When I left New York City to quarantine with my family in the South a few months ago, I accepted that I’d have to part ways with my bodega sandwiches, walking-distance Target, and, let’s be honest, widespread liberalism. Now, what I was absolutely not ready to lose was a good hairdresser. (No shame.) But it turns out, “good” maybe shouldn’t have been my only criterion.
Outside of NYC, your choices for pretty much everything become limited so I really only had a few options for a professional dreadlock stylist. One hairdresser was too expensive, another acted as though they were annoyed that I even found their number, and the last was kind, responsive, and reasonably priced.
I went with the latter and was happy with the results of my first few sessions. At the time, that’s all that mattered. But things took quite the turn one day as I did my usual social media doom-scrolling.
Sometime in my mid-to-late teens and again in college, I did a sweep of my social media followers, removing any and all connections who can’t tell real news from fake or have little discretion when coming to sharing their controversial views. So, when Election 2016 came around, my social media pages were a safe haven. While everyone else was arguing with their former fifth-grade classmates about Hillary Clinton’s emails or Donald Trump’s Twitter rants, my Facebook and Instagram feeds were full of either apolitical content or posts from people I mostly agreed with.
So in the hellscape that is 2020, as I scrolled through Instagram, I immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong when I came across a post that said “I Am Voting Trump 2020” followed by a caption about “saving the children” with #TheQ placed at the bottom, a nod to the ever-growing GOP conspiracy theory, serving as an explanation for what the heck I was reading.
The post came from my hairdresser’s business account.
For the lucky ones among us who are not familiar with this deranged belief that’s taking over the internet, QAnon devotees think a diabolical “cabal” runs the world and causes all sorts of terrible things to happen on Earth. They believe among the biggest culprits are Hollywood and the Democrats.
The “save the children” movement has become a cover for some of the weirdest QAnon ideas by presenting itself as a fight against child sex trafficking, and not an attempt at stopping the abuse of children for unfounded satanic rituals.
And where does Trump come in? Well, the way they see it, he’s the one who’s going to put a stop to the horror once and for all, disposing of his political opponents in the process.
So, my hairdresser had to have gotten hacked right? Unfortunately, as the hours and days passed and the post was still there, I realized they’d actually meant to post this low-quality internet-bumper sticker.
I was in a state of complete “WTF,” frantically texting my friends like I’d just found a photo of one of my exes with a new, less attractive girlfriend. Each of them said some variation of “Well, you’ve gotta find a new hairdresser now.”
Admittedly, I kept telling people hoping someone would say something more along the lines of, “Who cares, as long as they keep up the good work on your hair?” because honestly this person has helped me take my Instagram thirst traps to a new level of natural-hair slayage and I’m not sure if I’m willing to lose that.
But no one did. Their defense: If they believe that, imagine what else they believe.
My friends were right. By continuing to go to this particular hairdresser, I run the risk of being exposed to any manner of issues their ideologies might stir up. What if I say the wrong thing and we end up in an argument where I have to explain that Chrissy Teigen is absolutely not involved in a pedophile ring—and I’m forced to leave with my hair half done?
Or worse, what if their GOP-conspiracy beliefs extend to COVID—and now I’m putting myself at risk by being less than 6 feet away from someone who thinks this all a “hoax,” like President Trump once did?
Hence my current dilemma. When you find out your hairdresser supports outlandish and dangerous conspiracies like one that asserts the fear of children is being used to create an illicit Hollywood drug, do you break up with them no matter how slick they make your dreads look?
I needed help, and I’m certain I can’t be the only one dealing with a situation like this, so I did some digging so you don’t have to.
“There is a way to exit a relationship that isn’t going to hurt their feelings”
First, to find solidarity, I spoke with Peter Kaufman, a 55-year-old vice president at a large financial institution who’s facing a similar issue with his long-time dentist.
Kaufman’s dentist didn’t “come out and say I’m a QAnon adherent, but she did kind of have a collection of pretty surprising things to me,” Kaufman said.
Among those things, he asserts, were claims that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shows up to meetings “stoned” and that his “wife has stolen $100 million.” And on top of that, she’s voting for President Trump, which really didn’t help their relationship.
Like me, Kaufman consulted those closest to him about what to do next. He told me his girlfriend flat-out said “she’s a lousy dentist anyway,” but also like me Kaufman hasn’t “come to any decision about it.” She’s a competent dentist but, Kaufman said, “This has weighed more on me than any standard of her dental care.”
Even if Kaufman and I were to make the decision to cut off our dentist and hairdresser, dropping a professional relationship over ideology is sometimes no easier than breaking up with a friend or cutting ties with a family member, so I figured I should speak to someone who knows how to handle a mess like this.
Jodyne L. Speyer is the author of the coincidentally named book Dump ‘Em: How to Break Up with Anyone from Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser, and sounded like just the person I needed to speak to.
When I told her my issue, she shared that her sister had gone through the same thing. Where her sister lives in Israel, there are only three hairdressers. She chose “the one that does the best job” only to later find out he “was clearly anti-Arab.”
Speyer was also on the side of leaving situations like this based on politics (seriously, does no one care about my hair being laid?). She said, “We have a personal relationship with our hairdressers and human touch is very bonding”—a connection that leans on the presumed spiritual implications of having someone with opposing-beliefs touching something as vulnerable to influence as the place where your very consciousness is kept.
But Speyer was not in favor of leaving without explanation, which is apparently what her sister did, which left her with the task of having to avoid her hairstylist at all costs despite living in the same area.
OK, so ghosting isn’t an option. Now what?
Speyer was confronted with scenarios like this a lot when she lived in NYC, and her advice to me was “to leave the door open in case you do need to return” considering there are only a few hairdressers that specialize in dreadlocks in the area and my current one might be the best.
She even had advice for Kaufman: “I hope there’s plenty of dentists, so he doesn’t have to go back to the original dentist.”
If this is something you’re facing as well, Speyer suggests having a conversation with the professional you hope to sever ties with, even though it can be so uncomfortable for those who tend to take the easy way out of relationships with a simple no-call-no-show.
“There is a way to exit a relationship that isn’t going to hurt their feelings,” Speyer explained. “Some people are open to having a conversation,” despite the polarizing times.
The cleanest way to do this is to not leave a grey area. “In the grey area, we spend a lot of energy we don’t need to spend feeling bad” about ghosting people, she explained. The Dump ‘Em author also thinks we sometimes “have the ability to have a conversation and make change.”
Could a conversation really make a difference when you’re confronting your conspiracy-peddling shoe cobbler? David Neiwert, the author of Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us, shared with me how this might work. (Spoiler: It usually doesn’t.)
Off the bat, David let me know that when it comes to making any lasting change with a professional connection who deals in conspiracy theories, “it’s almost impossible to persuade someone you know but don’t have a particularly personal relationship with” to drop their beliefs.
The very processes of convincing someone their ideologies are based on disinformation is apparently complicated and difficult to begin with. And again, Neiwert joined those who told me I’m probably “gonna have to find another” hairdresser.
When coming to a conspiracist whose business requires “rationality” (think law or education), Neiwert warned, “The person you’re dealing with clearly doesn’t work on a rational basis,” so it’s going to be easier to just get away.
And he, like Speyer, says that just disappearing isn’t the way to go. “It’s best to be upfront with them about why you’re leaving,” he said. Tell them “you can’t trust them.”
“People who go down these rabbit holes cease to be trustworthy,” he explained further.
Wow, that might take some practice before you go saying that to someone’s face.
Though I’m not sure this is the case with my hairdresser, with QAnon specifically, Neiwert warns that eventually people who act out irrationally on behalf of those beliefs can be very dangerous.
“People who are participating in QAnon are participating in a phenomenon in our modern culture where we’re all being educated to be superheroes of our own lives,” he said.
“There’s this really large almost compulsion people feel to make themselves feel almost heroic. People participating in QAnon are doing that. They see themselves as heroes protecting children and preventing evil from taking root in the world.”
Neiwert advises anyone dealing with someone like that in a professional setting “to simply withdraw and find someone else” to fulfill your services.
Now if your hairdresser, dentist, mechanic or whoever happens to also be your cousin, that’s a different story. At that point, you “have a chance of changing their hearts and minds.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me because I met this person two months ago.
Before our conversation was over, Neiwert offered some advice that might save me from having to turn to the less-than-ideal hairdresser alternatives in my area. Neiwert told me you can maintain a relationship with someone if “they’re cutting your hair.” You just have to stay away from any and all political talk or QAnon conversation.
“Ultimately there’s gonna be all kinds of goofballs and you can’t just cut them off, but if this is a person you’re engaging with on a regular basis and if they keep talking to you about QAnon the risk is that you’ll be seen as part of the conspiracy,” he said.
Neiwert says this because, as he asserts, QAnon believers and other conspiracists are “impervious” to facts and reason, and the more you try to hit them with facts, the more you’ll be seen as “part of the problem.”
Yikes, I wouldn’t want to know what they do with someone they deem is part of the “pedo problem.”
After these interviews, I was still not convinced of what to do, so I went back to my hairdresser for routine hair-care. This time, I tried to drum up more conversation to see where their head is at on their beliefs. I never explicitly brought up politics or QAnon, but I opened the floor to deeper conversation to see if they’d start spewing nonsense.
I went for the most heated topic I could think of without coming right out and asking, “So what do you think about Trump?”
A person’s ideas about race can be very telling, especially nowadays.
The hairdresser’s take on race, and anti-Black racism specifically, did not spiral into conspiratorial territory, nor did they hail Trump as the best thing to happen to Black people. I was actually shocked to find their ideas were similar to my own.
Now, I can’t say that this at all means their QAnon support was all a big misunderstanding, but it shows me this person might be a rational thinker when they aren’t trying to “save the children” through Insta-activism. Maybe Neiwert is right. If I can avoid Q-talk at all costs, perhaps I can save this relationship and my hair.