Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wives, and Your Husbands: Antoine Dodson and the Collision of Media Images, Social Justice, and the Black Bourgeoisie
The Background : It Aint Over!
Though the furor over the original video has been replaced with a catchy song, as Teddy Riley (G-rated version) and Ice Cube (R-rated version) have quipped: “it aint over!” With over 32 million views on YouTube and a live performance on the BET Awards, Antoine Dodson and his story continue to remain extremely relevant.
A Social Justice Smorgasbord (insert the sound of the Italian chef kissing his fingertips here)
The National Association of Independent Schools identifies eight aspects of diversity: race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, age, and exceptionality (ability/disability). For those of us who do work in social justice (diversity), rarely does one event come along that encompasses almost every one of those categories. Acts of racism usually involve race and socioeconomic status. School reform consistently revolves around those same themes. Islamophobia involves the trifecta of religion, race, and ethnicity. But every once-in-a-while there comes along an incident that hits the diversity jackpot. This summer, when I first saw the local news interview of Antoine Dodson, I felt as if I was watching the Super Bowl of social justice. While the sound of bourgeois Black America collectively sucking its teeth increased with each YouTube click (an even that’s occurred over 15 million times now), I looked at it in an entirely different manner. In barely two minutes, this video touched on a smorgasbord of social justice issues: racism, poverty, crime, media portrayals of young Black people… and the coup de grâce? There’s a gay Black man named Antoine serving in the starring role. As Russell Crowe’s Maximus sarcastically asked us: “Are you not entertained?!?”
The Reaction: Things Bourgie Black People Hate
I know that the immediate reaction our demographic (read: bourgie Black folk) has to seeing impoverished Black people on newscasts typically involves a lot of eye rolling and dismissive hand gestures. I’ll cut you a little slack on this point though, because it’s a sentiment that isn’t wholly unwarranted. We’ve all seen local news stations make more than a few, shall we say, ‘dubious’ interviewee choices when they cover breaking news in poor neighborhoods. But in the case of Antoine Dodson and the bed intruder, I really feel that Northern Alabama NBC affiliate WAFF-48 – and subsequently, the rest of America – got a whole lot more than they bargained for.
A Closer Look
Let’s start here: this is ultimately a case about sexual battery and the attempted rape of a woman. Though there is light-hearted intrigue – and yes, a lot of humor – in the aftermath, it does not go without saying that the premise for this scenario is a very serious one; one that definitely deserves to be addressed in a more serious discussion, and can be devastating to the families affected by it. That said, the semi-seriousness follows.
The first thing that stands out about the interview is the star himself. I know as soon as you prejudiced… ahem… “folks” saw Antoine Dodson with his unkempt hair, his red bandana, and his black tank top on in front of his project home, you immediately tuned out – some of y’all literally so. But look closer: he isn’t “making a scene” because he’s on TV, and he isn’t simply answering questions. He’s very clearly articulating a message about what happened, the violence of the crime, and making a not-so-subtle statement about the general danger of living in the projects. The fact that he’s looking into the camera, and not at the reporter in the background, turns this from a simple spectacle into an impassioned plea. And his warning at the end, when he discourages the perpetrator from “coming to confess”, is a clear statement about his lack of desire for police involvement – another serious topic of discussion for people who are Black, and especially those of us who live in poor neighborhoods. (And clearly, despite how small he looks, Antoine has some ability with his hands, as he was able to help fend off his sister’s attacker. His threat just may not be all that idle!).
With his small-time fame (and money) from the video and the subsequent song, Antoine Dodson has since moved his family out of the North Alabama project in which they resided at the time of the attack. Including the aforementioned BET Awards appearance, Dodson has done everything from selling merchandise bearing his image, to enrolling in an associate’s degree program, to graciously donating some of his earnings to juvenile diabetes research, which caused the death of his niece. While the man who attacked the Dodson family may have been “so dumb”, Antoine apparently isn’t.
The Red Bandana Wrap-Up
So what does this all mean? What do we do with this information? Hopefully it causes us to consider and even reconsider how we view and label ourselves, especially the impoverished and Black. It doesn’t take a nuanced approach to see the differences between the very worst of our images portrayed on the local news and Antoine Dodson’s positive one. Oftentimes we‘re our own worst critics, especially when it’s entirely unwarranted. We have to be much more discerning when it comes to critique, or we’ll end up missing very important messages, simply because the messenger fits into our preconceived judgments. Now run tell that, home-home-homeboy.