Multiple things can be true at the same time.
Is physical violence wrong? Yes
Is mocking a health condition wrong? Yes
Is disrespecting a woman of colour’s hair, in a society where women of colour’s hair has been politicized, fetishized, ridiculed and controlled for hundreds of years wrong? Yes
Now I will be completely honest with you, if Will Smith had not slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, I would not have known it was Oscars time! But my ignorance does not change the fact that the Oscars is the most prestigious and coveted awards ceremony in the film industry and thus attracts all the top celebs. As a result: many many many of us are watching. So a distasteful joke like Chris Rock’s, and Will Smith’s emotional reaction, do not go unnoticed.
I wanted to write something about the event almost instantly after I learnt about it but felt like I should wait just a little bit.
After the event, I googled, instagramed, found memes, and what I briefly thought was funny, quickly was not. Because multiple things can be true and those same multiple things can also be not acceptable.
I was surprised how a lot of the online discourse about what happened focused solely on Will Smith’s slap and how it was magnified out of proportion. Some publication calling it a punch, and certain celeb interviews claiming it could have “killed Chris Rock”…(anyone who saw the clip knows that is utter rubbish)… But this exaggeration plays into the stereotype of “the dangerous black man” and the violence “he” always brings. And if this the the *only* thing you remember from the event, that is problematic.
The world was politely laughing at a woman who has lost her hair through illness… ridiculing someone on a world stage for something that is nothing to be ridiculed. We hear so much about the importance of representation on TV, in films etc.. How was it considered OK for even a second to mock someone who could have been even the slightest bit inspirational for anyone with alopecia, cancer, an auto immune disease, or any other cause of hair loss… Alopecia UK stated “In a world where it’s unacceptable to make jokes about someone’s race, sexuality or disability, we believe the same should apply to jokes about visible difference. Such remarks or jokes should be called out as unacceptable or inappropriate.”
Time again, Afro hair and it’s heritage hairstyles have been white washed in pop culture. Only acceptable on the main stage when sported by Caucasian individuals and called unprofessional when worn by individuals who actually have Afro hair… hair discrimination to the point of fetishization. As a result afro hair has been politicized, fetishized, ridiculed and appropriated too many times for a joke of the likes of Chris Rock to be harmless.
So if all you were talking about after the slap, was the slap… the was the wrong conversation to be having.