By: Laisha Harris
Sunday night, America sat and watched in disbelief as a Black woman was protected by her husband on an international broadcast of the Oscars. Chris Rock, in poor taste, made a “G.I. Jada joke,” which prompted Academy Award nominee Will Smith to rise from his seat, walk on stage, and slap the comedian. In that moment, Smith was not thinking about his 36-year career as an actor; he was not thinking about the award for Best Actor, nor was he thinking about the possibility of legal consequences for assaulting a fellow comedian on national television. He was thinking about his wife, and her struggle with a medical condition called “Alopecia.”
All I could think about are the abundance of jokes that are made at the expense of black women. Houston is the home of many wonderfully talented Black women: Beyonce, Solange, Michelle Williams, Kelly Rowland, Lizzo, Simone Biles, Megan thee Stallion, and Normani. While wealth and fame are something they have in common, they’ve also found themselves to be the center of some of the most hateful and insensitive conversations. The public made fun of Blue Ivy’s hair, prompting Beyonce’s line “I love my baby hair with baby hair and afro’s.” Lizzo, a Black entertainer who embraces her beauty and size, ended up in tears on Instagram over the constant body-shaming and racist comments she receives on her pictures. Megan Thee Stallion, rapper and TSU graduate, received jokes and accusations of lying after being shot by rapper Tory Lanez. Simone Biles, Olympic gold medalist, had to defend herself online regarding her hair and not the history she was making by placing first in the 2012 Olympics.
We can usually handle our own with the “clap-backs that silence the haters” such as Beyonce’s “Formation,” Lizzo and Cardi B, “Rumors,” or Megan’s “Tuned In,” but this trend tends to beg the question – who and what can we count on to protect us?
Black women have always been the glue that holds the family together. From our great-grandmothers who taught us how to harvest our own fruits and vegetables, our grandmothers who raised twelve children, our mothers who worked 60-hr weeks to provide food and shelter, to our younger sisters and daughters who are still learning and still growing. There’s also the family we choose – the wife that supports your dreams, bears, and rears children while maintaining her own identity and independence.
Black women have also been victims of a wide array of abuse. As children, like was the case with Blue Ivy, our features are ridiculed. Like Simone Biles, our accomplishments are overlooked while our beauty is minimized and criticized. You may even think of the black women who were victims of sexual assault by entertainers like R. Kelly, Trey Songz, or Russell Simmons. As we get older, the obstacles become more complex as we balance our mental and physical health while balancing any familial priorities. In 1962, Malcolm X pointed out that the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected person in America is the Black woman. Forty years later, the statement still holds true, as some of our most personal and intimate moments are used to propel a journalistic agenda of devaluing the human experience of Black women.
People reacted to Smith’s actions in different ways. Some called for criminal charges and advocated for his arrest, some brought up the controversial history of the Smith’s marriage as justification for the joke, others projected themselves into the situation, focusing on their own shock and trauma from witnessing the assault, completely ignoring the private and personal struggle endured by a Black woman. The response was not empathy towards the personal struggle endured by Mrs. Smith, nor was a healthy discussion of the medical condition that attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss proposed. In fact, the response to the events Sunday night completely overlooked the subject of the punchline and focused solely on the response that the punchline elicited. The events that night brought forth a thought I believe is worth emphasizing and exploring – black women deserve more. We deserve to be seen, our human experience deserves to be recognized, and we deserve to be seen as more than punchlines to poorly written jokes.