8.7 Editor's Pick
March 29, 2022

Chris Rock Knew Better: On Black Women & their Hair.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here. (Also, some well-deserved strong language ahead!)

As a Black woman, I have no issue with what Will Smith did to Chris Rock. After all, you bring fire, you should expect heat.

Will Smith is known as a peaceful, some would say “soft,” guy who made a mistake. Like most of us, he should not be judged by his worst moment, especially by white folks who have no idea about the depth of this exchange. (Nor do many seem to truly care…)

Please, for the love of God, I wish white folks would stay out of this conversation unless they have something more to offer than judgement, disdain, or mockery. Their judgement is just that: theirs, from a white perspective. But this is actually a long-overdue conversation about the blatant disrespect of Black women that the world has deemed “okay.”

In case you missed it, we just witnessed a week-long spectacle of white Republicans publicly disrespecting the most qualified candidate for the Supreme Court in decades, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson—a Black woman. It was public disrespect in full glory, with little pushback from mainstream (read: white) media.

And now, we have an intelligent comedian—one who helped create a documentary called “Good Hair,” on, of all things, Black women and their hair—using Black women and their hair as a punchline! And this is why I have no issue with the bitch slap Chris Rock earned. He knows better. One would think that after spending time with hundreds of Black women speaking on all things hair, including alopecia (which is a disease), there would be more empathy on display instead of a cheap joke.

And while not every Black person knew about Jada’s condition, a lot of Black women did and have dealt with their own issues around hair. My beloved godmother, who passed away at 105, had alopecia, which started when she was in her 30s. This means she dealt with wigs, turbans, and other hair coverings for 70 years. Even years later, it was a painful subject for her.

Our hair is an extension of our femininity—femininity which white folks often don’t believe we have.

Chris Rock intentionally and publicly disrespected not just one Black woman, but many Black women. Hair issues have been a source of trauma for me and for so many others. Our hair has been the cause of ridicule, scorn, and unwanted invasion of our personal space. We’ve been told we cannot style it the way we want to because it offends white folks’ “sensibilities.” We finally have hair products that are just for us and that too, is an issue.

The Crown Act (which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) was recently passed by the House of Representatives and, if passed by the Senate, would “ban race-based hair discrimination in employment and against those participating in federally assisted programs, housing programs, and public accommodations.” It was created after countless incidents where fake hair regulations were imposed on Black people in workplaces and schools, including teachers and coaches cutting the hair of Black children and teenagers without their parents’ permission.

I don’t expect everyone to understand, but I do expect those who like to think of themselves as allies to listen. I’ve had enough of white people bemoaning situations they haven’t experienced and then turning into Karens and Kens when the occasion arises. They have no issue flexing white privilege when they feel “threatened,” regardless of whether the threat is real or imagined. So, I’ve decided to flex my own version of Black privilege and the right for us to not be ridiculed for how we look or to be the butt of a tasteless “joke”—a joke that was actually a personal attack. And not the first one Rock has hurled at Jada and, by definition Will.

I am currently reading Will, Will Smith’s memoir. In his book, he specifically writes about feeling like a coward for allowing his father to abuse his mom. He has taken years to unpack what he felt was cowardice for not standing up for his mother. That is what I thought of when he slapped Chris Rock. Sorry folks, while violence is never the answer, most of us understand snapping and doing something totally out of character. And I’m sure violence (like that slap) got Chris Rock’s attention. I doubt if walking out would have had the same impact.

I’ve snapped a few times my damn self. Ask my kids. Or my late husband. If you’re someone who never has, it’s not necessarily because you’re more “evolved.” Maybe it’s because you’ve never been involved with someone or something that has triggered you to this level.

In my opinion, Rock got off easy. And again, while I don’t expect everyone to understand, I do hope people can listen for a change.



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