Early in Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Janie’s grandmother tells her that Black women are the mules of the world. From everything she’s seen and lived, Black women exist at the lowest level. Any load no one else wants to carry is handed off to the Black woman — white men give the load to Black men, and Black men pass it off to Black women (you’ll notice who has no burdens in this scenario). She tells this to Janie for any number of reasons, not least of which is letting her grandchild know where she stands in the hierarchy so she can be prepared for life, so that she’ll understand her place.
And, of course, there is Malcolm X’s statement: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Zora Neale Hurston’s character in 1937 and Malcolm X in 1962 were seeing the exact same thing. The world hasn’t changed all that much since either of those times.
Yes, that’s an exaggeration. It’s also true.
Oprah Winfrey, a singularly powerful and wealthy woman, is racially profiled in a clothing store, told she can’t afford the expensive accessories that are on display.
J. Marion Sims conducted medical experiments on enslaved Black women without their consent and without anesthesia, believing that Black women couldn’t feel pain. And in 2020, half of this country’s white med school students believe Black people have thicker skin and don’t feel pain as acutely as white people.
Britney Griner, an Olympic champion and professional basketball player is currently imprisoned, being used as a pawn in a political conflict and her plight gets little to no coverage in the media.
In 2019 a Black woman in Chicago is dragged naked from her bed when police raid her apartment. She isn’t allowed to put on clothes, but is handcuffed, naked, and left standing exposed as numerous officers search her apartment … which is across the street and down the block from the apartment of the person they were searching for.
Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time, is dismissed when she is in physical distress after giving birth to her daughter.
Police officers in Arlington, Texas put their guns to the head of a young Black woman they say “fits the description” of the older Black man they are looking for. And when they determine that she is, in fact, not that man and holster their weapons, they tell her the incident that could have ended in her death is a learning experience and threaten to arrest her when she responds to their treatment with anger.
A first-grade teacher stands one of her black students in front of the class and cuts off her braid as punishment, and encourages the other students to make fun of her.
Sadly, this is a very short list pulled from an endless one.
Obviously, I’m still thinking about that “joke” at the Oscars. I saw many crazypants comments about it today. A lot of people are leaning hard into the belief that Chris Rock didn’t know about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. One person told me I would have no choice but to believe he didn’t know because — wait for it — Steve Harvey and his team didn’t know about the alopecia. What? Is Steve Harvey the Great and Powerful Oz of Black celebrities’ health conditions? And if he doesn’t know, no one knows? Um … but … tons of people knew, so how does Steve Harvey figure into this as an excuse for Chris Rock?
Besides, as I said last night, the alopecia isn’t actually the point. Yes, it makes Chris Rock’s joke skew to a different kind of meanness. But the joke was already plenty mean.
It’s still the misogynoir for me. A Black woman was mocked in front of an unfathomably large and majority-white audience. She was mocked about her hair, in front of white people, when it is the anti-Black racism of white people that created the reviling of Black people’s hair in general and Black women’s hair specifically. She was mocked in such a way that the white people watching wouldn’t know how significant an insult was being thrown at her, making her look unreasonable in her pained reaction.
And she has to keep navigating this very public mess because her husband’s reaction became the entire news cycle for two days (despite a month-old war and a Supreme Court spouse trying to overthrow the democratically-elected president of these United States).
I am not claiming there aren’t many, many things wrapped up in what happened Sunday night. Of course there are. We aren’t single-issue people and we don’t reach our 50s without having all kinds of baggage. So yes, there is a lot to unpack from that moment. But the willful insistence that Rock’s joke wasn’t all that bad and couldn’t possibly track back to the hatred of Black women’s hair is annoying af.
I’ll say it one more time for the folks who haven’t been paying attention: it’s never “just hair” when it’s Black hair, and that is emphatically true when it’s Black women’s hair. It’s okay with me if people don’t understand that. I don’t need them to understand, necessarily. I need them to listen to Black women. I need them to understand that this isn’t their area of expertise and maybe they could sit down and let other folks have the mic for a minute, folks who know what the hell they’re talking about.
Maybe folks could record it on their phones and play it on a loop as they go to sleep, make it a mantra: it’s not “just hair” when it’s Black hair, it’s not “just hair” when it’s Black hair, it’s not “just hair” when it’s Black hair, it’s not “just hair” when it’s Black hair, it’s not “just hair” when it’s Black hair, it’s not “just hair” when it’s Black hair.
It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!