- Chris Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair resulted in Will Smith slapping him on stage.
- The moment resulted in discourse about alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
- Experts told Insider that Black hair has been criticized and politicized throughout history.
Treonta Gray said she “cried all night” after hearing Chris Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s baldness during the Oscars last weekend.
“I was in the restroom crying because it ain’t no joke,” Gray, who was recently diagnosed with alopecia areata last December, said in a Tik Tok post. “It ain’t something you’re supposed to make a joke about. Women, we wake up one day, we got a hair full of hair. The next day, we’re going bald.”
“He shouldn’t have said a joke as such pertaining to someone’s hair. It was unnecessary,” Gray, a business owner based in Texas, told Insider. “As a woman, typically, we’re cherished and glorified [for our] hair. I just felt that it was insensitive.”
In 2018, Jada first spoke publicly about her experience with alopecia, an incurable autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. In a December Instagram post, the “Set It Off” actress was transparent with fans about the bald spots on her head.
A recent study revealed that Black women are more susceptible to hair loss on the top of their heads compared to other racial groups. Notably, Viola Davis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley have opened up about their experience with the medical condition. Pressley, in a deleted tweet, thanked Smith for “defending” his wife after Rock made his joke.
“Shout out to all the men who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults,” the Massachusetts congresswoman wrote.
Gray said that Pinkett-Smith, “just coming out and being the bold woman that she is, it just honestly just gave me some confidence.”
“It’s already hard being Black,” Gray said. “For those who may wanna comment on a Black woman’s hair, I would tell them to be mindful of the words that they share, because they don’t know what comes with our transitions.”
Black women’s hair has historically been discriminated against and ‘politicized’
The villainization of Black hair stems from slavery when Africans were deprived of their traditions and identity.
“The hair was one of these physical attributes that was very easy to point to and say, ‘Look at their hair. It’s more like an animal than it is like our hair. That’s what makes them inferior,'” Lori Tharps, co-author of “Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” told CBC, referring to white slave owners, adding that prior to the slave trade, hair was associated with status.
In 2009, Rock, co-produced and released a documentary “Good Hair,” which explored Black hair culture and said at the time he pursued the project because his daughter had expressed frustration that she didn’t have “good hair.”
Lorraine King, a UK-based journalist wrote on Twitter: “Lots of people are saying it was just a joke but Black women’s hair is used as a weapon to abuse them. I’ve lost count the number of times someone has tried to drag me by criticizing my hairstyle. Chris Rock should have known better as he did a documentary about Black hair.”
“Black hair is is always part of these conversations around what is acceptable and what’s respectable,” Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead, associate professor of Communications and African American Studies at Loyola University Maryland, told Insider. Earlier this month, the House passed a bill to prohibit “discrimination based on an individual’s texture or style of hair.”
“For too long, Black girls have been discriminated against and criminalized for the hair that grows on our heads and the way we move through and show up in this world,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley on the House floor before the CROWN Act was passed.
“Our hair is very political. Our hair has always been a topic of discussion and debate and curiosity. I think the ways in which we’re able to style our hair, the freedom of our hair, I do think that white supremacy takes a look at the freedom of our hair as something they cannot control and they try to,” Whitehead said.
“I think because our hair is so thick and so naturally tightly coiled that there’s a standard of beauty in this country that’s been there since American slavery and extends not just to our features, not just to our body shape and size — but to our hair to make it more European, to get rid of the natural coarse, to control it, to press it out, to make it straight, to make it line up with the European standard,” she added.
Areva Martin, an LA-based author and attorney who penned “The Hatred of Black Hair Goes Beyond Ignorance” pointed out a moment at the Oscars in 2015 when E! host Giuliana Rancic said actress Zendaya’s hair — styled in dreadlocks — looked like it “smells like patchouli oil and weed,” a comment that was met with major backlash.
“Black women are often criticized for our hair,” Martin said. “There has been this ongoing battle in our society about what are acceptable beauty standards. And for black women, the way we show up authentically ourselves has always been deemed the opposite of good, the opposite of beauty, the opposite of acceptable in the dominant culture.”