I got out of the Paris Metro yesterday at Château d’Eau and found myself on a busy boulevard. There was obviously a large Black population in the neighbourhood judging by the hair salons and hair products. There were also lots of young Black males, hanging out individually, not grouped in gangs, and approaching people as they walked by, crossed the street, or emerged from the Metro.
I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it made me nervous. I think women have been programmed to be extremely cautious when approached by male strangers, regardless of race. I would have felt just as uncomfortable if they’d been white.
I moved out of the neighbourhood fairly quickly, but I was curious so I went home and Googled the metro station. Obviously, I’m not the first person to be unnerved by the situation, but there is actually a legitimate explanation.
The young men are looking for customers for the various hair salons. When they approach people, they’re simply asking if you want a haircut. If you say yes, they’ll take you to “their” hair salon. They get a small payment for bringing in business. If they’re lucky, they’ll go home with a few hundred euros a month. They’re simply trying to make enough money to live, to support their families, and they’re choosing to do it without resorting to drug sales or theft or other illegal activities. I admire them, but I certainly don’t envy them.
I’m a little embarrassed by my initial discomfort, but at least I went home and obtained more information. Our fears and worries are so often based on a lack of information rather than an actual issue.