How a Wound Heals


Last night’s Oscar ceremony and some of the commentary around the ceremony make the best possible case for why diversity matters. We largely knew what to expect with host Seth MacFarlane—immature sexist jokes that weren’t quite funny but could be if he tried, just a little. And then of course he offered a racist joke, a homophobic joke, a fat joke or two (the Rex Reed joke had a little something to it). This is what MacFarlane does and he’s been very successful.

The ceremony was what it was and MacFarlane is who he is. Most of his jokes fell flat, not because they were offensive, but because they weren’t good. They lacked imagination or intelligence and were largely predicated on the notion that the word “boob” is hilarious, which if you are eleven, I suppose it is. By the end of the night MacFarlane had rendered himself irrelevant, sticking to traditional jokes about the length of the ceremony and waiting for the show’s merciful end, for all of us.

And then, there was a tweet from The Onion, referring to nine-year old Quvenzhané Wallis as a c-word. The tweet was meant to be satirical because satire is what The Onion traffics in. I am guessing the tweet was designed to comment on how we discuss famous young women on a night where Anne Hathaway was criticized as too earnest and Kristen Stewart was criticized as too sullen and unappreciative of her blessings. Young women in Hollywood cannot win, no matter what they do. There are more than a few smart jokes that could illustrate this rock and hard place women in Hollywood are crammed into.

I do believe the person responsible for The Onion tweet in question would have made that tasteless joke about any nine-year old actress. This tweet was ill advised and repulsive, not just because the actress was nine, or because MacFarlane had, earlier in the evening, made a joke about her being too old for George Clooney in sixteen years, but primarily because young black women, black girls, are regularly hypersexualized. There was this additional, fraught context that someone didn’t take into consideration and probably couldn’t take into consideration because they are oblivious. They are oblivious to the context because they’ve never been around people who are familiar with it, because they’ve never been held accountable.

People often fail to understand the importance of diversity. They assume it’s all about quotas and political correction but it is about so much more. Diversity (and we’re talking race, class, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, religion, all of it) is about putting multiple points of view into a conversation. It’s about ensuring that no one is operating in the kind of cultural vacuum where they don’t stop to consider context. It’s why certain people and shows and publications keep running into the same brick wall of public outcry about diversity—because these people consistently demonstrate a callous and willful ignorance of context. They see these lines that shouldn’t be crossed and cross them anyway because they are blissfully unencumbered by context.

I’m not outraged about this one tweet. I’m outraged about the cultural disease that spawned this tweet, the one where certain people are devalued and denigrated for sport and then told to laugh it off because hey, you know, it’s humor.

Or I’m outraged because I was twelve the first time I was called a cunt and I didn’t even know what the word meant. I was nearly thirteen the next time, and by then I did know what the word meant. An old man told me he loved “fresh cunt” and was not shy in detailing what he was going to do to mine. I was wearing a jumper and tights. And that’s also part of the cultural disease, this need to explain to you that I didn’t ask for it, that I was dressed modestly. This particular incident is not even something I have ever spent too much time thinking about because, frankly, it’s one of the lesser offenses. It barely registers until something reminds me of it, like a poorly considered tweet. Cultural disease.

If you get too riled up about this sort of thing, you’re humorless. You’re easily offended. You’re told to “get over it.” You’re told to have a “sense of humor.”

I might be all laughed out.

Rarely does anyone stop to consider that certain groups of people are always the butt of the joke, and, all too often, the jokes are just stupid. Give folks a break, once in a while.

Or, you, sirs, are no George Carlin.

When a wound heals, first the bleeding stops. A scab forms and slowly the skin around the wound grows thicker and stretches under the scab until it reaches the other side of the wound. When the scab falls off, there is new skin, there is healing. But sometimes, wounds aren’t allowed to heal. Sometimes, they are picked at and picked at and picked at, and they stay open, weeping.

Maybe I’m not outraged. I’m exhausted and open and exposed and a lot of other people are too because we are wounds that get picked at and picked at and picked at one day, there won’t be anything left to heal.

Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and Hunger forthcoming in 2017. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. Roxane was the founding Essays Editor and is a current Advisory Board member for The Rumpus. You can find her at More from this author →