Alopecia can be an autoimmune disease. That’s what Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from. His immune system attacks his hair follicles, which can cause hair loss, among other things. However, alopecia can also be caused by chemical or physical damage to the hair. Black women, for example, are particularly prone to live with what is called traction alopecia. Because we are imbued with a culture that has long described our natural hair as repulsive or unprofessional, many of us have experimented with toxic relaxants or weaving methods that damage the scalp.
To hide the damage – and to avoid the teasing that still often accompanies a short, natural haircut that can help stabilize the situation – many women choose hairstyles that further aggravate alopecia. The vicious circle that is costly both in terms of health and money is driven by beauty standards that remain, let’s face it, frankly racist.
Hair loss is therefore a particularly sensitive topic for black women. It affects privacy, femininity ideals, wallet, public health. To learn more about the subject, we could watch the classic documentary good hair (2009), produced and narrated by none other than … Chris Rock. The comedian knows the problem inside and out (and therefore has no excuses).
Using his career as a comedian to downplay a disability, an illness or its symptoms is always in bad taste. But to understand why Chris Rock’s bad joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head sweated so many black women on social media on Oscar night, you need to be familiar with the cultural context. In the eyes of many, Chris Rock crossed the line Sunday night.
When we do not know this connection, we discover only one scandal: the one about Will Smiths, husband of Jada Pinkett Smith, to Chris Rock. The assault was certainly completely unacceptable. We swam somewhere between medieval chivalrous fantasy and ordinary machismo.
Rewriting: You insult “my” wife, I react instinctively, without even consulting with “my” wife about how she wants me to intervene. I have the choice (and privilege) of words, but I choose physical violence, more virile. I scream that you must never take it out on “my” wife again. Because my reaction is less about “my” woman than about my masculinity. I am a real man, a protector, a patriarch. You must learn to respect my wife, less as a person, than because she is my wife. What matters, deep down, is less that you respect her than you fear me.
The manuscript is culturally very ingrained, and many people – including many women – still appreciate this so-called “gallant” or territorial side of patriarchy. Of course, applauding the protective man and his defense of “his wife” may not ultimately lead to safety and dignity for all women. When this is the case, it is again necessary to dig into the context again to understand why so many people since last night refuse to condemn Will Smith.
One of Malcolm X’s most famous quotes dates from 1962: “The black woman is the least respected, the least protected and the most neglected in America”. Sixty years later, a set of socio-economic indicators shows that reality has changed too little. And in North American culture, the cliché of “the girl in need” has never applied to black women, as we continue to imagine being strong, so strong even that it would be without consequence to harm them.
Last week, many saw with apprehension when Republican senators questioned Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman to be named to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was asked all sorts of degrading questions unrelated to her (impeccable) skills, in an attempt to paint her as an extremist who would succumb to “anti-white racism” (sic). Faced with the wave of insults, she had to remain calm, composed, smiling. We paid tribute to his grace. Behind admiration, there is basically this message: Even laden with diplomas, a woman like her at the height of her career can only take the attacks in silence without receding, without revealing her humanity.
It is therefore no coincidence that celebrities a few days after this sad political spectacle apologize to Will Smith’s gesture by emphasizing that he at least has the “merit” of having interrupted the rain of perpetual attacks on black women, even rich and powerful . In short, some would rather be poorly defended than not be defended at all. The false dilemma shows how low expectations remain, making Malcolm X’s words relevant.
Will Smith, it should also be noted in conclusion, does not appear to be at the top of his (mental) form. He has already opened up on several occasions in recent years, on a particularly difficult youth experience. He still resents the child he was who could not defend his mother who was fighting with her abusive father. The information does not justify anything, but it provides not only an explanation for the gesture (of overcompensation), but also for the river speech that followed when he won the Oscar for best male lead.
American society has yet to figure out how to respond ethically to Kanye West, the other ultra-rich and mega-famous black man who exhibits inappropriate and even dangerous behavior on the one hand, while being emotionally very vulnerable on the other. . other things. We still grope for the balance between firmness, compassion and respect for all parties involved that are necessary for healing. We are looking for Kanye, for Will Smith, and probably also, for many much lesser known men, men from our daily lives, who in some respects resemble them a little.