American Son – the Play We Aren’t Quite Ready For

The other night, I turned to Netflix (my go to choice for entertainment) to see what looked interesting. American Son popped up, and initially I was drawn into the description that highlighted a ‘missing biracial son’. I honestly thought that it was some sort of thriller…like Taken or something. When I realized that it was a play adapted to TV…and that the set would/did not change from the waiting room of the police station for the entire time, I almost turned it off.

I am glad that I didn’t

Before I get started, I’ll tell you know that the critical reviews seem to be on the lower side of the spectrum. In spite of these, I personally feel that it is still a good way to spend 90 minutes. In spite of the dramatized situation being a bit too picture perfect (of the perfect storm at least), today’s audience needs to hear, in very clear terms, the reasoning behind the #BlackLivesMatter initiative.

The United States is a nation that almost thrives off of stereotypes. We romanticize our history and say that we are a melting pot; but the reality is that we are a salad bowl. Each ingredient adds something to the whole. But the tomato always remains what it is…and never become more like a cucumber. A good number of Americans….who ‘consume’ the American culture effectively just pick out those tomatoes, or cucumbers, or maybe even both. They maintain a culture of convenience. One where they do not need to think about the disenfranchised; about the fellow Americans who are having their civil rights violated on a regular basis.

I would be rich if I had a nickle for every time I heard a phrase along the lines of, “What is wrong with Black people? Don’t they realize that if they would just do what they are told, then they would be fine.” What is missing from these statements is the other side of the equation….and that is the side of law enforcement. American patriotism has turned into blind support of the American government and various legal and military arms; including local police forces. But what is happening is a justification for behavior that is completely against our national constitution.

Putting a Spotlight on Being Biracial in the US

It is interesting that the son is not even an acted role in this play. Other then the mother’s, Kendra’s, description of him having green eyes, we have no idea what he looks like. Therefore whether or not he could ‘pass for White’ becomes irrelevant. And I think that was a smart choice for many reasons.

If you walk around any major US city today, you will encounter quite a few racially ambiguous people. Folks with light brown skin and curly hair….could be from a myriad of ethnic compositions (or just one). So now, people move past the physical appearance…and on to other physical characteristics. Like what type of clothes they are wearing…or how they style their hair…or how they speak. So again, this goes back to stereotypes. Jay-Z is a millionaire and dresses in baggy clothes and Air Jordans. If a young Black man wants to imitate that look, they can’t without also taking on the baggage of being a drug dealer or thug of some sort. But the double-standard comes in from young Wall Street tycoons drooling over Jay-Z; but crossing the street to avoid the no-name Black man on the street.

True acceptance doesn’t limit itself to race or socioeconomic status!

As the mother to 3 biracial boys, this issue sits at the forefront of my mind. In pop culture, biracial people are seen as exotic. But in their day-to-day reality, especially if they are part Black, they are defined in a general sense as being Black people; not universally….but often enough.

These people are all mixed/multi-racial/biracial. Unfortunately, we are not at a point in American society where upon meeting them, we would take the time to ponder that mix. We just see them as ‘brown’ and move on from there.

“I exist simultaneously as black and mixed, I am both. In the eyes of the Western world, I’m a black man. In the eyes of the black world, I’m a mixed man. Never a white man.”

Jake Troyli

To me it speaks volumes that in American society today, if you are mixed racially and part White, your White heritage is subordinated to everything else. Even in the case of Meghan Markle, where she straightened her hair and her complexion is probably the same as Melania Trump’s…she still catches hell for being a ‘Black‘ woman. If a member of British royalty can’t escape it, then boys from a working-class background in Harrisburg, PA aren’t going to escape it either.

American Police Brutality and Racism is Just a Natural Result of American Values

It is easy and convenient to blame police officers for racism and brutality. For sure, individual officers can do more to own up to their personal bias. But ultimately they are just cogs in a larger system. A system which has militarized local police forces. A system which has a legal code which hands our a different kind of justice that depends on your race and your wealth. A system that has turned prisons into profit centers.

Living in the ‘information age’ is actually pretty dangerous for people of color. White America feels like the ‘know you’ now….because they can go to YouTube and virtually cruise down the streets of Crenshaw. Or they can Google the latest ebonics slang. Or because Black music is listened to everyone nowadays. Or because countless media outlets can give them a glimpse into Black life. However in their day-to-day life, they still choose to live in segregated neighborhoods; they have no close Black friends; they would dread if any of their White children became romantically involved with a Black partner. Oh, and they feel 100% comfortable playing armchair quarterback on racial issues and making declarations online on how their European immigrant Grandparents came here with nothing 100 years ago, and they ‘made it’; so what’ wrong with Black people that they can’t get their act together 150 years after slavery has been abolished.

Sadly the ‘American experience’ is diverging further and further apart for Black and White Americans. The fact that American Son choose to bring this issue to the forefront was really commendable.

There Are No Easy Answers

I’ll wrap this up by saying that this play is not a ‘feel good’ type of piece. You do not leave with any sense of knowing who was right, and who was wrong. It really is not about that I guess. It is more about fleshing out various opinions in the crucible of stress, anger, frustration and love. In all honesty, it was hard to watch two parents living through every parents’ worst nightmare. But if you can acclimate yourself to that, you can be the fly on the wall to some very important conversations in regards to race and the law in America.

This post is dedicated to Antwon Rose, Jr. – Rest in Power young prince!