The fallout from “the slap” at this year’s Oscars continues. Last week, Will Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after the academy issued a statement condemning Smith’s actions. There have been countless media stories about “the slap,” including an episode of don’t call me tough. “The Joke,” however, has received less attention.
“Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2 can’t wait to see you,” is what Rock told Jada Pinkett Smith and the crowd on Oscar night before Smith got up and slapped him. gi jane is a 1997 fictional drama starring Demi Moore about the first woman to receive training in the United States Navy Seals. Moore’s “feminine” character, Jane O’Neil, is cast by a female politician trying to make a point in her battle against the inherent sexism in the military. To “keep hanging,” O’Neil “sheds all trace of femininity” and shaves her head.
Although a shaved head for a woman should mean nothing more than a style choice, Pinkett Smith’s shaved head is also due to alopecia. In 2021, she shared a video on Instagram explaining the disorder. Regardless of the reasons for Pinkett Smith’s hairstyle, Rock’s joke was another blow to the hair of a black woman.
Black women have learned to love our hair, despite a larger culture that has historically not accepted its diversity.
Black women have learned to love our hair, despite a larger culture that has historically not accepted its diversity. In fact, black women have been fighting the court system for 40 years to gain protection from hair discrimination.
Alopecia disproportionately affects black women
In my 2019 book, beauty In A Box, I examined the dermatological research on hair loss. Two US studies, from 2009 and 2017, found that central centrifugal scarring alopecia (CCCA) is often underdiagnosed; some estimates report that 17% of black women have this condition.
Some of the reasons black women are more affected by CCCA are due to tight braided hairstyles, prolonged use of hair extensions, lace front wigs, and chemical relaxers.
While Rock might not have known about Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, in his 2009 documentary good hair talked to black women about their hair, especially chemical relaxers. good hair It was a successful movie for Rock, but that doesn’t mean he grew from the project.
Black Hair Discrimination and the CROWN Act
GlamorThe September 2020 cover story was dedicated to six black women who suffered discrimination at work because of their hair. The feature explained how curly, “kinky,” or big hair has meaning for black women. For example, a messy bun is considered stylish on a white woman, while a black woman with natural hair, such as a big afro or dreadlocks, would be considered sloppy and has led to a reprimand in the workplace.
On March 18, 2022, the US House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits hair discrimination in private workplaces, federal programs, and public places. CROWN stands for Creating an open and respectful world for natural hair.
A 2019 Dove study found that black women were 80% more likely to feel pressured to change their hairstyle to suit the office. Black women were also 83% more likely to report being judged on their appearance than other women.
The CROWN Act is not yet an official law. Even though President Joe Biden expressed strong support for the bill, there may not be enough votes to pass it.
Rogers vs. American Airlines
In 1981, American Airlines fired ticket agent Renee Rogers for wearing braids. She filed a discrimination lawsuit challenging the airline’s policy that prohibited employees from wearing a braided hairstyle, alleging that such policy violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and discriminated against her as a woman as well as a black person. Legal expert Paulette Cladwell explained how and why the US District Court in New York rejected Rogers’ claim that her style evoked her African heritage.
The court said that her hairstyle was the result of having seen the 1979 film. 10, starring Bo Derek who makes an appearance wearing long braids with beads at the ends. He became known as the “Bo Derek defense”. Rogers vs. American Airlines was a landmark case because it set a precedent that sanctioned the firing of black women for their hair.
In 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled against a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) for firing Chastity Jones, a black woman, because she wore her hair up. The lawsuit had much in common with Rogers v. American Airlines. Jones’ attorneys also argued that her firing violated the Civil Rights Act.
The appeals court ruled that CMS’s “racially neutral grooming policy” was not discriminatory because, while hairstyles are “culturally associated with race,” they are not “immutable physical characteristics.” The court ruled that a hairstyle may be closely associated with a person’s culture, but because it is changeable, it is not protected by law and an employer has the right to use it as a reason to deny employment.
Hair has also come up in discussions of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings because natural hairstyles have often been discouraged by the legal profession. In 2007, an editor of Glamor at a “do’s and don’ts” fashion event at a New York law firm called “truly terrible” locs.
Why are black hair jokes not funny?
When black women are in legal and cultural battles for the right to wear their hair however they choose, jokes about our hair just aren’t funny. The straight hair beauty standard has been called toxic not only to black women but to women in general for the way it valorizes white and Western beauty ideals.
It can be argued that public figures should be open to criticism. For example, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson often appears with messy hair, which is mocked by the media. The difference is that there is no threat to his livelihood.
Until black women can wear their hair however they want without risk of ridicule, reprimand or termination, a joke aimed at black hair is no laughing matter.
Cheryl Thompson is Assistant Professor, Acting, Ryerson University. This article was first published on The Conversation.