A Modern-Day Scalping: The Terrifying Tale of Andrew Johnson

On Christmas morning, social media was gifted with a movie preview: the trailer for “Us,” a movie directed by Jordan Peele of “Get Out” fame. The “Us” trailer had all of the makings of a Peele flick — social commentary, horrific images and those now-infamous perpetually crying eyes.

The trailer, which also featured an ominous pair of golden scissors, jumpstarted a series of premature think-pieces and misguided commentaries. The irony of it all is tremendous, because we didn’t need to sink into the depths of fantasy.

Our reality is terrifying enough.

Almost a week before Christmas, there was a report about Andrew Johnson, a 16-year-old high school wrestler out of New Jersey who was forced to cut off his dreadlocks to participate in his team’s wrestling match.

Alan Maloney, the referee who made the controversial decision regarding Johnson’s hair, has a history of making racist remarks during his tenure. Yet the monstrosity of Maloney’s bigotry isn’t the biggest nightmare here.

It’s the inaction of the people around Johnson — his teammates, his coaches, hell, everyone in the facility — to speak up or stop what’s happening to this young man.

They all comply with the standard of racism, none more viciously than the team trainer, who lops off Johnson’s dreadlocks as if it’s old cloth or meaningless paper during the course of cringe-worthy video footage.

The footage ends with the “victorious” Johnson, with his lip bloodied, snatching his raised arm away from Maloney and walking off sadly.

To the initiated and the cultured, it came off as a modern-day scalping — a brutal separation of one’s hair from one’s head. To both African-Americans and Native Americans, our hair isn’t just a covering, it is a crown. Scalping, which began as early as the 11th Century, became a means of suppression against people of color during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The cruel process, which by definition, is the act of cutting or tearing a part of the human scalp, with hair attached, continued during the Indian Wars in the mid-1800s.

Scalping wasn’t only about savagery, though. It was also about sport.

Scalps were not only used for display and decoration, they were also used for currency.

Again, the irony of the situation is tremendous. We find this teenager in a conflict — a wrestling ring, no less — where he competes for Buena Regional High School. Care to take a wager at the high school’s mascot?


And then, there was a poor assessment of the situation from local media:


“The epitome of a team player” is the perfect white bread response from white-bred media.

Only one player had to make a sacrifice — the mixed kid with the “Black” hairstyle.

It would be almost comical to think of Maloney, with his “Three Stooges” balding pattern, making a decision regarding a kid’s full head of hair, if it wasn’t such an insidious part of this country’s culture.

The Supreme Court, allegedly the highest court in the United States of America (the court of public opinion is fast-approaching), refused to address the issue of workplace discrimination regarding hair only months ago. Earlier this year, a six-year-old was forced to withdraw his enrollment from a “Christian” school because his hair was too long. The United States military only allowed female soldiers to wear dreadlocks last year.

It’s an unholy type of assimilation that is synonymous with this country’s job practices and views on being a “team player.” Being a part of the “team” is nothing more than empty rhetoric and respectability politics that not even the Black establishment is immune from. Centuries and centuries of oppression provide a cruel reminder almost daily — “assimilation” is nothing more than compliance with white supremacy.

That supremacy vilifies and villainizes a child’s Black hairstyle, but provides multiple chances to Maloney, who in 2016 reportedly used a racial slur against a Black referee. After the incident was reported, he participated in “sensitivity training,” which, according to what happened recently, has not worked.

Even now, the decision to not assign Maloney to any wrestling events until further notice feels like a slap on the wrist. History indicates that Maloney’s reign of terror will be allowed to continue.

Such actions reinforce a culture of supremacy and silence, and, as the late Rev. Dr. King said in an indictment of the war on Vietnam, “there is a time when silence is betrayal.”

Those times say so much about Us.


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