sacrifice of wrestler’s dreads is racism, not teamwork

December 24, 2018
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A Black high school wrestler by the name of Andrew Johnson was forced to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit his match reports The Guardian. The referee who made this call told Johnson that his hair and hair cover was in violation of competition rules, perpetuating a deliberately damaging trend of punishing Black kids displaying their natural hair.

Johnson went on to win the match, but not before South Jersey News reporter Mike Frankle caught the incident on tape, concluding that it was Johnson’s show of being the “epitome of a team player.” Black Twitter was quick to jump on that micro-aggression, pointing out the underlying dehumanization of what Johnson endured. The constant debt Black people have to pay to exist in the world is sacrificing parts of their Black identity to progress in their chosen fields and that was the issue with referee Alan Maloney’s call — Maloney who already has a reputation for racism. Maloney is a white man who was accused of using a racial slur in 2016, according to the Courier Post. He was suspended but that call was overruled in an appeal court, leaving Maloney to officiate again.

It is a mechanism of instilling ingrained anti-Blackness early in Black youth when they come into predominantly white institutions. That harmful tactic is then reinforced by the hordes of white liberals and otherwise who frame the clear violation of Johnson’s rights by commending his sacrifice and calling him a team player when he was left with little to no choice anyway. It is the quiet violence that fuels white supremacy, handing over a part of your identity, your Blackness, in order to be deemed worthy to participate. It’s not sportsmanship. It’s anti-Black and the Civil Rights Investigations that are now being opened regarding the incident aim to prove that.

Alan Maloney will not be assigned any more matches until the matter is investigated by the Attorney General in the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said in a statement: “Seeing Mr. Johnson forced by an official into a choice between giving up who he is or giving up his ability to compete was nothing short of disturbing. That he went on to win his match after this experience speaks to an incredible depth of character — and to our need to see that no future student-athlete has to endure a similar situation.”

Andrew’s mother, Rose Santiago-Johnson wrote on Facebook, “Hardest thing I’ve ever seen,” in a reply to wall post. “He is good now… but that was brutal emotionally and physically.”

Black hair is still being weaponized against Black people. We can only hope that an investigation will yield some justice and perhaps start a conversation on dismantling the judging of Black hair by European standards. Black hair continues to be a battlefield of Black body autonomy and I rue the day we start to lose our patience.