Add this to Whatever You Think about What Will Did
There are commonplace incidents that fill Facebook every day that don’t showcase a split between various cultures, and there are some that do. Anyone watching the fallout from the Oscars recently had to see that this was born to live in that second space. The truth is that a unique picture of the events played out if you listened to one heavily impacted group:
If you paid attention to black women.
First up, let’s put together a list of cultural touchpoints that people may need to know if they want to listen this way. We can start at the beginning with things that black women know to be untrue about the narrative:
1. Violence is never the answer. This may be one of the most insanely privileged statements ever spoken by anyone. Can you imagine being so thoroughly in the majority, so entrenched in the power class that you can’t even conceive of a situation where you might have to fight for your life, your goals, your rights? Author Rhaya Truman focused on George Floyd and she asked the right question. “Violence has always been the answer. Why not now?” Why not now is that white violence is always excused, passed off as essential. From the Boston Tea Party to to the 2018 Eagles Super Bowl win, white Violence is explained away and compartmentalized, while all black violence is automatically turned endemic. To take violence as a possibility off the table when you are so thoroughly the challenger class is to admit defeat and death.
2. It was just a joke. You don’t have to be a black woman to recognize the violence in a joke, to see how humor has been used to keep you down, but it helps to listen to one about it.
Nicki Minaj, one of the world’s best selling recording artists, shows how aware of that she is the when she tweeted her support for Smith, noting the pain on his wife’s face. It’s not uncommon for words to contain violence. Remember the part of humorists during continental slavery ensuring that people saw enslaved people as less than human.
Jokes can help position people to be “othered.” and what comes after that can be brutal. Words often contain violence, including jokes. Ableist jokes sometimes scream violence. The N-word, spoken right to your face, the nazi flag, the confederate flag, which of these speech acts isn’t a violent threat?
3. It’s just hair. And Chris Rock knew better. There is no chance that he didn’t know her struggle with alopecia. The disease, which afflicts black women in greater numbers, can be heartbreaking, even though we, as a culture, don’t want to hear anybody crying about going bald unless they’re a white man.
Even more hurtful, Alopecia itself, traction alopecia, is often the result of black women trying to manipulate their hair to appear “professional” for white culture, and can be doubly victimizing. Rock himself worked on a documentary that outlined some of the heartbreaks and complexities surrounding hair for black women in America. There is no way he didn’t realize how charged this was.
4. GI Jane means nothing. Many black women remember when that movie came out, feeling like every time they took their hair down to short while it laid natural they were going to be attacked verbally by someone who wanted to accuse them of being unfeminine, of being butch, of not having good hair.
5. Jada Pinket didn’t need to be “defended”. Author of “The Last Black Unicorn”, Tiffany Haddish spoke to reporters after the Oscar Events. (Tiffany Haddish has done so many things that are great, but I’m going to stick with this because “The Last Black Unicorn” is the single funniest book ever written on earth. People who disagree didn’t read it.)
She went into detail about how good it was to see Will Smith step up to defend his family., dismissing the people who didn’t get it. And if you listen to her, you can hear the words underneath the words. Here they are, ugly and true: White America spent 400 years trying to prevent black men from stepping up to defend their families. Don’t do it again. This is now written into the DNA of every black woman in this country and I’m going to write it one more time, bigger, so it’s clear that it’s not something we’re hiding from.
White America spent 400 years trying to prevent black men from stepping up to defend their families. Don’t do it again.
Having your family step up for you doesn’t mean you’re weak. Hell, be glad it’s not grandma doing the stepping up, because you’re not going to win that one. It means you are loved.
Will Smith saw the look on his wife’s face, one of the most beautiful women on earth, and she felt ugly, minimized, less than. And he did SOMETHING about it. You can argue all day long that you didn’t like what he did, but I’m not going to sit here and tone police a man who sees his wife in pain and stands up to stop it. That’s not where my eyes are pointed.
I’m going to try harder to make sure I’m watching my family’s face.
Lastly to those who claim that this was “the Oscars ugliest moment”:
FYI in 1973 (10 years after the civil rights legislation passed)Native American actor Sacheen Littlefeather was boo’d by Hollywood at the Oscars before being mocked by Clint Eastwood and almost physically assaulted by John Wayne for simply asking that indigineous peoplenot be dehumanized in film. John Wayne had to be restrained by 6 security guys because he was trying to get onstage to hit this woman, who appeared on behalf of Marlon Brando who declined his Godfather award for the same reason.