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Prominent figures are no longer whitewashing Blackness

Shows like LeBron James' The Shop are evidence black celebrities are aware that their exceptionalism does not exclude them from the consequences of institutional racism, and they are fighting back
Thu, Oct 22, 2020
  • LeBron James and Odell Beckham Jr in conversation on The Shop. Photo: HBO

For years, salons around the world have come up with ways to attract more patrons by: providing Wi-Fi, offering the latest celebrity gossip magazines, and serving complimentary snacks and beverages while clients wait.

But of course, as you might have realised when we couldn't make our weekly trips to shopping centres due to Covid-19 restrictions, salons are also important social institutions. Apart from the camaraderie among regulars and their trusty barbers, the best gossip, lying, flexing and shade-throwing comes out of there.

Except, on The Shop, which is an HBO sports talk show co-executive produced by LeBron James and his business partner and friend, Maverick Carter, the barber shop experience has never been more flush with money – or constructive in dialogue.

The premise? LeBron and Maverick visit barber shops around the United States and call on eminent figures to chat about their careers, fame, business, and other culturally relevant topics.

Have you ever sat through a conversation between famous and ridiculously rich people bemoaning their misfortunes, ala Beyoncé's 'Why did God give me this life?' in the 2013 documentary Life Is But A Dream, and rolled your eyes because, well Beyoncé, as tough as fame sometimes appears, I'd still swap lives with you if I could?

That feeling comes and goes when you watch The Shop (seasons 1 and 2 are available on Showmax), which features guests including Tiffany Haddish, Nas, Odell Beckham Jr, Jon Stewart, Travis Scott, Lena Waithe, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Mahomes and Drake.

Yet, the glib instances are few and far between here. As we say so often lately, the moment couldn't be more perfect for this show to exist.

The moment: when the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements have dominated news feeds, following more distressing incidences of police brutality, the reemergence of white supremacists such as Donald Trump, the broken criminal justice system and sexual predators.

James with guests including Travis Scott, Seth Rogen and Pharrell Williams. Photo: HBO

For as long as I can remember, celebrities have never been expected, nor allowed, to have a voice, and have allowed brand and PR managers and owners to take the heat for them when things disintegrate.

But the moment is now. We live in the time of LeBron James, John Boyega, Colin Kaepernick, Naomi Osaka, Marcus Rashford and Lungi Ngidi. Hiding behind your teammates and corporate affairs personnel is almost unconscionable.

In one of many insightful moments, James talks about having accepted the loss of a certain level of popularity as a result of his ongoing fight against social injustice in America (criticism even the great Muhammad Ali couldn't insulate himself from).

"We [black people] move everything. We move the way people dress. We move the way people think. We move the way people dance, the music people listen to, the way people play sports," LeBron says in response to Snoop Dogg's statement that, "Black people are more respected outside of America than they are in America".

There are moments while watching this when you are reminded that no matter how successful or rich a black person is, they are still black and, therefore, not white.