Anthony Mackie has been very vocal of late, giving his opinion on all sorts of nice things. I’ll let others address his political leanings, black panther comments, and acting industry opinions, but his criminalization of black men based on their hair style was not one that I could let pass.
In case you missed it, Mr. Mackie gave an interview with The Grio in which he stated:
“Like my nephew wanted to grow dreadlocs. I’m like fine, I’ll sit you down and I’ll watch The First 48 with you and everybody you see on that show, that’s doing something wrong, they’re black dudes with dreadlocs. So, do you want to be seen as part of the problem or do you want to be an individual?”
“Let’s just say you have locs and you walking down the street. The police pull you over and say you fit the description of somebody. You start yelling and arguing with the cops. Next thing you know you pressed up against the wall going to jail for something you’re not even involved in just because you look like somebody and you don’t know how to handle yourself.”
I have a few issues with this mindset:
First, black people are often seen as part of the problem, simply because we exist. If the police want to stop you when they are looking for a suspect, people who are fat, thin, short, tall, dark, medium, light, bald, and have locs will ALL get detained. We ALWAYS “fit the description”. It’s the blanket excuse to search and seize.
Secondly, black bodies have historically been judged and accorded privilege or disdain in relation to how well they line up with white culture and white/European beauty ideals. The lighter the skin, the straighter the hair, the better the job opportunities and advancement. Tomes have been written on colorism, racism and the black community. The frustration I feel when I see respectability espoused by black people, people who should have the EXPERIENCE of knowing the stereotypes aren’t collectively true, is indescribable.
I won’t even go into the irony of his taking away his nephews individuality by trying to force him to adopt a hairstyle that is in compliance to a different standard by giving the false choice of “being part of the problem or being an individual” in choosing to loc or not. It sounded like he was saying “Be like me if you want to be an individual.” Ahem.
I think many see black/African hair in it’s natural state as a threat, a sign of non-conformity. It’s a visual cue that you may not be a “tame negro”, which makes some people uncomfortable.
When negative connotations are associated with our natural hair, black women who do not have the curlier hair patterns are often assumed to be militant (BLACK POWER!!) or anti-establishment. Our sexuality may come under question. We are told repeatedly that our hair in it’s natural state is not professional. Even some colleges have banned natural hair in their business programs. Our children are being told at younger and younger ages that their natural physical attributes are unacceptable even though black children perform better when they have been taught “black pride”. By having parts of themselves outlawed, they are being encouraged to despise these traits in themselves and others around them. Our children are internalizing that they are inherently sub-par and defective, down to their DNA. We shouldn’t be penalized for embracing our natural hair, wearing it in styles to allow it to grow and display it’s unique texture and protecting ourselves from chemicals and heat damage. Period.
Finally, he is flat out WRONG.
The issue isn’t the hair, it is the over-policing of black and brown bodies and how we are portrayed in the media. If he is watching The First 48 and every young black man stopped has locs, it is because that is the style of the moment. If it was the early 80’s, they would have all had jheri curls. If it were the mid 80’s to early 90’s they would have all had high top fades. While I have resisted the urge to tweet to Mr. Mackie every instance of a young black person who is shot or brutalized who did not have locs, I hope he comes to realize that being fashionable does not make you a criminal. This type of thinking may make you feel safe, that if you do x,y,z, you will be exempt from the brutality experienced by other black people, but ultimately respectability politics will always fail to protect us, and this is why we need diversity in media, behind and in front of the camera. For the record, neither James Blake, John Henson, Thabo Sefolosha or Henry Louis Gates, Jr., wore locs, or were in poor areas when they had their negative encounters with the police or racial profiling.
One of the reasons I have been happy to see the Obama family in the White House for the past 6 years is the symbolism they represent. A BLACK man, in charge, with a loving, intact family is normalized for our nation, who usually will only see black people and families portrayed as broken, lazy, uneducated and poor, seeking to leech off others. We need to see diversity in our stories: stories of success, joy, fun – just regular living. We have stories to be told about our triumphs and struggles related to life and overcoming things other than poverty and racism.
If the primary exposure someone has to black people is via media, which for the most part, dehumanizes us and displays us as hardened criminals and thugs, then when we have public encounters with them, these people are going to draw on what they know – negative stereotypes which reek of criminal tendencies – in interacting with us. Every movement we make becomes sinister in their minds. We are always “reaching for a weapon” or approaching someone with “evil intent”. So, whether it is a white woman locking her car doors, grabbing her purse closely, or someone calling the police because a black person held open the door for them, or are walking down the street, we are all affected. Black people in general bend over backwards to avoid making others feel uncomfortable: slow movements, soothing voices, and even going as far as to cross the street, and frankly I’m tired of it. As Mr. Mackie shows, it’s not just white people being influenced and buying into these negative stereotypes, and I think that’s the saddest part of it all.