Big Yikes. In case you missed the Oscars on Sunday the bigger controversy which is overshadowing everything else is Will Smith slapping Chris Rock across the face due to a joke Chris made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head which is due to alopecia and not a stylistic choice. So many people are divided on whether defending your wife in that way is in good taste or not, whether Chris deserved it for joking about someone’s medical condition, whether Will should lose his Oscar. We’re going to dive into the issues I have with what occurred as a Black woman.
First and foremost, I hate when Black people participate in shenanigans like this that perpetuate stereotypes that white people think about us. The first joke I made after seeing the slap was, “this is why we don’t get nominated at the Oscars”, which isn’t true. I would argue we don’t get nominated due to stuffy white people not seeing value in Black art or wanting to support white people and narratives they understand. But it certainly doesn’t look good when two of the most high profile Black people you invite participate in fisticuffs at the award show. I also hate that this reinforces the idea of Black people being more violent, more unpredictable, and not truly having comradery with each other.
I truly don’t understand how in 2022 we are considering acting in violent ways on an internationally syndicated stage to defend the honour of women. I know nothing about Jada and Will’s relationship, if that’s the behaviour she respects, if that’s what she wanted Will to do. I can say confidently, I would be more embarrassed at the slap than suffering a joke based on my illness. I think Jada could have taken to Twitter herself, defended the alopecia community on her own in her own way, and there would have been no need for Will to resort to hitting another person on television. Chris Rock knew the minute he said the joke Jada was upset, unimpressed and that the joke didn’t land. While I think a lot of women enjoy being defended by their partner, maybe even enjoy mild jealousy when men get mad at the attention their woman has – and that can be okay in harmless scenarios, but I would never want someone to go so far to defend me they get into a fight, privately or publicly. I also, as a woman, do like to have the opportunity to defend myself. While I want my partner to be angry right beside me if I am being disrespected, trust me when I say I can take care of myself and that Chris Rock would have been suffering my wrath, not Will’s. And again, I do not know their relationship, but I wouldn’t want someone to go over my head and above me to act out irrationally in this way if I felt I could fully take care of myself.
What has bothered me the most about all of this is how we are still joking about, not only females and how their body is being presented, but specifically Black women and their hair. In a world where we feel a need to defend our curls, defend our braids, defend our culture, how is it that even when we remove our hair or lose it due to illness it is still the butt of a joke and from another Black person at that. I thought it was well known that the rule of thumb is do not talk about or touch a Black woman’s hair and yet here we are. I know nothing about alopecia, their community and how hard it must be to lose your hair due to an illness. I do know what it is like to be bullied about how I present my hair because I am Black, to be incessantly asked about the hair choices I make, if people can touch it, how it “does what it does” and even that is exhausting. Adding the burden of an illness being the cause of it’s style must be draining, especially if – like me, you feel your hair represents your identity or femininity. I, for so long, felt that my hair had to be straight and flowy to feel feminine, flirty, sexy, sensual. It took me years to realize that my curls could be sexy, fun, and embrace them. For that reason and many others, I reiterate that women’s appearance – hair included – should not be the butt of any jokes.
By and large, can we learn how to communicate our frustrations and also take stock of what should and should not be joked about? Perhaps this is a hard take but I do think certain jokes should be off limits unless done in a very sincere, well-crafted way that can illicit healthy conversation. Randomly adding a joke about someone’s lack of hair at an awards ceremony was never going to be tasteful and neither was Will’s reaction. We all make mistakes. Let’s learn from this and grow, and continue to invite Black people to awards ceremonies (please).