 

“We are pretty much the only ones with this issue,” Douglas said. “That’s why it’s gone unnoticed.”