Peace, good will, good tidings were interrupted by an image of the real USA, the outrageous violation and public humiliation of a Black New Jersey high school wrestler forced to cut off his dreadlocks, so he could compete in a wrestling match, last week. No it was not another incidence of police or racist violence, but it nearly equaled it for its sheer degradation and temporary emasculation and the accompanying sense of powerlessness.
Anger and outrage have been the words repeatedly voiced on social media, by those who have viewed the short video of the young man publicly having his hair chopped off, it has been viewed over 14 million times. It has received international attention and outrage as well.
The wrestler’s mother after watching the video of the event poignantly observed that, “it was the hardest thing I have ever seen.” In reality it was a difficult thing to watch for anyone with a conscious, or any amount of sensitivity, compassion and empathy as demonstrated by the large show of support among Whites, particularly women.
Interestingly the mother was responding to a parent of one her son’s teammates who were congratulating the mom because her son sacrificed for the good of the team.
But some sacrifices are too big to make and in the end are not worth making!
Andrew Johnson a wrestler at Buena Regional in New Jersey was preparing to wrestle in a match last week when the referee Alan Maloney informed him that he could not wrestle because of the length of his locs. When the wrestler sought to comply with the rules by offering to cover them, the cover was unacceptable to the referee. He was faced with a choice, either cut his hair or forfeit the match.
Truth is, there was no choice to make. Andrew’s hair is a part of him, a part of his identity. How could he part with it without giving up a little piece of himself, of his dignity, of his worth as a human being? As the website Sputnik insightfully reported, “bits of him were chopped off.” His shoulders slumped as a trainer chopped away his hair, because he was helpless against a system that said he must comply or appear not to be a “team player” if he stuck to his principles and refused.
However adult human beings, including his coach and the dozens of fans sitting in the audience allowed this miscarriage of justice to play out right in front of them. Only his grandfather seemed to understand the gravity of the event and had to be restrained from running on to the gym floor to stop the hair cutting.
Ironically the news of this outrage was not initially reported as the disgusting racist misuse and abuse of power that it was, by Mike Frankel of the South New Jersey Today News. Frankel initially tweeted that the wrestler was the “epitome of a team player. It was either an impromptu haircut or a forfeit. He chose the haircut,.then won,… to help spark Buena to a win.”
Frankel’s initial tweet was also the epitome of cluelessness, as he missed the real story, the real drama unfolding right in front of him, which was an injustice of the highest magnitude, a young person being forced to comply with an adult’s unreasonable request, apparently invoked by his racism. It didn’t cross his mind, until it was brought to his attention by many outraged twitter readers. In a later apology he writes,“in my mind it was “just” the ultimate sacrifice by a high school athlete.”
His words speak volumes. Frankel did not see the event with his eyes, but through his preconceived perceptions, so he was unable to see a racist decision, the torrent of Black pain and a gym full of people complicit in the injustice.
Furthermore the writer did not get it because he thinks like the system has taught him to think and sees how it has taught him to see. His White Supremacist education (which we all received) taught him and the rest of us, that it is Black folks duty to comply with OUR [read White], values, customs, tastes and dare not have any identity, hair style etc. that White America has not approved.
Frankel later apologized but backtracked tweeting, “according to many of you I missed the correct “framing.” In other words, he is still not convinced he got it wrong. But how else could it be framed? How would he have framed it if little Susie had been forced to shave her head in order to compete? Would he have framed it as little blonde haired Susie took one for the team?
But we get it, Andrew being publicly violated is really not that big of a deal, sometimes you gotta take one for the team, or the school or the company. Stop complaining so much they say, it’s not that bad they say and besides ‘I don’t see it as racist,’ they will say, or stop playing the “race card.”Black people are expected to grin and bear indignities.
The rights of the individual only apply to White people.
In US society people of color especially Black people have historically been asked to bury their grievances for the good of the country. But ironically, seldom does the country reciprocate. During the 1960’s the Kennedy administration (the one that Black folks at the time foolishly wanted to believe had its back at the time) actually tried to get folks protesting Jim Crow, while the US was embroiled in international squabbles (Cold War) so the country would not look bad.
The incident reveals a real blindness to Black pain, of course in the US; racist myths claim that Black folks have a higher threshold of pain. ‘They just do not feel pain like everyone else.’
In essence Johnson was bullied, picked on and picked out to be humiliated and singled out for disparate treatment because the vile, evil, bigoted referee did not like the way he looked. And the referee did it because he could and it was allowed to happen because his coaches and teammates to a lesser extent refused to resist the inhumane request. And the fans or bystanders were complicit because they could not, or refused to see that this was not about this kid getting his hair cut off, but something much, much, deeper.
IN this case the team should have taken a stand on behalf of their teammate rather than try to comfort him in his pain.
This was a teachable moment, it was an opportunity for the kid’s coach to teach the young people that there are some things more important than athletic contests and winning and losing. The coach should have invoked principle and demonstrated “real” teamwork by taking his team off the floor. He should have declared to everyone in that gym that, ‘if Andrew can’t wrestle and keep his dignity at the same time then none of us are wrestling.’ What is more important, an athletic contest or a young man’s emotional well-being and sense of self? Instead the bigoted referee handing out lessons in power?
The ACLU Chapter of New Jersey got it right when they tweeted, “This is not about hair. This is about race. How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?”
Peace, good will on earth will not be achieved until all of us recognize the humanity in one another!
justice then peace
(in memory of my loving sister Sonja Denise Roberts)