‘American Son’: Racial profiling at its finest

Courtesy of Netflix [fair use]

"American Son" highlights many racial issues in the United States.

Raven Day, Staff Writer

In his book “At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America,” Phillip Dray wrote, “Is it possible for white America to really understand blacks’ distrust of the legal system, their fears of racial profiling and the police, without understanding how cheap a black life was for so long a time in our nation’s history?”

This is one of the many questions viewers are forced to think about when they watch Netflix’s newest drama “American Son.” “American Son” tells the story of terror-stricken Kendra Ellis-Connor and Scott Connor, played by Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale, respectively. The Connors are a separated interracial couple who reunite in a Florida police station as they search for answers surrounding the disappearance of their teenage son, Jamal.

The movie takes place in the police station for its entirety, which really helped create and build upon the tension. At the start of the movie, all that the viewers know is Jamal has been missing for a few hours and he’s not picking up his phone. Immediately, I felt on edge. The suspense made me try and piece together the story myself as if I was some kind of Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew. Kendra describes Jamal’s appearance for us and she says he has cornrows. Scott goes as far to say he looks like a “gangster,” a typical stereotype for a black male which causes police to see him as only black. Let me tell you, I was angry throughout the entire movie at the blatant examples of racism and stereotyping of a person of color, a brother as the African American community would call him, did not soothe the seething burning inside of me.

Even though Larkin continuously assures them that everything is okay, we know deep down that something horrific has happened to Jamal. And that is the problem. I knew that since Jamal was black, he would not come out of his situation unscathed and the fact that this was probably the assumption of hundreds of other black people who watched this film is not okay. Police brutality is an issue that, in recent years, has gotten completely out of control. Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Rodney King. All victims of the system because of the color of their skin. After watching this movie, I sincerely hope that people will realize none of us chooses to be black; we accept it, we become proud of it, and we play the cards we’re dealt in a country that doesn’t love us.

One of the biggest issues presented in this movie is racial profiling. Throughout the movie, Kendra constantly brings up the fact that the world will only ever see Jamal as a black male. Not mixed, not part-white–only black. Larkin goes as far to ask her, “Does he have any street names? How was he dressed?” Like, really? Will black men constantly have to rise above the stereotype that they’re all gangbangers? Thugs? I felt Kendra’s disgust and anger as if they were my own as she looked at Officer Larkin with pure disbelief due to him being racially tone-deaf.

Larkin isn’t the only person who needs a reality check. Scott has racial bias against his own son. Naming him Jamal was Kendra’s choice and he makes it clear he has always despised the stereotypical, African American name and would have preferred something that wasn’t so black. “On a scale from ‘Eric Holder’ to ‘Darnell Jackson,’ ‘Jamal’ is brushing right up against ‘Darnell,’” Scott says. He even scolds her for attempting to give Larkin a Black Lives Matter speech, and it was at this point I began to wonder how Kendra fell for someone so blatantly racist, even though he doesn’t realize it himself.

While I’m still very upset that Jamal himself is never seen, I must say that “American Son” is definitely a movie that America needed. It has sparked conversations that were long overdue. As a black teenage girl, I definitely recommend this movie. Not for the drama, but for the content. Maybe it’ll wake some people up.