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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/30/22

Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Chris Rock, and Republican Politics

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"Either this nation will kill racism, or racism will kill this nation." (S. Jonas, Aug., 2018)

Ron DeSantis & Lauren Boebert. What a pair, for going after the Gays.
Ron DeSantis & Lauren Boebert. What a pair, for going after the Gays.
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"So," you might say, looking at the title of this column, do you have to bring Republican Politics into just about everything you write about?" "Well yes," I would say. "Republican Politics saturates almost every aspect of American life these days and threatens to drown us all in its copious amounts of bile, for decades to come, should they get back into power in 2023-25." And so, I see the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident in that light.

First of all, I don't think that Will should have slapped Rock. Violence is not a way to settle disputes (at least not until the branch of the Republo-fascists which is itching to do it gets to start the Second Civil War. [Itching to start a second civil war? Well, they've got the guns.]. Rock is just lucky that Will, quite a bit bigger than he is, didn't punch him.) Second of all, most observers (at least the ones that I have seen and heard) have laid into Smith, because of the violence. However third of all, just now some have dealt with the larger issue of making jokes at another's expense. As Roxanne Gay said in The New York Times of March 30, 2022:

"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. I'm not talking about constructive criticism or accountability but, rather, the intense scrutiny and unnecessary commentary people have to deal with when they challenge others' expectations one way or another.

"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."

Indeed, who is served by this thick skin? "Those who want to behave with impunity." Like the so-called "comedian," Chris Rock. So, he makes a totally unnecessary joke at Jada Pinkett-Smith's expense. He claims that he didn't know that Smith has alopecia (a common type of mid-life baldness, especially among black women). But, especially if he was going to make a joke about Pinkett-Smith's baldness, he sure should have known, especially since Smith had made the fact widely known in the Hollywood community. And so, whether or not he knew specifically that Pinkett-Smith's baldness is due to alopecia, it is absolutely something he should have stayed away from. That is in general terms, why make a joke at the expense of a black woman's appearance?

But specifically, she does have alopecia, and as it happens it is a disease which has a genetic basis. That is, it not something she chose to have done to her scalp (as is the case with many middle-aged and older balding men who choose to go completely bald rather than deal with the tufts). And so, wittingly or not, Rock makes a joke about a condition that is genetically-based, totally beyond Pinkett-Smith's control. Of course, Rock had previously made a "joke" at an Academy Awards show, at the Smiths' expense. But in this case, that point is irrelevant. The point here is that he made a joke specifically at Pinkett-Smith's expense, and to emphasize the point, over a condition over which she has no control. And Will Smith exploded as soon as he saw how upset his wife was about what Rock said.

So, you might be asking at this point, how does all this relate to the Republicans and their particular brand of politics? As noted, alopecia, especially in Black women, has a genetic basis. It is not a condition that one can chose, or not chose, to have. So, you might ask, what does that have to do with the price of milk? Well, as it happens, two major campaign issues that Republicans all over the country, from Florida to Texas, to the Senatorial hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, are gay rights and trans-gender rights. Some Repubs. want to go back to the days of no-gay-marriage. Even though homosexuality is common among both men and women in the United States, some Republicans would like to shove the state-of-being back under the rug, like so many did until fairly recently, as, for example, in making sodomy illegal.

But the point here is, that homosexuality is common in U.S. society, just as it is in societies all over the world. Just as it obviously was, for example, in the relatively small Jewish community in Biblical times, where the Republican-equivalents in the communities' leadership advocated punishing homosexual sex, by stoning. (And to be sure, the phrase "when two men lie together they shall be stoned" did not refer to getting high on whatever drug or drugs were available in Biblical times.)

But most important in this particular context, homosexuality is not a matter of choice. Like alopecia, it is a matter of genetics. One does not "choose to be gay," (although in times past when life for homosexuals was much tougher than it is now, some gays at least would have been thrilled were they given the opportunity to "go straight," if they could just have been able to do that). It is the same thing for transsexuality. Having strong feelings to be a member of the opposite sex is not a matter of choice (and I am not talking about Rudy Giuliani dressing up in drag and pretending to tempt Donald Trump [years ago]). It is a matter of genetics. As it happens, there can indeed be healthy transitions, involving medicine, surgery, and psychological counseling. But Republican laws that are now surfacing (as in Texas) that would force trans-sexuals to remain repressed. For many (if not most) that is a totally miserable experience, which among other things can lead to suicide.

And so, just as Chris Rock went after Jada Pinkett-Smith over a genetic condition over which she has no control, so the Republican Party, en masse, is going after groups of people who have states-of-being that make many Republicans very uncomfortable (the reasons why can be considered at another time), that are genetically-based. About which those persons can do nothing, even if they would like to do so. (And of course, there are many Republicans who are not made personally uncomfortable by homo-sexuality who are just once grabbing at an issue which they think can be once again think made into a political winner for them.)

This is why Rock's attack on Jada Pinkett-Smith was so dangerous. And this is why, after the dust settles over Will Smith's slap, I hope that attention can be paid to what Republicans all over the country or doing to, or surely would like to do to, BY LAW, people who have different expressions of their genetically-based sexuality that, for whatever reason(s), make an increasing number of Republicans these days, SOOOO uncomfortable. And it also makes Republicans feel, even if they have no personal issues with the issue, that "boy do we have an issue here that we can use, politically." And that is what counts --- for them.

And that is what tells you so much about today's Republican Party. Here are two issues that are based in the genes, not in anyone's choice. And they are going to use them anyway.

(Article changed on Mar 31, 2022 at 4:38 PM EDT)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a ├ éČ┼"Trusted Author,├ éČ Ł he is a Senior (more...)
 
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