Actor Jerod Haynes Talks HBO’s ‘Native Son’ & the Modern Effects of White Supremacy

ATM: During the 1930s-50s, there were a lot of novels written about black men or about black lives. Some of them did not give normalized names for these young men. For example, in another novel Invisible Man, the main character is also a black boy, but in this case, he has no name. So, they either had names or no name. Their types were not of the typical name standard. This is seen in the Native Son. His name is not John, Jack, Jason, but it is Bigger.

JH: This is intentional. From my own assessment, Bigger means being a black kid in America. “I am bigger than my circumstances.” It is similar to the playwright August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. One of his characters is named Citizen Barlow. His name is Citizen. This play was set roughly in a different time. The point is that he wanted to get away from slavery. His family named him Citizen on purpose because he is a Citizen despite what the outside forces try to make him believe. It is the same with Bigger. In the book, he says, “Man them white boys sure can fly planes.” This is relevant because in his mind he is wondering how these white boys’ can fly planes, but I can barely cross the street. “I believe I am Bigger than what is in front of me, but you have shown me that I am.” The propaganda is this being bigger than these things, but I cannot articulate it now because I have no blueprint.

ATM: His name talks volume to the movement of his male black body. His name becomes the definition of him.

JH: Yes 100%. If he was put in a different circumstance in upbringing, then he would be different in a bigger way. He would be allowed to exercise the tools that were given to him. Now, he is not allowed to exercise any tools to benefit him. Society will not allow him to. Therefore, he is caged. This can make you go insane.

ATM: Do you believe he saw Mary as a regular woman or did her white skin overrule what he should have taught?

JH: This is a great question. I’m not sure there is a simple answer. During those times and even today, society praises this. It is like the forbidden fruit. People always like to discuss why Bigger took her to the room. This is the controversy. But at the same time, you have to think about him being young. He is only 20. You are asking a kid to be thoughtful and sane in an insane circumstance. Of course, there is an attraction because there is a man and a woman there. People want to ignore this, but he is human. Maybe there is an attraction there because he has seen her on television, news, and media. He is told to not touch or have this thing. There is a lot of things a play.

The question should be why he is not allowed to view her as such. The reason it is a problem is that they are from two different backgrounds. He is black and she is white. If Jan had got caught in this room with her, then it would have not been a problem. Society has put these barriers up to say this is wrong and this is right, especially this being the 1930s and 1940s. There is no telling what could have happened. He may know he should not be close to her, but sometimes the brain and how you feel does not always link up. He is being crucified for being human and he is not allowed to be human. This is the issue of the whole story. Therefore, he takes on actions because he is not allowed to be himself. It is like the death kid that does not know sign language. He/she might scream or yell. You might think it is anger. No, it is just frustrating because they cannot communicate with you. Bigger is like this.

ATM: But what does being human even mean when bringing the inequality of race?

JH: Human meaning “I am seen as such.” “I am seen as equal to you.” Me having a conversation with someone regardless of race, it would not be frowned upon. For him or any black woman or man, under these circumstances, you are not allowed to be human. You are a second-class citizen. How do you operate in this space? There is not a guide for this. I have to figure this out. You are telling me I cannot be myself. This can do something to your mind. It can drive you insane. This is still happening today. It is a little more sophisticated then it was back then.

Racism is still prevalent. The issue again is that “I am not allowed to be myself, but you are.” “I am not allowed to operate in this space, world, and skin. “My relationship with waking up in this world is quite more difficult than my white counterparts.” Chris Rock made a joke, “How many of you all would trade places with me?” None of the white people in this audience raised his hand. “You this and I am rich.” I saw a movie where a young black kid asked an older white guy, “Would you rather be black and live forever or black and die 40 years old.” The guy could not even answer it. It is this dynamic in this relationship. It is very prevalent.

ATM: If there was role reversal with some white people were to live as black, then they would not make it. They could not be second citizens for even a month.

JH: There is a certain privilege there. I have a Haitian friend. He came over here to the States. He had a rough upbringing. You would not notice it today if you did not know him. He is very articulated, super smart, and tender. He is thoughtful and a good person. We were sitting in a coffee shop one day in New York. We would get looks. We had a discussion. I said, “Damn. Jim, you could walk in with a suit, speak well, nice watch and ride. You are looked at as how did he get in here. What does he do?” A white could walk in and be a convicted felon with a suit on. He is automatically given the upper hand. This is because of his skin and a certain privilege. There are different types of privilege. There is classism and then you have color.

ATM: This is also a gender stereotype with the articulation of the black people. If you are black and carry yourself in an elegant way and speak intellectually, then citizens consider you white.

JH: Right.

ATM: But when you bring black women in this equation, they do not receive the same scrutiny as much as black men. So, if a black woman had walked through the door with a pants suit, then she would be less judged and look upon and questions. She still would be questioned because of her skin. A black educated woman has it different in this sense, not in general.

JH: I think there is a little bit of a war happening. I say this respectfully. It is not us causing it. I had a friend of mine who is Ethiopian. She said, “Black women are graduating at a higher rate while the black men are being incarcerated.” Black women are being incarcerated at a crazy rate also, but they are far exceeding the graduation and education rate over their white counterparts. This creates a divide within the culture. We cannot work together because some of us are made to be emasculated and do not have the tools.

So, when some come out of incarceration, they must play catch up. It is so much happening within the culture. I do not even have the answer on how to fix this. I agree with you. On the other hand, black women have it tougher. This is because of being a woman and how they are portrayed. You guys might be excelling in education, but we cannot take away that it is tough as hell for you all.

ATM: We are not eliminating the fact that black women are marginalized. This is because the media is still negative toward them.

JH: Look at what they promote. They do not promote like they should in an educational way.

ATM: Like what?

JH: Like the last time I picked up something about leading entrepreneurship it was the black women. We do not promote it as we should. It is a little more rachet. This is cool too. But it is just promoting a little too much. It is everywhere. There are so many women out there like yourself who are business owners doing things out of what society says for women.

ATM: Bigger Thomas continues to think outside the normal black consciousness at little. He is always concerned about the white man. He says, “You scared because he is a white man. At least the fight made him feel the equal of them.” Polar opposite but this statement proposes there is an equal element.

JH: I think Richard Wright was alluding to that it is easier to steal from your own. This is what statistics show. When we rob ourselves and each other it is okay, and it is fine. It is expected. There are cases that were unsolved. When you rob the white man, then people say, “Ohh.” You are not putting yourself at risk.

ATM: You are biting the hand that feeds you.

JH: Exactly. So, this risk you are taking is interesting because it gives you a sense of power. This is what it is all about, which is who has the power. Instead of being powerless you become powerful. They deem you as powerless when you say, “I’m going to take something from you.” These are the people deemed as the upper echelon. “I am going to take from you, this is the sense of power.” It is a power struggle. He says, “Instead of robbing from my own, I am going to rob them.  I am doing to them what they do to me every day.”

ATM: On the white conservative side, one could argue, “I see the black culture want us to give them equality. They want this and that. But how come when turning on the news, I see a bunch of black on black crime. If this issue is so serious, then why do I see blacks shooting blacks. Yes, my people shoot them, but the rate is higher amongst black on black crimes. They shoot their own higher than us. So, I am confused on why they feel they should have equality. Their words are not lining up with the headlines. Why should we even lower our racist ways?”

JH: It is orchestrated this way. If you give me a gun and I live in poverty, then, of course, there will be black on black crime. This is with any race and ethnicity. But if you give me the tools to survive, then I guarantee we will change. I always ask people, “How is it that kids can afford these expensive guns, but their moms could barely afford to pay rent?” This does not make sense. You just look around. Guns and drugs do not get there themselves. They put them there. I feel like it is all a game and like jail systems. It is just like real estate you need tenants. Now, what is a good way, I know tenants can occupy my space? It is all a game, man. Nobody just comes out wanting to kill someone. No one is like this. You put me in insane circumstances and want me to be sane. This is insane itself.

ATM: It is a contradiction.

JH: It does not even make sense. Food and everything play a role in this. Everything. I love Tupac. He said one of the most real quotes from my favorite songs “Keep Ya Head Up.” He said, “They got money for war, but can’t feed the poor.” There is no hope for the future. They wonder why we crazy. This is what it is plain and simple. Look, I have lost a lot of friends on the street. They are either locked up or died by the hands of the gun. It is a vicious cycle because we did not grow up like this at 11, 12 or 13. But when things around you take shape sometimes you go with the environment. Put a lot of the kids in an environment where they can learn and eat good and right.

I guarantee you would have a different result. But if you give them food hazardous as poverty, no jobs, putting drugs in the community, then what do you think the outcome going to be? This is common sense. So, when they try to make this excuse, we are killing each other, I wonder why. Just even the plane field and see what happens. All we are doing is making the most out of what we have. We just trying to survive. This is it. Do not pin us to be monsters. This is crazy. Let’s not forget how this land was taken. Let’s not forget. All these revolutions were bloodshed. So, understand where we got the model from.

ATM: The elements of society used to be needing to survive. Now these elements are lost. This is being fearless, devoted, motivated, and having strength. The high prevalence this 50 years ago is gone, wiped out. If no one acts on these elements, then generationally they will disappear for good. The generation now is lost. They are trying to fight a fight for civil rights, but you have to have the elements. For example, you are trying to build a turkey, but you do not have any turkey. You have only bread, but it is the wrong type of bread.

JH: Right.

ATM: You can grill a turkey sandwich. You can sauté it. But it will not be a turkey sandwich if you do not put the turkey in it. The turkey symbolizes the elements of what black America and this society had. The fight persona that blacks once had is gone.

JH: I think the fight is there. I would not say lost. I do not want to take away from the effort. But I would say it is different right from our forefathers. It should be. We should find ways on how to fight and see if it is effective. I think a lot of dope things are happening. It is tough under white supremacy. White supremacy is so tough. It is such a divide between the culture. You have certain folks thinking a certain way. Some people just want to sit on the sideline and get their bread. You have others who want to do something and do not know what to do. The frustration was there. Martin and others marched already. I am not sure if this is the answer.

Now we have to find ways to fight. In my humble opinion, I need to do more for my platform. We need to come together to educate ourselves on legislation or our local government. This is how we should fight, educating ourselves on the politics of it all. A lot of people think votes do not count, but they do. We are not educated about it. The argument about why we are not educated is people being tired. People do not have the time and energy to research this stuff out. There are other ways to push the needle forward, but this comes with education. Racism is not as overt like it was back during the day, but it is sophisticated these days.

ATM: Discuss the prevalence of the word Nigger. His name is a combination of the word.

JM: Wow. It still has the same tone as when it is was created. It will never go away. Instead of calling him Nigger they called him Bigger. It is showing the positive.

ATM: It is showing you have a step up in our book.

JM: Exactly.

ATM: There is another symbolic nature with this character. He is a chauffeur driving Mr. Dalton around. He moves in a motorway throughout society. Metaphorically, there could have been a lot of occupations given to a black boy. I would assume that Mr. Dalton sits in the passenger seat. A few times Dalton gives him direction even though Bigger knows him and he knows this. This is a way of white supremacy. This guy is the real car and Bigger is the real passenger.

JM: Interesting. I love this. He is telling him how to navigate and where to go. I can see this. Keep up the good work, you are going to be alright. With your voice and platform, you can help spread this love and the type of blueprint. I think this is what you are here for, it is to help us do this. You might be the one that can bring us all together.