Where Malcolm X Was Killed, Harlem’s Ghosts Haunt a Forgotten Home
Where the activist and icon was killed in 1965, you can now get cash and a plate of ribs
I don’t often go to the barbershop. I see it as a slaughterhouse for Black hair, and an open forum for cruel jokes and bad ideas. Also, I avoid haircuts. Unruly hair climbs out of my scalp: in the back, straighter hairs hang; at the top, curly knots buck against each other; in the front, wavy coils bounce. Indigenous blood, a Latino helix, and a Black Rasta meet in the middle of my curls, splitting branches from my family tree. The conflict makes me avoid haircuts.
But I need the barbershop because it’s ground zero for unfiltered community news in Harlem. When I went to get a cut last week, the lanky thirtysomething barber who sits near the TV was free. He’s always free. Not because he’s terrible, but because everyone else is excellent and he is, at best, unambitious — so he waits in the back of the elite barbershop for strays like me to come in looking scruffy and sad-eyed. But he’s funny and cuts well, even though he’s always running his mouth and distracted. I tip him 50% no matter what.
“Damn, bro, you want me to comb it out?” He says as he pulls the end of a top hair to its full length to show me in the mirror. The five inches of growth won’t hide. I’ve only now gotten used to how long my hair gets.
“Yeah, comb it, please,” I reply. I want a lot off the sides and to eavesdrop on the shop conversation, so anything that prolongs my bid is worth it. He grabs the afro pick with the black fist handle and his scissors.
“A lotta people don’t know how to treat hair like this, man, and I gotta spend time getting it right,” he says.
I washed, conditioned, and picked my hair an hour before stepping into the shop. Diligence saves me from embarrassment. The barber rakes through my locks, chatting me up.
He asks me if I’d seen the new Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm X? “Shit was wild, bro, not even gonna lie to you,” he says. “I didn’t expect that shit at all. I’m not gon’ hold you, but you need to watch that shit.”
After he tells me that he watched the series with his cousin for hours straight, I…