On December 19, 2018, New Jersey wrestling referee Alan Maloney gave then 16-year-old wrestler from Buena Regional High School, Andrew Johnson, 90 seconds to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a match in a state wrestling competition.
It was a gotcha moment for Johnson who had heard the reservations some people had about him keeping that hairstyle but had never been confronted with the choice of cutting it or being told he lost in a sport he loved because of what Maloney called an “unnatural” hairstyle. At that moment, Johnson did not have only himself to think of because he was one of Buena Regional’s competitors – he was part of a team.
His team did not want him to cut it, in fairness. His white coaches argued with Maloney because they too saw nothing wrong with the teenager’s dreadlocks. But the referee started the injury time clock and Maloney and Beuna Regional had to make a decision. It was the young man who under duress removed his protective cap and told one of the officials to have away.
A startling moment such as this was recognized by most Black people across America. They too have seen this happen somewhere before, perhaps to them or other Black people. They have been forced to alter their personal style and taste to white appreciation. Intriguingly, the most viral tweet that reported Johnson’s predicament was posted by a white reporter who called the teen an “epitome of a team player”. Reporter Mike Frankel was heavily criticized but his tweet stands to this day, only adding afterward at the time, a note that said he could not be blamed for the way he “framed” the incident.
Face2Face Africa has noted previously that in the United States, Black people continue to be expected to keep their hairs agreeable to the white gaze and considerations. Slave owners were known to shave off the hair of the enslaved, of course, by force. The afro hair-do, braids and dreadlocks are often considered unprofessional or unruly in workplaces and in schools.
It is not even just an American problem. In Ghana, two Rastafarian teenagers were denied enrolment into a school because of their hair. A few Supreme Courts in different jurisdictions have had to rule on the matter of the appropriateness of traditionally Black/African hairstyles in African schools and workplaces showing that the politics of hair is one of the most treacherous remnants of European colonization and white supremacy.
In 2019, the stories of Johnson and those of others in The Garden State moved the state legislature to pass its version of the legislation known as Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act). This law, now passed in seven states, is fighting discrimination based on hair texture. Employers and superiors who insist on the contrary are liable to steep punishments in California, New York among others,