It’s more than “just hair”

When I cut off my hair in December 2011 my aunt asked “how will you go to work”. When I I went to work the principal asked “what kind of style is this?” Short hair has been seen as many things on black women and I learned all of them back then. Oh rather I should say that I was loudly reminded of them. Short hair is unprofessional. Short hair means you are a lesbian. Short hair means you want to be a man. Short hair means you are trying to be a man. Short hair means you are bossy and controlling. Short hair means you are uppity and refuse to stay in your lane; in your assigned spot on the social hierarchy. All of this is what I felt communicated in that one “nice GI Jane” joke. Without saying it Chris Rock not only made fun of Jada’s autoimmune condition, attacked her femininity and challenged Will’s masculinity.

Let’s get it straight, alopecia is more than hair loss. Like other autoimmune conditions it means lots of doctor visits and blood work. It’s draining emotionally to feel like your body is betraying you, while getting weird looks and even weirder prying deeply personal questions; sometimes from strangers. Folk can argue whether or not alopecia fits the definition of disability but no matter how you spin it alopecia has a major impact on your life. Even if you don’t have comorbidities like lupus it still takes a lot of effort and resources to deal with this disease and alters the way you live and the way people see you. One thing is certain, Jada’s hair is not really something she can control. What she can control is how she responds to her hair loss to manage how it affects her. That’s what she’s doing and that is one of the reasons folks love to hate her. She steps past shame to vulnerability. She stands in her truth confidently embracing her flaws which challenges the idea of what it means to be a woman.

Image of Jada Pinkett-Smith at the 2022 Oscars

Society has this idea of what it means to be a woman, a Black woman, and when you reject that or are seen to step outside the norm some people believe that it is their personal responsibility to shame you into compliance. That is what people have been doing to Jada ever since the 90s and that is what Chris Rock attempted to do on the biggest stage possible. How dare she wear her bald head to this formal event when she should hide it under a wig in shame. Never mind that they would still make fun of her and the joke would probably be along the lines of “we all know you bald under that wig”. People just love to find a way to humble black women and the vitriol that has been spewed by so many lets us know that people are way too comfortable using a black woman as a butt of the joke. Too many people were way too ready to use this event as an excuse to openly ridicule and disrespect Jada.

To be honest the way Chris Rock has been coming for Jada publicly for decades makes me think that a long time ago Jada rejected his advances and he is still stinging. He just has a bigger stage than the man who yells “you’re ugly anyway” when you don’t respond to his catcall. I wait for the day when, like Piers Morgan, he thinks it’s a cute story and tells us all when and how Jada rejected him. Men like that feel an ownership of women and can only reconcile their rejection by telling themselves that the woman is flawed or not feminine because a real woman would NEVER deny them. They attack her looks, question her gender or call her a lesbian.

We have seen this before: folks trying to humble black women by questioning their gender. We see it when black female athletes are singled out for “sex testing”. We see it in the number of people who insisted on describing Serena Williams as manly. Over and over again the physical features of black women are used as fodder to ridicule and dehumanize them but if anything the discourse of this week proves that a large portion of us are not willing to take it and black men are ready to stand up and defend us.

No matter how much they try to put us down “still, like dust, we rise”. We will not be silenced and we will not be left out of the conversation. We are noticing everyone who defends Chris Rock and everyone who says that Jada doesn’t deserve an apology. We see yall cosigning the disrespect of black women. We hear you. We want you to know that we deserve to explore and embrace all aspects of our humanity. We deserve to be vulnerable. We deserve to be confident. We deserve to speak our truth and stand in our power. Most of all we deserve to be cherished, protected and defended. You will not shame us into subservience. We will not hide our light to make you feel better. We are here to stay so get used to it. No matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it.

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