Jada Pinkett-Smith as the butt of the joke

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Photo Credit: photo via wikicommons under creative commons license

On April 8, 2022, the Academy Awards officially placed a 10 year ban on Will Smith.

By: Rachelle Saerang, Reporter

After Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on live TV, Americans are debating the justification of this “hair joke”. Either way, society views violence as acceptable until black women are the butt of the joke. 

Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Condition 

Alopecia areata, better known as Alopecia, is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles. In other words, it causes patches of hair to fall out. The heat used for hair straightening and tight updos are the main causes of this condition. Allina Health estimates that 1/3 to 1/2 of all black women have experienced hair loss. 

Alopecia isn’t a serious medical condition but it takes a toll on self-esteem and mental health. In a 2018 episode of Pinkett-Smith’s Red Table Talk, she shared the anxiousness in the early days of her condition. “‘It was terrifying when it first started,’ she said. ‘I was in the shower one day and had just handfuls of hair in my hands and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, am I going bald?'” Billboard writes on Jada Pinkett-Smith.

History of Hair in the Black Community

According to Marin Independent Journal, “Hair is a big deal among African American women in a way that it isn’t for others. When I was growing up, my older relatives told us, girls, that our hair was our ‘crowning glory.'”

The history of African hair grooming can go back as early as the 15th century. In ancient African civilizations, hair symbolized family backgrounds, religion, tribe, and marital and social status. During the 16th and 20th-century transatlantic slave trade, hair traditions were brought along. This included the use of combs for textured hair. 

Effects of Hair in the Black Community

To fit within the White American society, African Americans were pressured into straightening their hair. The hair comb modifies into the modern hot comb. A hot comb uses the combination of heat and the comb’s teeth to straighten textured hair from the roots to the tip. Straightening hair can cause damage in the long term. 

Throughout the Civil Rights era, Black Americans began to sport the afro: a rounded hairstyle using a more “natural” hair shape with the help of the right products. To this day, an afro represents black pride and the rejection of assimilation into white society. People with textured hair face discrimination daily. Black and African Americans face racial profiling using cultural styles compared to when straightened. Some find these styles unprofessional even with their cultural and overall health significance. 

Chris Rock’s Hypocrisy 

In the annual 94th Acadamy Awards, Chris Rock said he is excited to see Pinkett-Smith in the “G.I. Jane” sequel. Rock referred to Pinkett-Smith as G.I. Jane, a bald character.

On the other hand, the documentary Good Hair was Rock’s response to his daughter’s question: “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” A question many children with textured hair ask in comparison to straight hair. Released in 2009, the movie explores the significance of hair in cultures of color. 

Texturism and the importance of hair play a huge part in the black community. Black women experience this most often. He wonders how she got that idea. Summarized by Roger Ebert, Rock discovers that some younger children already have their hair straightened. In conclusion, Rock says that this is a bad message to give to black children. He speaks to black female icons about their hair. He includes legendary poet Maya Angelou and celebrities such as Nia Long, Eve, Tracie Thoms, Salli Richardson, Salt-n-Pepa, and Raven-Symone. 

Defending and Protecting Black Women

Malcolm X’s 1962 speech said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”

 

Race and gender is the reason for black women’s treatment. Timesupfoundation estimates for every one dollar a white man gets paid, a white woman gets paid 82 cents and a black woman gets paid 62 cents. The CDC says that black women are 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. In 2019, black women took up 12.9% of the female population in the US. According to NPR, 1/3 of all of the reported female missing cases were black in 2020.

The Oscar’s Hypocrisy 

Hollywood is known to be violent and unsafe against women. Countless men in Hollywood have received constant allegations of sexual assault. And yet they sit in formal events nominated for awards to celebrate their work. 

Roman Polanski, director of The Pianist and Rosemary’s Baby, has faced sexual assault allegations since the 70s. 4 decades after his first allegation, the Oscars bans Polanski in 2018. Harvey Weinstein, a producer of the Lord of the Rings series and Pulp Fiction, still has all of his awards after being banned in 2018. 

Will Smith’s Behavior

No one should have to face such public mockery. This kind of violence and hostility towards black women should be topic of the discussion. Will Smith chose to defend Jada Pinkett-Smith after an insensitive joke about a black woman’s hair. Although Smith should discuss the matter privately instead of showcasing violence, this joke should have never been written in the first place. Creating his own documentary on the importance of hair to the black community and the mistreatment of black women, Chris Rock should’ve never approved of this joke.