The Slap Heard World-Wide

Published on 29 March 2022 at 11:53

I’m going to start with physical violence isn’t the answer. Will Smith was wrong.

I wanted to get this out of the way because my personal opinion is the same, but I also understand how things got to where they did. I will also add that out of all the opinions and discussions about this incident “Roland Martin, Unfiltered” had the most comprehensive panel discussion. I don’t always agree with Roland Martin (which is okay), but he did an excellent job in pulling this topic apart in a way to show how there was way more to it than the result.

I’ll start with Chris Rock and “the joke” because it is assumed to be the impetus of the incident. Rock should have been more thoughtful and less personal in his targeting. Looking back, his jokes about everyone else were about their body of work, film roles, or their relationships. The joke about Pinkett-Smith was about her physical appearance, which made it personal. Her bald head.

In case you didn’t know, I am an African American woman. So, I have a bit of insight into the fact that Black Women usually don’t just go around shaving their heads on impulse. There is either a health-related reason or a deeply personal reason for doing so. So, on its face, I would have assumed that there was a reason and not made fun of it. He could have come for anything else, and others did. As a matter of fact, the Smiths were the butt of a few jokes that night. That joke was also deeper than hair. The actual star of GI Jane cheated on her husband with a younger man (a costar of “That 70’s Show”), so still, it was personal and disrespectful. Will has also approached Chris about this same thing before, so he knew he was crossing a line. Could it be that Will just met his limit?

Back to Rock, creator of the “Good Hair” documentary, making a joke about a black woman’s shaved head (which gives me the ultimate in irony). This joke was told on a world stage, in front of her husband, children, and Hollywood peers. The look on Pinkett-Smith’s face was one of “I’m sick of this shit”. Rock, apparently unaware of what was just set in motion, keeps going until Smith walks onto the stage and Batman Slaps him. Now my first question is, how was he able to get up there and just walk right upon him? But it’s been explained to me that there are no seat-fillers at the Oscar’s so there is no security either. Smith makes it to the stage, squares up, and proceeds to smack the proverbial taste out of Rock’s mouth. Rock is understandably shocked, sucks it up, doesn’t retaliate, and remains professional (however, I will add that Smith is bigger and stronger than him, so there’s that). I will give Rock his due for his professionalism after the incident. He kept it pushing. After counseling by Denzel and others (yes, people did run to him and not just Smith) he kept the show going. Also, Rock is from Brooklyn and has a black mama and daughters. He knows better.

This was par for the comedic course, right? Maybe, but I know far funnier comedians (shout out to Eric Kimbrough & Kim Vaughn) and yes, they will clown you! But they are also more than prepared for the consequences of their jokes. They are also funny without denigrating people just on general purpose, they are amazing storytellers. Eric will tell you, “you run up on me, you will get what you are looking for”. And I can only respect that point of view. He is accountable for what he says on that mic and will deal with the consequences of the jokes he chooses to tell.

Let’s take a moment to look at this empathetically and how the joke possibly hit its target. Jada Pinkett-Smith has recently been quite open about her struggle with alopecia (both the hair loss and the mental health side). No, alopecia is not life-threatening. No, it is not a physically debilitating or crippling disease. Alopecia is a health/skin condition causing hair loss that can mentally debilitate individuals suffering from it for several different reasons including depression. Black women have long suffered internal issues with mainstream beauty standards and being the butt of jokes because of how we look. I can imagine that the Smith family has watched her suffer and eventually gradually work her way back to confidence. I have seen some say that Pinkett-Smith should have stayed home if she felt so bad about it. I call foul on that point of view for many reasons, but will settle on, she doesn’t have to stay in the house if she doesn’t want to. Who are we to suggest that as a solution?

I have several friends who suffer from hair loss (different causes, but hair loss still), who wear wigs, weaves, or their bald heads with pride. Even before I knew the reasoning behind their decisions regarding their hair, I would never make a single, solitary joke or comment about it. Their feelings matter to me, and I am mature enough to understand how to apply empathy.

It seems these days that disrespect has become the norm in comedy. But this wasn’t a comedy show in a club, this was the Oscars. The setting itself should have suggested more maturity. I read an article today where people were interviewed and stated that this particular “joke” wasn’t rehearsed, known about, or on the teleprompter. So, Rock made the executive decision that it was funny and appropriate for the audience he was in front of. So yes, he is responsible for the comment.

Now, as for Mr. Smith. Do I think he was wrong? I reiterate, hell yes. This was a tragic display. I’m not even speaking of it happening “in front of company”. I don’t care about that. Basic decorum and good behavior should be expected and displayed, especially among family. Yes, he did laugh initially. We don’t know if it was a nervous laugh (you know, going along to get along) or what. But once he saw his wife’s face, it was all downhill from there. He should have been able to not be set off by something like this, but everyone has their limit. Apparently, he met his.

Sadly, this led to the slap seen around the world. Did Will think he was protecting his wife? Maybe. Does Will have a history of thinking he has failed others in his life by not acting when he feels he should have? Definitely yes (read the book, it was good). Mentally, he should have had a better grip on being able to control the triggers thrown at him in that scenario.

Now, this new thing that is starting to crop up about “this is Jada’s fault”. She literally was sitting in the audience, the target of an inappropriate joke. Chris Rock and Will Smith are grown-ass men who are responsible for their actions. We don’t know if she tried to stop him from getting up or not. But even if she said, “Will go slap him”, he has free will and the personal responsibility to decide for himself what to do or not to do. And those who say he didn’t slap the man his wife was sleeping with, I say. So. How do we know? They have publicly stated that they were separated, and they both were seeing and entertaining other people. So, while he could have been in his feelings enough to do so, it would have been hypocritical. Because Jada didn’t get to slap the chick(s) he was traveling the world with (as far as we know). People are making her out to be this Svengali, master puppeteer controlling this grown man’s very thoughts and actions.

I said all this to say, the “joke” wasn’t funny. It wasn’t even practiced, and Rock paid for it. Smith was out of line for slapping him and is certainly going to pay for assaulting a man onstage, for the world to see. I’m tired of black women being the butt of jokes on the large and small stages, but that is a topic for another day. In our community, we have work to do so that we can teach others how to treat us. This incident should also spur productive but realistic discussions on accountability, mental toughness and agility, critical thinking and decision-making, victim-blaming, and how does misogyny creeps into different facets of life.

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