Posted on March 28, 2022

Will Smith’s Oscars Slap of Chris Rock Settles It. We’re Done With Black Hair Jokes

Erika D. Smith, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2022

Protect Black women.

It’s a dignified mantra that, during the most raucous days of 2020, became an unapologetic command shouted at almost every protest and every march for racial justice in Los Angeles.

It’s also one that Will Smith, a Black man married to a Black woman, took to undignified extremes on Sunday night when he climbed on stage during the Academy Awards and went after comedian Chris Rock for cracking a joke about his wife’s bald hairstyle.

“Will Smith just smacked the s— out of me,” Rock said, as celebrities inside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and the rest of us watching TV tried to figure out if what we had just seen was staged. (It wasn’t.)

“Keep my wife’s name out your f— mouth!” Smith shouted at Rock after returning to his seat.

“Wow, dude,” Rock responded, clearly shocked. “It was a ‘G.I. Jane’ joke.”


Smith’s wife, actor Jada Pinkett Smith, revealed in 2018 that she had been diagnosed with alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss and often affects Black women. Since then, she has been chronicling the ups and downs of living with it, bravely talking about her bouts of shame and trauma.


We may never know exactly why Rock’s joke was enough to make Smith — an actor generally known for his affability, not his irritability — snap so violently during a live television broadcast. He was right to apologize to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and his fellow nominees during his acceptance speech for his caveman-like behavior.

But his instinct to protect Black women, to protect his Black wife, was absolutely correct. Our hair, a particular point of vulnerability even for those of us without alopecia, is not something to be mocked.


This is why, just this month, the U.S. House passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination against Black and brown people in workplaces and schools for wearing natural hairstyles. {snip}

Among the sponsors for the federal bill is Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts who also has been outspoken about her own diagnosis with alopecia.


For Black women, this is the backdrop for what happened Sunday night in Hollywood. It’s one reason why so many were quick to defend Smith — or, at the very least, understand why he did what he did.

Pressley, for instance, tweeted: “Thank you #WillSmith Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults.”

She apparently thought better of it, though, and deleted the tweet.

On Monday, she instead tweeted an appreciation post for those who “hold us down & support us” during the most difficult days of living with alopecia.

“Our bodies are not public domain. They are not a line in a joke — especially when the transformation is not of our choosing. I’m a survivor of violence. I’m a proud Alopecian. The psychological toll we carry daily is real. Team Jada always.”