African-Americans in New Mexico
This week, columnist Gene Grant called for African-Americans to speak up against injustices in New Mexico. In particular, he looked at the case of 16-year Journal photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis, who spent 30 minutes cuffed on the side of I-40, though he committed no crime. Grant also pointed to the case of state trooper Dexter Brock, who was cuffed to a telephone pole by coworkers in 2000. Grant writes:
What happened to these two New Mexico brothers would not stand in many other states, and it should not stand here. It's time to put disapproval from African-Americans on the record for all to witness.
The piece reminded me of a brilliant essay we ran in 2007 called “Can I Touch Your Hair?” by Virginia Lovliere Hampton. It’s really one of the better discussions of race in our state that’s been published, and it’s one of my favorite articles that’s run in the paper. She writes about the positive aspects of living in New Mexico, as well as the downside of being in a region where African-Americans are a small percentage of the population.
One of those common experiences is having our hair “touched” if we have or wear our hair “nappy.” In Albuquerque—and, I hear, in Santa Fe, too—“nappy-headed” people of African descent are confronted regularly with having perfect strangers reach toward us to touch our hair or, worse, that of our young children—often without asking—like we’re dolls or other merchandise to be handled. It's unsettling, objectifying and rude, especially for those of us who, like me, are from the South, where, apparently, white folks are raised a little better.
I hear all the time that racism isn’t so prevalent in New Mexico—particularly against African-Americans. But it’s worth considering the insidious problems ignoring these issues can create.