By now, everyone has seen or heard
about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars for making a
tasteless and misogynistic joke about his wife’s short hair
resembling Demi Moore’s buzzcut in the 1997 movie “G.I.
Jane.” Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune
disease that leads to involuntary hair loss. As shocking as Smith’s
slap was, so too are the mixed reactions to the assault within the
Black female community, who either praised or condemned his violence.
Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the 2017 movie “Girls Trip”
with Pinkett Smith, applauded Will Smith’s action.
I saw a Black man stand up for his wife, that meant so much to me,”
Haddish told People magazine. “And maybe the world might not
like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing
I’ve ever seen.”
our Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who also has alopecia,
tweeted a knee-jerk response initially supporting Smith’s
assault on Rock that was later deleted, condemning the violence.
nation stand up! Thank you #WillSmith,” Pressley tweeted.
“Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living
with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults.”
antecedents such as 250 years of slavery and 90 years of Jim Crow
followed by 60 years of “separate but equal” rule of law,
even to the present day, have never afforded Black men the
opportunity to protect and defend the honor of Black women from the
brutal hands of white men. But romanticizing Smith’s violence
as an act of chivalry masks its toxic masculinity.
that evening, Smith won the Oscar for best actor for his role in the
biopic “King Richard,” in which he portrayed tennis
phenoms Venus’ and Serena’s dad. In his acceptance
speech, Smith said, “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of
his family,” to justify his actions. The following day, Richard
Williams reacted to Smith’s incident.
don’t know all the details of what happened. But we don’t
condone anyone hitting anyone else unless it’s in
self-defense,” Richard Williams said via his son, Chavoita
LeSane, to NBC News.
the hubris of Smith to compare his violence that evening on a global
stage to Richard Williams’s decade-long struggle raising his
talented girls in gang-ridden Compton is appalling. Williams’s
physical altercations were with gang members prohibiting him from
using the local public tennis courts for his girls’ practice.
Smith’s acceptance speech was a common phrase too often and
eerily espoused by men who batter, beat and kill their wives and
girlfriends: “Love will make you do crazy things.” Just
imagine what he’d do if he didn’t love you.
doesn’t matter if Chris Rock knew or didn’t know about
Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, because Black women’s hair is
the third rail in the community. The land mine can be detonated even
with good intentions, and Rock knows this. In 2009 Chris Rock
produced the documentary “Good Hair” when his daughter
asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”
The documentary was intended to destigmatize, via an open
conversation about Black hair, what is usually kept secret in shame.
The discussion included a list of luminaries: Maya Angelou,
Raven-Symoné, Nia Long, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve, and the Rev. Al
Sharpton, to name a few, whose insights were, in my opinion,
squandered. That said, it’s clear from Rock’s joke about
Pinkett Smith’s hairstyle that he didn’t learn from his
documentary, which felt like a mockumentary. The film was to educate
and entertain, but it did neither, and no one was laughing but Rock.
Renowned film critic Robert Ebert reviewed the documentary stating,
“Why do I know more about this subject than Chris Rock does?”
And he’s white.
let’s not forget the 2010 Sesame Street controversial song “I
Love My Hair,” a remake of “Whip My Hair” sung by
Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. The
song was intended to promote self-pride but got mixed reviews within
the African American community, with some critiquing the song as a
black accommodationist version of white girls flinging their tresses.
Smith understands the issue. Having a daughter and wife, he knows of
the raw, touchy, embarrassing and humiliating feelings many Black
women have about their hair. Smith may have thought he was defending
Pinkett Smith’s honor, but rather, he desecrated his intentions
with his violence. Moreover, to believe Jada could not defend herself
like some damsel in distress is part and parcel of heteropatriarchy.
Violence is merely one of its components.