The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office has agreed to look into concerns raised by a longtime Senate staffer that the Senate Hair Care Services shop located in the Russell Building is ill-equipped to serve black clients.
“When you walk in there, you wanna feel: ‘Yeah, I can get my hair cut [here],’” said Robert Foster, a black 33-year Capitol Hill veteran and professional staffer on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Instead, Foster asserted, he found prominently displayed photographs depicting hairstyles aimed at white customers, hair care products predominantly oriented for Caucasian clients and barbers who — by and large — do not know how to handle the hair care needs of black patrons.
“The world is changing, and the barber shop is going to have to change with it,” said Foster, adding that the Senate’s diverse work force necessitates that the shop provide an equal level of service for all its employees.
Foster, who no longer patronizes the shop, said he notified the Rules and Administration Committee a month ago about his concerns and was consequently contacted by a “high-ranking official” from the office of Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle. He was told that his concerns will be addressed.
But the barber shop’s management rejected suggestions that its services and products overlook black needs.
The shop’s manager, who refused to give his name, said he does not give media interviews. But he did insist that “we do have” hair care products geared toward black patrons. The Sergeant-at-Arms office identified the manager as Mario D’Angelo.
“We’ve always had them,” he later added.
But Charlie Rollins, the current Supreme Court barber, insists this isn’t so. Rollins spent a decade as a Senate barber before retiring in 2000 and heading over to the Supreme Court.
Rollins said that, during the majority of his tenure in the chamber, the shop did not offer the appropriate oils, shampoos and sprays black tresses often require — though many of his clients were black.
“The reason I didn’t say anything then was because the shop was scared to death they were going to be closed down because of the deficit,” asserted the 57-year-old Rollins.
In the late 1990s, the Senate barber shop merged with the beauty salon as part of an effort by the Rules and Administration panel to cut costs at the habitually money-losing operation.
During the reorganization, Rollins said he told the Sergeant-at-Arms that products tailored for black hair should be added to the shop in order to avoid damaging black clients’ hair.
Then-Sergeant-at-Arms Greg Casey told him, “That’s a good idea. Order what you want,” according to Rollins, who said he later received an award from the Sergeant-at-Arms office for his efforts to expand the shop’s offerings.
Rollins eventually invited a company to put on a seminar in the shop, instructing his colleagues how to perm, condition and blow-dry the hair of black customers.
“I initiated it all, and I pushed it all. I guess when I left, the initiative left too,” said Rollins.
“For African-Americans to use shampoo that a Caucasian uses, it’s like washing your car with soap powder,” he added.
Several black Senate employees last week echoed the claims of Foster and Rollins.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.