NYT: Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have To ‘Take A Joke.’ Neither Should You
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From the New York Times opinion section:

Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have to ‘Take a Joke.’ Neither Should You.

Yeah, actually, being able to take a joke without delegating your man to thrash the churl who insulted you is a basic requirement of modern civilization.

March 29, 2022

By Roxane Gay

Dr. Gay, a contributing Opinion writer, is the editor of “The Selected Works of Audre Lorde” and the author of the memoir “Hunger,” among others. Her book “How to Be Heard” is forthcoming.

This is not a defense of Will Smith, who does not need me to defend him.

Instead, this is a defense of thin skin. It is a defense of boundaries and being human and enforcing one’s limits. It is a repudiation of the incessant valorizing of taking a joke, having a sense of humor. It is a rejection of the expectation that we laugh off everything people want to say and do to us.

I think a lot about how we are constantly asked to make our skin ever thicker. Toughen yourself, we’re told, whoever we are, whatever we’ve been through or are going through. Stop being so brittle and sensitive. Lighten up.

Roxane Gay hates it when people tell her to lighten up.

Before having weight loss surgery in 2018, Roxanne Gay described herself as 300 or 400 pounds overweight. On the other hand, here she is denouncing Christina Hoff Somers as a racist in Australia a year later.

… Who is served by all this thick skin? Those who want to behave with impunity. If the targets of derision only had thicker skin, their aggressors could say or do as they please. If we all had the thickest of skins, no one would have to take responsibility for cruelties, big or small. It’s an alluring idea to some, I suppose. …

It should go without saying that comedians are free to say what they please. Long live creative license and free speech. But it should be obvious that the targets of jokes and insults have every right to react and respond.

The question at hand is what kind of response: A witty tweet? Organizing an on-line mob? Loud heckling from the audience? Charging the stage and slapping the smaller, not very young comedian? Punching him with a closed fist? Shooting him? Mass shooting him and ten or 12 bystanders who happened to be in his general direction?

There is a strange idea that there is nobility in tolerating or, better yet, enjoying humor that attacks who you are, what you do or how you look — that with free speech comes the obligation to turn the other cheek, rise above, laugh it all off.

Yeah, actually, it is pretty cool when a Mel Gibson can joke off Ricky Gervais’ insults with some of his own. Jokes are better than violence.

The future achievements of Athens were foretold around 460-450 B.C. when Zeno came to town and propounded his paradoxes, which I find obnoxious but Bertrand Russell found “immeasurably subtle.” Instead of punching Zeno, Socrates is said (by Plato) to have argued with him.

We often see this when comedians want to joke about race, sexual assault, gender violence or other issues that people experiencing them don’t find terribly funny. If you can’t laugh along, you are humorless. You’re thin-skinned. You’re a problem.

I’ve stopped aspiring to be thicker-skinned, and I no longer expect or admire it in others. Because sometimes, people can’t take a joke. In some situations, yes, we’re humorless. If our skin gets too thick, we won’t feel anything at all, which is the most unreasonable of expectations. And we won’t know we’ve been wronged or wounded until it’s too late.

This is a celebrated black female middle-aged intellectual speaking. Is it any surprise if black young low IQ men shoot each other, and various innocent bystanders standing around eating ribs, in such vast numbers?

I know I’m some kind of hateful crazyman for thinking this, but I believe blacks can do better, that they they can reduce their murder rate. Mexican-Americans appear to have done this over the last generation, so why not blacks? But…they’ve got to try. But who is daring to ask them to try to behave better?

During the 2022 Oscars telecast, the comedian Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s closely shorn hair. “Jada, I love you,” he said. “‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.” The audience, including Ms. Pinkett Smith’s husband, Will Smith, laughed, but she rolled her eyes, and her face fell. Her thick skin cracked.

You probably know what happened moments later: Mr. Smith walked onto the Oscar stage, slapped Mr. Rock, returned to his seat and shouted that Mr. Rock should keep her name out of his mouth, including an obscenity for good measure. The laughs became titters, became stunned silence. It wasn’t clear if this was a bit or real life, and then all was crystal clear: What we were experiencing was someone not taking the joke. We were seeing skin that had thinned to nothing.

Ms. Pinkett Smith has alopecia, a condition resulting in hair loss that disproportionately affects Black women. It was in poor taste for Mr. Rock to poke fun at her hair. …

Unfortunately, the incident has become something of a Rorschach test onto which people project their backgrounds, opinions and affinities. And what gets lost in the discourse is that, however disappointing the incident was, it was also a rare moment when a Black woman was publicly defended.

… Thick skin was also on display at the 2022 Critics Choice Awards, when the director Jane Campion made the bizarre claim that the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams “do not play against the guys, like I have to.” Whatever led to that strange, unnecessary and incorrect claim (Ms. Campion clearly had not planned her remarks, and she was caught up in the adrenaline of the moment), it forced the sisters to be thick-skinned, to take the joke made at their expense. As cameras panned over to them, the Williams sisters smiled quizzically and maintained their composure. In the aftermath — Ms. Campion apologized the next day — they were gracious beyond measure. Their thick skin held up, as it has in the face of myriad unspeakable insults and as it will many times to come. It shouldn’t be this way.

Obviously, the Williams sisters don’t compete against men. The one time two decades ago when they challenged a male tennis player ranked around 200th in the world to a match, they both got smoked (by a guy smoking cigarettes during his effort).

Apparently, the Woke have decided that because the Williams sisters sometimes participate in mixed doubles tournaments (which have been a part of Wimbledon since 1913), that that proves they are competing against men in the same way that Jane Campion beating out Denis Villeneuve of Dune for an Oscar nomination this year is her competing against men.

Nah, it’s not at all the same and that’s really a stupid argument.

On the other hand, judging from her physique, Roxane Gay probably isn’t much of a tennis player, so her being stupid about tennis is understandable.

But it’s still really stupid.

Yes, these are all public figures. An imperviousness to criticism and ridicule is a necessity for celebrities or anyone in the public eye. But no matter how thick your skin is or with how much wealth, fame and power you are cosseted, being the butt of a joke isn’t fun. Sometimes, it is intolerable. When you are constantly a target — of jokes, insults, incivility and worse — as most Black women are, the skin we’ve spent a lifetime thickening can come apart. We’re only human, and so, too, are the people who love us.

The notion that blacks should try to become more civilized and engage less in black-on-black violent crime is apparently anathema to black women intellectuals like Dr. Gay.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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