Opinion

Chris Rock’s Oscar Joke is More Than Just a Joke

By Evana Brenelus

evana.brenelus@spartans.ut.edu

“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.” – Malcolm X

Whether you saw the video on social media, heard about it from your friends, or saw it live on ABC, we know that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars on Sunday night. Some people believe Rock’s joke was simply just that and Smith should not have reacted the way he did, but I beg to differ.

Jada Pinkett Smith had been very open about her experience with alopecia, an illness that results in hair loss, and decided to shave her head during the summer of last year. Kudos to her because she looks beautiful and can pull off the bald look; I could never.

This also was not the first time Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. During the Oscars in 2016, he joked about Pinkett Smith wanting to boycott the Oscars and comparing it to being in Rihanna’s panties.

The fact that people are more outraged over a slap than what was said or understanding that a Black king was standing up for his Black queen concerns me. The amount of hate Smith is receiving for his actions when other celebrities have done a lot worse than slapping someone on stage is ridiculous. Deep down, some of us know why everything is coming down so hard on him, others just do not want to admit it.

I believe that as a Black man, Rock should have never decided to embarrass a Black woman in front of a mostly White audience on national television. But as they say, not all skin folk are kinfolk; this was not the first time Rock disrespected a Black woman’s hair.

Good Hair is a documentary that was produced by Chris Rock in 2009. This documentary focused on Black hair types and its impact on Black culture. In one part of the documentary, Rock is having a conversation with an Indian woman and asks, “Has anybody ever tried to steal your hair?” which the woman replies with “no” then he says, “if you see some Black women, just run the other way.”

Personally, that joke is played out to me because Black women are not the only ones who wear extensions or wigs, I know plenty of women of other races who wear them. Also, the name of the documentary itself was already problematic so the content was not really shocking to me.

When people use the term ‘good hair’ in the Black community, it is used to demean non-Eurocentric hair. People will describe anything from straight to looser curls as ‘good hair’, which usually almost implies tighter curls and coils are bad and ugly. Black people already have to deal with hair discrimination, so constantly reinforcing these terms is not helping us move forward as a community.

Sheila Bridges, a Black woman who suffers from alopecia, had starred in Rock’s documentary, and in an interview with him, she spoke on her own experiences and the obstacles she had to face.

According to an article by the New York Post, Bridges responded to the situation that took place at the Oscars by saying, “Didn’t we sit down and talk at length about how painfully humiliating and difficult it is to navigate life as a bald woman in a society that is hair obsessed? As if life isn’t challenging enough out here as an unprotected black woman?”

Some people can only see the tip of the iceberg of what happened at the Oscars, whereas people like me think deeper into it. There are unspoken rules in our community and one thing I would never do is put down another Black person in front of another race unless they did something terrible of course. It is also our job to protect the people in our community who are already ridiculed enough by society and that is Black women.

This is not to take away from the experiences of other women or minorities, but as a Black woman, I can only speak from that perspective. I always want to see Black people win first, especially our women.

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