It’s the kind of throwback shop where a candy-cane colored barber pole sits out front, posters of President Obama and Tupac adorn the walls and customers play checkers and dominoes.
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down the business and its raucous conversations, but Mitch Magee, its co-owner, still has some things to say.
“It seems like it’s an attack on us. Those places are all in our community, where we live on top of one another,” he said. “I have right to be paranoid because our people are dying more than whites.”
Pastor: This is ‘leaving us to the slaughter’
“We remain focused on the safety and well-being of every person who calls Georgia home,” he said.
But black leaders quickly questioned him. Some explicitly mentioned race, while others cited the potential overall harm to the predominately black cities they lead.
The Rev. Jamal Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, went even further.
“They understand diabolically that African Americans are prone to do spending,” Bryant said. “To stimulate the income, they gotta make ‘negroes’ spend money, and they’re banking on us not spending it with ourselves.”
Kemp’s decision is “leaving us to the slaughter,” Bryant said in the video, which has received more than a million views.
He urged residents to ignore the reopen order and said his church, one of the largest in Georgia, would not resume in-person services.
“I shudder to think what would be the thought if in fact those who would be stricken by Covid-19 were overwhelmingly … rural white farmers,” he said. “Would in fact the same precedent take place? I say not.”
CNN has made repeated requests to the governor’s office for comment.
Reopening could force business owners to make grim choices
Such warnings by Bryant and Magee may seem far-fetched. But there are historical reasons for black people to be wary of being victimized over their health.
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, asked whether Kemp understands how lethal reopening some businesses can be for black and brown people.
“I wonder if he is putting profit over people, and that if that is the result of a lack of empathy because of the disparate impact on African-American people and Latinos,” Johnson said.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, rejected Kemp’s economic rationale for reopening some businesses.
“The economy is the people. It’s not a third party entity apart from the people. If the people are sick and dying, the economy will be sick and dying.”
Some Georgia black business owners say that reopening the state’s economy will force them to make grim choices.
“You can’t maintain six feet when you’re cutting some people’s hair,” he Miller said. “You’re right on top of their head. You’re in that hair. That person is breathing and talking.”
Miller said there’s not enough coronavirus testing available in Georgia to justify even partially reopening businesses. But he believes some black business owners need income so much that they will risk their lives to reopen.
“When people get in desperate situations they make desperate decisions,” he said.
Magee, from Distinctive Kutz, said he won’t get that desperate. He has three daughters at home and said he won’t reopen his barbershop until he sees the numbers of coronavirus cases go down.
“I love cutting hair,” he said. “I’m just not willing to risk my family for it.”