American Son – Racial Inequality in the eyes of the Law.

The Film “American Son”, tackles the major themes of racism, injustice and police brutality, by telling the story of an interracial couple, who find themselves stricken with worry, over the fact that their 18-year-old son is missing. The mother, named Ellis Connor, wakes up one night and realizes her son, Jamal never came home, which is unusual behavior for him. She attempts to contact him through his cell phone and he doesn’t answer. She decides to call the police and inevitably heads to the police station, and then calls the child’s father. 

            Once she arrives at the police station she is met with an officer who is blatantly rude, as well as dismissive of the problem.  Refuses to give her any information regarding the case and fails to even try to hide the prejudice’s he has in front of the worried mother. She is suspicious of the officer’s true intentions and assumes that the color of her skin is the underlying factor that is resulting in his obscene behavior. Something that black women in America know all too well.  I felt especially drawn to the story of the mother within this film. Portrayed by Kerry Washington, she played the role of a black mother, frustrated by the inability of the world to listen to her words and take them seriously. We still live in a world in which this scenario continues to get played out. Black people, not just women, within the criminal justice system, or when having ANY interaction with law enforcement find themselves, being demeaned and overlooked. Have their truths be turned away and unheard because of the systematic racism that still runs through the veins of this country. In a way, this story relates to Harper Lee’s to kill a Mockingbird. The parallel between the characters of Tom Robinson and Ms. Ellis Connor, is hard to miss. Major themes that have been displayed in both bodies of work include, the presence of inequality at the social and legal stage. No, these characters do not share the same story but their struggles are similar. Both having to fight to have their truths believed by the public. Both experiencing symptoms of the generational trauma against black American’s. Over 50 years apart. 

            Once the father arrives, the police officer mistakes him for the lead investigator because Jamal’s father is white. Before he realizes he begins to spill out information regarding the case that he purposely, refused to disclose to Jamal’s mother. This is where the film begins to highlight and contrast how the criminal justice system treats white people versus how they treat black people. It becomes clearly apparent that the two parents of Jamal have plenty of disagreements over how their son should be raised and how the world may view their bi-racial child.  Mr. Conner associates Jamal’s disappearance to the fact that he has begun to embrace his black roots. By hanging around other black kids, and wearing cornrows, Mr. Connor thinks that “Ghetto hair and hanging with black delinquents is a big risk.” But Mrs. Ellis Connor describes their son Jamal’s behavior as attempting to figure out who he is, and making sense of being surrounded constantly by white people. She describes an incident in which Jamal explains to her that he feels as if he is the “face of the race.”  The people around him look to him as the only black boy in the room. The poster child for all of their questions, and all of their glares. People who do not share the same lineage, traits or struggles. Something that I often times face, being a black woman at a PWI. Whenever the discussion is brought to race, I have to look around and see that everyone is already staring at me. For anyone, this can be especially hard. It makes you feel as if you are an outsider, it makes you feel like, the world looks at you as this object, and not a person with feelings. Jamal’s father however, does not understand this concept and decides that this is just some “Victimhood Psychobabble”, projected at him by his mother Mrs. Ellis Connor. He does not see his son as a black male, he does everything in his power to not see the color of his son’s skin. But he fails to realize, that not seeing Jamal’s color of skin, is to not see Jamal for who he is, a black male. 

            Unfortunately for Mr. and Mrs. Connor, their worst fears were realized when the true investigator of the case, comes and explains that Jamal was involved in a traffic stop gone wrong. He had been with two other black males, who both had warrants out for their arrest. When asked to get out of the car and wait in the rain, Jamal made one critical false move. His movement away from the car caused the officer to shoot Jamal in the head, instantly killing him.  This story is the ending that many black Americans will face and have faced in this country, and even the world. It is a story that truly depicts the actions of law enforcement, as well as the fears of the parents of those who have begun to be entangled within the criminal justice system. 

The Harms of Ignoring Intersectionality.

In Kimberlié Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins, she explores the flaws inherent in the systems of modern feminism and antiracist politics and how they often fail to recognize the unique areas in which they intersect. That is because these movements are based on the experiences of black men and middle-class white women which excludes large swathes of lower-class women of color and their struggles. She applauds the work that these movements have accomplished while also critiquing the exclusion of these marginalized women from the overall narrative by making it an either/or scenario for many of them. Crenshaw stresses the necessity of recognizing those who experience both racism and sexism and what can be changed to address those unique needs.

Crenshaw illustrates that by ignoring the intersection between the movements they ultimately end up hurting one another. She does this through her many examples of domestic violence and rape. In the instance of the latina woman who could not find shelter from her abusive husband Crenshaw shows the harms caused by the lack of preparedness or willingness of these women’s shelters to accept someone that they deemed outside of their norms for victims. Another instance of the banality of the movements is the refusal of the LAPD and other antiracist advocacy groups to release the domestic violence statistics for the very real fear that they would be used to demonize the people they represent.She argues that because of these failure of feminism to recognize race and the antiracist movements to address the oppression of the patriarchy, many women of color are left unspoken for when it comes to the issues that concern them the most.

Crenshaw frames all of her examples through not only a societal view but also a political and a cultural one as well, and in all scenarios, the voices of women of color are eclipsed by those who are either white or male. By ignoring the areas in which movements intersect those fighting for them are inadvertently harming their own causes and those of others fighting for representation, and by flooding conversations concerning race and gender with a narrow idea of what each means it creates a destructive dichotomy for those caught in the crossfire.

Crenshaw’s Blending of Race and Gender

I am beginning to find that I reason with pieces such as this more now than I did before or at the start of the semester. The issue brought about in this piece is a conjunction of race and gender (or other identities) that cause one to be even more succeptable to discrimination, or any other misfortune, than any classification would alone. This intersectionality is one that Crenshaw argues has never never been effectively negotiated or understood, even by members of one of the groups.

Crenshaw writes about the ways by which black woman are affected politically, socially, and economically. The idea of a country built and structured around patriarchal ideals coincides here, and bonds with modern racism. Each, of course, are difficult to overcome and require resistance and fight. However, when non-white and womanhood are linked, a new, less identifiable struggle comes to the forefront.

When it comes to the law and how to go about addressing issues such as this one, Crenshaw writes about the importance of establishing group politics, rather than merely identity politics. It seems that she believes that the first step to understanding one’s particular position is to understand and put together each aspect of the individual that yields intersectionality.

Absolutely, this piece speaks to the issues that are represented in TKAM. The idea of intersectionality is important to the law in general due to a justice system that relies heavily upon prejudice to obtain ‘justice’. Crenshaw’s piece was an in-depth description of the way that Tom was treated, and an indicator of the some of the issues that the US still faces currently.

This piece is interesting but is certainly not what I am the best at reading and thoroughly understanding. I do think that Crenshaw makes some excellent points that I never necessarily thought about putting together. For that, I enjoyed the piece and look forward to learning more.

Tradd Stover