“How are you going to succeed in life looking like that?” was a question I had to frequently encounter while struggling to deal with a medical condition – alopecia.
It’s been close to two decades living with alopecia, but the trauma of losing your hair at lightning speed and knowing that there isn’t a cure for it still lingers.
So when, on Monday, 28 March, I came across a clip of Chris Rock making fun of Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head (she, too, has been diagnosed with alopecia) at the Oscars, I was instantly reminded of the casual jokes centred around me during gatherings. But did Will Smith’s reaction make me feel seen? Did I appreciate the 'gesture' of standing up for his partner? Far from it.
For those unaware of what transpired during the ceremony, here’s what happened. Chris Rock cracked a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith being in “GI Jane” because of her shaved head. Will then took the stage to punch Chris. He returned to his seat and yelled at Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!” The video instantly went viral, with people on Twitter taking sides and debating who was right and who wrong. Immediately, two teams were formed – Team Chris & Team Will.
Chris Rock’s Repeated Digs at Jada – All Too Familiar
Before offering a take on the incident, let me rewind a bit. This isn’t the first time Chris has used Jada for laughs. In 2016, Jada had boycotted the Oscars to protest the lack of diversity of nominees.
Chris had gone on to make fun of the situation with a joke. He had said, “Jada said she is not coming. I was like ‘Isn’t she on a TV show? Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars? Jada boycotting Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”
Reacting to this offensive remark, Jada had responded, “It comes with the territory, but we gotta keep it moving”.
I'm sorry, but it should not come with the territory. In 2016, Chris found it all too amusing to mock Jada's popularity, and now he has ensured that he crosses all limits.
Let's now come to alopecia.
The conditioning that hair is what makes or breaks your image is too deep-rooted to go anywhere. Time and again, hair loss and premature baldness have been a butt of jokes.
Alopecia patients are often made to feel that they don’t belong. A lack of awareness about the condition leads to tremendous pressure to take recourse to steroids.
I did that too. For around 15 years, I consulted various doctors, took steroids and other medicines that caused significant damage to my body. And, added to that, was a failing mental health that the terribly unaware 90s even refused to acknowledge.
So when Jada came out about her condition late last year, addressed the struggles she has been dealing with, it resonated with me. I relived all the anxiety, the stress, and the uncertainty I had subjected myself to for years. It’s not easy to speak about a condition that comes with a label of isolation and shame, all thanks to people around us.
“Now at this point I can only laugh”, Jada says in a video posted on Instagram in December 2021. She shows her shaved head to put an end to all the gossip and tattling.
From then on, she has spoken at length about alopecia and how difficult it is for patients to acknowledge and own it. Every time Jada makes a public appearance, she sends out a beautiful statement. And that’s how we conquer our fears.
Chris Rock has one again proven that he doesn’t deserve any respect. Not only did he not make any effort to correct himself long back, his insensitive remarks at the Oscars in 2022 bares his narrow mindset. Punching down on disabilities and medical conditions wasn't, isn't, and won't ever be funny, but Chris seems to have learnt no lesson.
But Violence is Not a Justified Comeback!
However, Will Smith’s actions during the Oscars are highly questionable too. It’s very natural for family and friends to feel the rage when they see their loved ones being subjected to crass jokes. And support can be life-changing for people struggling with mental and physical health.
After all, it's through undying support from family and friends that I have come this far.
But should assault be the answer? Never. Smith could have taken the mic and shut Chris down. THAT would have earned him respect. Jada's expression when Chris cracked the joke said it all. Instead, what the incident reflected was a toxic show of masculinity.
“Love will make you do crazy things,” Will said before offering an apology to the Academy during his Oscar acceptance speech.
But physical violence has got nothing to do with love! Every act of violence must be strongly condemned, so it was even more appalling to see the silence from fellow artistes attending the event.
Do Better, People...
There’s a lesson to be learnt from the Will Smith-Chris Rock episode. Do better, people! Think a thousand times before cracking a ‘casual’ joke. You don’t know how much hurt a person on the other side has suffered for decades.
And, at the same time, be wise when it comes to expressing your support. Be sensitive, read up and speak out against actions that need criticising.
Because two wrongs can never make a right.