Let’s be honest.
Andrew Johnson, a 16-year-old wrestler from Buena Regional High School, should never have been put in a position to make a decision to cut his dreadlocks.
But he was.
In a matter of seconds, he was forced to choose. To choose between individual or team. Dignity or disqualification. Identity or inclusion.
Alan Maloney, the white referee officiating Andrew’s match, gave him 90 seconds to decide.
“It’s just hair.”
“Rules are rules.”
“He was being a team player.”
These type of statements have come out in the aftermath of the viral video, from fellow competitors and classmates to public figures and celebrities adding their opinions. They are phrases that are echoed in the “comments” section of articles across the internet.
They show how adamantly people are willing to deflect the larger issue, and how oblivious people are to the way White Supremacy works its way into every stitch of the fabric of our society.
Even more enraging is how this incident is just a rain drop in the ocean of incidents that occur daily in schools across our country. Incidents that many times are just swept out of sight, pushed into a dark corner hoping never to be noticed. It illuminates how the abuse of power oozes its way into any space it is given air, whether that space be the Oval Office, a board room, a classroom, or a gymnasium.
It’s an issue that infects our schools, and disproportionately attacks children of color in the worst ways. It causes them to doubt their self-image, their worthiness, their sense of belonging. The pain worn on Andrew’s face is a feeling felt far too often. An emotion endured by Black and Brown children so commonly that we’ve normalized it.
We even applaud their ability to push beyond it.
Adults failed to protect Andrew in that moment. He needed them to not just be there voicing discontent. He needed them to snap those scissors in half. He needed them to march out of the gym. He needed them to tell the referees “How dare you.”
He needed them to fight for his humanity.
Below you can read a statement from Andrew Johnson’s family, detailing what occurred that day. The Instagram post is from journalist and activist Shaun King’s page.