OP-ED: “We’ve Never Seen a Black Woman Protected Anywhere”

Tanika Ray Reacts to the Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, and Will Smith Situation
Tanika Ray, television personality, entertainment journalist, and pop culture specialist.

Online debates about the incident between Chris Rock and Will Smith have been quite heated, but the perspective that hasn’t been addressed is Jada Pinkett Smith’s. As usual, the Black woman is left out of the conversation, and everything is presented from the perspective of the two men involved. It’s time that the pain of Black women is appropriately addressed.

There is a long history of Black women being abused and taken advantage of, but not one of them being protected. When we were brought over to this country, we were met with racist, sexist, and xenophobic laws. They reflected the biases and prejudices that society had at the time, many of which still exist today. It was — and is — a racist and patriarchal society. The hierarchy goes to white men, white women, Black men, and then Black women. We are the lowest rung on the latter, having been unfairly deemed less important than everyone else.

Additionally, Black women’s pain has been belittled time after time over the years. During slavery, Black women were forcibly impregnated so that their children could be born (and brought) into slavery. Women who are mothers are highly protective of their children, and this is particularly the case with Black mothers. And yet, we have seen Black women’s pain diminished and treated as insignificant.

Even Black men, who are supposed to be our allies, are part of the problem. In chasing their ideas of wealth and success — standards which white men set, mind you — Black men will sell out their own women. Since most of society holds Black women at such a low value, Black men who are trying to climb the ranks end up mistreating Black women as these white-created ideals rub off on them.

Music was one of the few areas that genuinely supported and celebrated Black culture and Black women, but it has become just as misogynistic and sexist. People hear this music, listen to its message, and think that these are things they should aspire to. Young people see these musicians treating and talking about Black women in a negative light and think that is the way things should be. This is a big part of why Kanye West’s rhetoric about Donald Trump was so harmful.

The bias against Black women can also be seen in the proceedings regarding Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She is more qualified than anyone sitting on the Supreme Court right now, yet they interrogated her. When the last Justice, a white woman, was nominated a year and a half ago, the questions asked of her were much softer.

Chris Rock’s actions at the Oscars show exactly how bad this bias against Black women has gotten. There was no reason for him to target Jada Pinkett Smith like that. He makes jokes to make a living, but why do those jokes have to come at the expense of other people, particularly Black women? And we have seen comedians targeting Black women for quite a while since society holds us to such a low level.

There aren’t many examples of Black women being protected, making what Will Smith did a rare circumstance. Never on a public platform like this have we seen someone stand up for a Black woman. The example that Smith has set, showing that there are consequences for taking advantage of Black women, will hopefully inspire people to stand up for the needs of Black women, at least until their status in society improves.

One of the most frustrating things about our society is that it rewards people, especially people of our culture, who take abuse and don’t challenge it. We are encouraged to stay in line, and if we step out of line, we are punished for it. This goes back to the days when Black people were treated like we weren’t human. The whole intent of patriarchal, white society is to make anyone else, especially Black women, feel like they are somehow less than others.

This is also a significant part of the debate surrounding Critical Race Theory. People want to deny that this is our history, but that is precisely what it is: real history. People are trying to push a false narrative that minimizes Black trauma and sometimes even claims that Black people don’t experience pain. Black people are expected to be strong because of all they’ve been through, yet people too often choose to ignore the suffering they have experienced.

The starting point that society can take is admitting their wrongdoing. Society doesn’t want people to know the truth, and they especially don’t want anyone talking about it. They want people to forget what happened in the past because it will make them feel bad to think about all of the heinous things they have done. But the truth is that society should feel wrong about the ills that have been committed against Black women.

Black women too often aren’t protected, and Will Smith’s actions are one of the few instances we have seen of someone protecting Black women. Society needs to acknowledge that Black women have been belittled for as long as we have been around, and it’s time that we fix that. We have to protect ourselves and be protected when people target us because if the past has shown anything, it is that people don’t know how strong we are.

Tanika Ray is a Spelman graduate and renowned as a television personality, entertainment journalist, and pop culture specialist. She is the host of the new mom-centric podcast, Mamaste. Ray has also developed her community of 99,000 on Instagram. She has worked with NBC, CW, HGTV, LIFETIME, TLC, BET, TVOne and hosted for shows OWN’s Ready To Love and Ladies Who List, HGTV’s Design Star, and CW’s OhSit game show.

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