ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Lansing, Mich., hundreds of protesters have gathered at the state Capitol again. The subject of this protest is something specific that's become a sort of rallying cry for those who want to see stay-at-home orders lifted. Abigail Censky from member station WKAR explains.
ABIGAIL CENSKY, BYLINE: Unlike previous protests at the Capitol, this one turned the lawn into a barbershop. At least a dozen barbers and stylists set up card tables as generators whirred to power their clippers. Hundreds of people lined up for their services. There were no temperature checks, few people wearing masks and little to no social distancing. Hairdressers were ticketed for disorderly conduct as they protested being closed under the stay-at-home order.
Sreeny Cherukuri hadn't gotten his hair cut in three months. He says he came out here to show his support for small business and to protest the continuing stay-at-home orders. He thinks salons and barbershops are in the spotlight during the pandemic because everyone can relate to them.
SREENY CHERUKURI: Hair care, hairstyling, haircuts - that's still something everybody does in every ethnic class, every subgroup, every economic class. And I think it's one of the places you still have a relationship with the provider. You know, I have to be honest. I don't really know the name of the guy who works at the gas station, but I do know the names of the ladies who cut my hair. And so I think that's why it's a touch point.
CENSKY: For protesters like Cherukuri, a haircut is a political statement and one that's happening all across the country. Senator Ted Cruz made a political statement recently by getting his first haircut from a hairdresser who was jailed for defying the state's order to close her salon. A barber in New York drew the ire of Governor Andrew Cuomo after continuing to give haircuts against orders. He then tested positive for COVID-19. And in Michigan, a 77-year-old barber is now in a court battle with the state after illegally opening up his business during the stay-at-home order.
Marianne LaFrance teaches psychology at Yale, focusing on nonverbal communication. She says changing our hair is one way to control the image we present to ourselves and other people.
MARIANNE LAFRANCE: It's partly a political statement because it says, look; you're not going to take my control away from me. I have this control over how I look, and I'm going to exercise it. And when I can't, I - you're going to hear from me.
CENSKY: And now more than ever, people appear desperate to control something when so many things are uncertain. But some customers and business owners aren't so eager to return to salons and barbershops, even those that will open under strict safety protocols.
Nefertiti Harris owns Textures by Nefertiti, a salon that caters to Detroit's African American community, one that has been hit hard by COVID-19. She says she finds it hard to believe that people are protesting to get their hair cut and open salons and barbers back up.
NEFERTITI HARRIS: Are they really chomping at the bit to get their hair cut? Is - I mean, are those protests really about that? I question that. I don't even think it's about a haircut at all. I just don't. When you have lost so many loved ones to this disease, you think twice.
CENSKY: No matter why you're doing it, getting your hair done during the pandemic largely depends on where you live. People in states like Missouri and Arkansas can now go back to their salons and barbers. But if you live in California or Michigan, you may be stuck with your lockdown locks for a while.
For NPR News, I'm Abigail Censky in Lansing.
(SOUNDBITE OF EL PERRO DEL MAR'S "DARK NIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.