The topic overshadowed by the slap at the Oscars: Black people’s hair

Commenting on the hair of Black women, in general, has been an issue for a long time

SAN ANTONIO – At the center of the 2022 Oscars unexpected controversy between Will Smith and Chris Rock are hair loss and Black women’s hair. While some may say Rock was simply doing his job as a comedian, others argue a person’s natural hair or medical condition should never be the center of a joke.

At Tia’s Braids and Bundles on the city’s Northwest Side, the topic of conversation is the joke surrounding Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair.

“At first (the slap) was a little funny because I thought it was scripted,” Tia Prescott said. Prescott is the owner of the salon. “Then, when I realized that, Oh, there is real anger behind this, then I started to feel hurt for Jada. At first, I didn’t get the reference. I really did not… (but later learned Rock) was talking about her bald head.”

Prescott has been empowering women through hair for nearly 15 years.

“Being a Black woman or being really any woman having a good hair day, it boosts your confidence,” Prescott said. “Your makeup can be off, your outfit can be off, (but) if you walk out of the salon with some bouncy, flowing curls or some nice, neat braids your confidence is boosted. The way you speak to people changes.”

Sunday’s altercation is further proof that the fight to prohibit discrimination at work against protective hairstyles and hair textures, mostly seen among Black women, continues. Those hairstyles include braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots— it’s something the bill dubbed CROWN Act looks to protect. CROWN is the acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”. It was passed by the U.S. House on Friday. Now, it heads to the Senate.

“We can wear these knockers (or hair bobbles), which are like hair bows, decorate our hair or we can wear these crazy freaked out braids,” Prescott said. “But when it’s time to actually get a job and go to the corporate world, I might not feel confident wearing my braids to a corporate job. I might want to pull it back on a ponytail just to be accepted at face value, and in 2022, that really shouldn’t be the case anymore… My accolades, my experience, and my education should speak for my worth. Not the way you see me.”

The conversation surrounding hair also includes alopecia, the autoimmune skin disease Pinkett Smith suffers from.

“Alopecia means hair loss. There are a lot of kinds of alopecia… The kind of alopecia they were referring to is alopecia areata, which means area,” Steven Davis said. Dr. Davis is a board-certified dermatologist. He helps run the Dermatology and Laser Center of San Antonio and research facility Dermatology Clinical Research Center of San Antonio. “In some cases, the (alopecia) area can be the whole scalp. In some cases, it can be just, just portions of the scalp or the beard, or other parts of the anatomy. And this is a fairly common disorder.”

Alopecia is considered an autoimmune disease.

“There are (inflammatory) cells in the body that attack the hair follicles and inactivate them. They don’t kill them,” Davis said. “They always have the potential to grow hairs again. It’s just a question of turning those hairs back on and keeping them on.”

Although the disorder can be temporary for some patients, Davis said it often has a grave impact on the patient’s emotional well-being as there is no cure.

“It can be devastating,” Davis said. “It’s a very big deal, and some of (the patients) wear wigs and others… really have to have to suffer with it. So, while it’s not a pressing medical issue in the sense that it’s not cancer, it’s not an infection (and) doesn’t cause scarring, it’s probably as destructive emotionally as any dermatological condition can be.”

Many have also taken to social media to remind others why commenting on the hair of Black women is an ongoing issue and should not be a norm.

As for Prescott, she hopes people will be kinder towards one another.

“I hope moving forward people will be more kind to each other and realize that no one truly likes to be the butt of a joke,” Prescott said. “Wear your hair how you want to wear it. A, a good company is going to hire you because of what’s on that resume and what you can bring to the company. Your significant other is going to love you because you love yourself. And don’t be scared to try new styles.”

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.