I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! My family and I are on the road on the today on our way back to Brooklyn after spending the week with our families in Kentucky.
We got a chance to watch two great movies that I would encourage each of you to go see right away – “If Beale Street Could Talk” and the animated film “Into the Spider-Verse.” Both of them were so amazing, so good, that I would definitely put each of them in my Top 10 films of the year. Now I expected “If Beale Street Could Talk” to be that good, and it’s beautiful, and Director Barry Jenkins and the cast, I think have created something truly special, but I had no idea that Into the Spider-Verse was going to be so great. Like “If Beale Street Could Talk” it is also anchored by a complicated, realistic feeling Black family that had the subtle nuances and quirks that we rarely get to see on film.
Go see both of these movies this week if you haven’t done so already. They’re so good that we hope to see them both again.
While we were away on Christmas vacation this past weekend, you no doubt saw the horrible video of the young teenage wrestler, Andrew Johnson, having a racist referee force him to cut his dreads right in the middle of a wrestling match. It was one of the most despicable, emotional displays of white supremacy that I’d seen all year. Andrew went on to win the match, but was clearly distraught by the whole ordeal.
If you don’t mind for a few minutes I want to lean into a consistent criticism that I saw all over the Internet surrounding the incident because I think it’s a very teachable moment.
I was the first person to post the video to Instagram and as of this morning the video there has over 27,000 comments. Consistently I see people say some version of two different things that I want to address.
The first comment that I see the most is some version of: If I was there and I was his family I wouldn’t have let that happen.
And the second criticism that I saw a lot, I think, is even more painful, and arrogant even, the second criticism was that if you were Andrew Johnson, you wouldn’t have let them cut your hair.
Let me address both – and I hope to make a broader point here this morning.
So a lot of people said that if you were Andrew’s family, you would’ve stopped that whole situation from happening. And I know why you say that, and maybe you would have. I’d like to think that I would have stopped it or that my wife would’ve stopped it, but I think it’s easy for us, in the comfort of our own homes, scrolling through Instagram, where we see the beginning, middle, and end of the incident, it’s easy for us to imagine ourselves as a hero who intervenes and stops the whole thing. Most of us see ourselves as heroes in our own minds when we see an injustice and imagine ourselves doing something so different that what we see on the screen, but, as you saw, every adult in that gym with Andrew that day, eventually allowed it to go down.
That’s because it’s much, much harder to stand up to bullies than it looks like. It’s much harder to stand up to authority than it looks like. It’s much harder to actually go against the grain than it looks like.
I agree that some adult in the room should’ve stopped them from cutting this young man’s hair, but there is a reason it didn’t happen. When faced with the opportunity to really stand up against injustice, most of us don’t actually do it.
And for that second criticism of Andrew, that if you were him, you wouldn’t have allowed them do cut your hair, I have to call BS on that. I think what most people were doing is imagining you today, with the strength of mind of a 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 year old, what you today would’ve done, but this boy is 16, he doesn’t have the maturity and hindsight that we do.
And that leads me to my final point this morning, and it’s a serious one. The best way for you to ensure how you will respond under pressure is for you to play stressful scenarios over in your mind now, when you aren’t under such pressure, so that when the pressure comes, you don’t panic. Now of course Andrew and his family never could’ve imagined such a specific scenario taking place, but what we need to do is play over in our minds the calm confidence we will display if we are ever faced with racism or bigotry. Even rehearse the words or energy you plan on having, because here’s what I know, when the situation actually goes down, it can be hard to think so clearly, but if you’ve already rehearsed the scenario in your mind, you can hopefully see your way through it with the dignity you hope you’ll have!
I’ve gotta run, but I hope each of you continues to have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! God Bless You!