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Chris Rock’s Jada Pinkett-Smith ‘Joke’ Went Too Far & Perpetuates Racist Ideas About Black Women’s Hair

Photo: Tinseltown / Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock
Chris Rock, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith

In 2009, Chris Rock produced and starred in a documentary titled “Good Hair,” inspired by his daughter’s own struggle with her identity as it relates to her hair.

Today, Rock finds himself at the center of a conversation about Black women’s relationship with hair for very different reasons.

Soon after Will Smith struck Rock onstage at the Oscars, viewers quickly took sides.

Condemning Smith for resorting to physical violence is the obvious take and not necessarily a flawed one. But, this argument lacks nuance. 

We don’t know Smith to be a particularly violent or aggressive man so what about Rock’s comments rubbed him the wrong way?

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As for Jada Pinkett-Smith, she is a woman capable of finding humor in things, she and Smith were even the subject of other jokes earlier in the night, so why was this one so egregious?

Online, Black women have been striving to answer these questions and contextualize Smith’s actions.

Chris Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith has drawn criticism from the Black community.

That Black women’s hair has been historically demonized in the US is a well-known fact. 

Black women have been turned away from job interviews because of having locs, forced to leave school because of wearing hair extensions in their box braids, and generally bullied and demeaned by a society that favors stereotypically white beauty standards. 

Chris Rock knows and intimately understands the vexed politics surrounding Black women’s hair.

He showed this much in his documentary when he so deeply explored the cultural significance of how Black women have thought about their hair.

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In “Good Hair,” Black pride and Black hair are intrinsically linked. So, it is upsetting to see a man who understands this link take aim at a Black woman’s hair.

Jada Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia diagnosis only further complicates the situation.

Rock’s comments not only mock a Black woman’s appearance but also takes aim at her medical condition.

“Jada, I love you,” Rock said onstage. “G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, all right?”

The line was in reference to Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head, a style she wears due to her alopecia diagnosis that she went public with 2018.

Pinkett-Smith has spoken about the “terrifying” feeling of losing her hair — the topic is rightfully still a sore point based on her reaction to Rock’s comments.

So, why should a woman have to let yet another comment about her hair slide?

Online, Black influencers have been weighing in on the topic. YouTuber TabithaSpeaksTV spoke on her own alopecia diagnosis and how it “attacks your psychological outlook on you as a woman.”

She elaborates that, in a society in which Black women have had to fight to be proud of their hair, alopecia and jokes about hair loss only add to a long history of Black women having their sense of pride in themselves attacked by others. 

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Pinkett-Smith is the face of many Black women who have been forced to justify their own appearance to those insistent on demonizing it. 

Rock understands this and joked about it anyway.

Across social media, Black women are explaining the weight of Chris Rock’s words.

“This wasn’t just about a joke, this wasn’t just about a slap. It was about the constant disrespect we endure as Black women, often at the hands of patriarchy and racism, and the lack of protection that comes to us when we do,” wrote Tiffany of “Fidgets And Fries” on Instagram.

“In case you don’t understand what was happening on that stage,” voiced another woman on Twitter.

“Chris Rock was disrespecting a Black woman in the most hurtful and insidious way possible and did not expect that he’d be challenged.”

One might argue that it is “just a joke.” But the punchline of this joke was a Black woman who has openly struggled with defining her identity in the face of her hair loss.

As a result of this “joke” a Black woman was left sitting stone-faced while a room of her peers — her predominately white peers — laughed at her expense. 

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Alice Kelly is a senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her Twitter for more.