Jada Pinkett Smith wouldn’t have to ‘take a joke’. You neither

You probably know what happened moments later: Smith headed to the Oscars stage, he slapped Rock, returned to his seat and then yelled at Rock to get his wife’s name out of his mouth. Smith repeated it again for good measure, with a swear word. The laughter turned to nervous giggles, then to stunned silence. It was not clear if this was part of real life, and then everything became clear: what we were witnessing was a person who did not accept the joke. We were looking at a skin that had softened until there was no skin.

Pinkett Smith suffers alopeciaa disease that causes hair loss and disproportionately affects black women. Rock had very bad taste in making fun of his hair. Ha saying that he didn’t know about his alopecia, but he probably knew at least that the joke would sting, since he produced the documentary good hairwhich is about black women and their often strained relationships with their hair.

Pinkett Smith has spoken openly about her struggle with hair loss, hard for anyone, but especially hard in America’s sexist and image-conscious celebrity world, where women, especially, endure an endless litany of comments about their appearance, the clothes they choose, their personal relationships and anything else that people can find to discredit them. Famous women like Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes, Janet Jackson, Monica Lewinsky and Meghan Markle have been pushed to the limit with such scrutiny and the unacceptable expectation that they will harden their skin in the face of ridicule, disrespect, insults and jokes. Even if later, long after these public humiliations, how they were treated is reexamined and condemned, the measly acts of public contrition are insufficient and come too late. The damage is done.

Violence is always wrong and resolves very little. Smith had a lot better options than laying his hands on someone else in front of the entire world. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opened an investigation into the incident Monday afternoon, and Smith apologized to Rock and with the world that same night through Instagram.

Still, Smith surely saw his wife’s pain, and he may have experienced a fragile, thin-skinned moment himself. In memories of him Willthe actor writes about the guilt he felt because, as a child, he couldn’t protect his mother of his father’s mistreatment. Rock’s taunt was by no means the same as domestic violence, but I understand that Smith was unable to accept that joke at the expense of his wife, given the layers of context and the public and private stories that led up to that night. .

I’m trying to respect a space for all those layers: Pinkett Smith’s exhaustion from being the butt of jokes, Smith’s series of poor decisions, and Rock’s attempt to maintain his composure in the instant of being subjected to violence. Unfortunately, the incident has become a kind of Rorschach test onto which people project their backgrounds, opinions, and affinities. And what gets lost in the speech is that, as disappointing as the incident was, it was also a rare moment of public advocacy for a black woman.

We also witnessed an example, last week, of a woman forced into incredibly tough skin and left largely defenseless. During Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings for the United States Supreme Court, the distinguished jurist endured all kinds of insults, racism and misogyny from Republican senators who asked ridiculous questions that, in reality, they used as an opportunity to strut their stuff. Justice Jackson was applauded in many circles for her calm and composure.

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Jada Pinkett Smith wouldn’t have to ‘take a joke’. You neither