A black teenage wrestler who went viral after a referee told him to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match is growing his hair back – and his community are working to hold the official accountable for what they believe to be racism.
The incident, which many called racist, has left scars and unanswered questions in the community.
A video clip of 17-year-old Andrew Johnson, from Buena Vista, New Jersey, spread like wildfire; it showed a white referee called Alan Maloney issue an ultimatum before a match – either cut the dreadlocks, as they reportedly didn’t conform to the rules around hair length, or lose the match. Critics of the referee say had he been white with hair a similar length, that ruling would not have been applied.
In the video, a white female trainer hacks at his hair, cutting it off. He would go onto win the match, but it would be a bitter victory as he wept from the ‘humiliation’ he was forced to endure.
His grandfather Charles Johnson, once an athlete in the Buena Vista Regional High School too, led a meeting at First Baptist Church with other members of the community, who are calling on the referee to be punished.
Andrew hasn’t spoken to the media about what happened, though his parents are considering legal action.
Johnson told the Washington Post that his grandson’s hair being cut “hurt him”.
It hurt him, too. I could see it in his face. It hurt him real bad.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr, chair of the African American Studies program at Princeton University, told the Post: “If you remember how [Johnson’s shoulders] slumped, the kind of humiliation he experienced and what that would mean or might mean for his relationship to the country."
There are these moments repeated that we are seeing repeatedly on social media where one wonders: What is happening to the young people who have actually witnessed it and who are victims of this stuff?
According to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, there is an active investigation into the incident.
The incident hasn’t stopped Andrew from growing out his dreadlocks, and his grandad confirmed that “he’s still got them”.