“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.” – Will Smith
I had no intention on responding to the Will Smith slaps Chris Rock incident. Enough people have already chimed in on social media after the “slap heard round the world.”
I did not feel a need to add to the overwhelming number of articles written. However, two things changed my mind. First, was the over the top remarks and headlines which would have made you think Will Smith pulled out an Uzi and sprayed the crowd. Second, the people who decided that their outrage at Smith was more important than the feelings of Jada Pinkett Smith.
Let me tell you a personal story. Years ago I learned in the most visceral way the power of words. I spoke about this incident in my TEDx talk entitled, What I Learned From a Lynching Survivor About Anger. Words matter.
I was at a staff meeting when a top executive of the company asked us for honest feedback about fixing the issue of low morale. He had made some suggestions and asked us what we thought. I responded that I did not think his suggestions would work. This White man – I only say his race because it is an important part of the story, responded to my remark immediately with a blood red face and said “Well, that’s how it’s going to be boy!”
Needless to say, I was shocked. I asked, “What did you just say?” and he said it again, even more angrily, with increased venom in his voice than the first time. I had to be held back by co-workers. I was emotionally distraught at this unprovoked verbal attack. I reported it to human resources. He offered to issue an apology. I refused to talk to him. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. No apology would have changed my feelings of hopelessness in that moment. I knew all too well the restraints on Black men who are disrespected regularly.
In that moment, I felt the rage Will Smith felt. Disrespect is disrespect, no matter who it comes from. That does not necessarily justify his actions, but it puts it into perspective. For Black men in this country, we are never fully allowed to be angry. We have to keep our “emotions in check.”
No one else is held to such lofty standards. The nation itself is not held to such lofty standards. When America is disrespected on the international level, it has used massive doses of violence to retaliate.
For all of the people who claim Smith attacked Rock and this is somehow making Black people look bad, I have a message. Keep my name out of your mouth. When one Black man does something it has nothing to do with the rest of us. He did it. Not we did it.
The host of “Today” Craig Melvin claimed Will Smith’s Oscar slap aided “this long-held perception … that men of color can’t control their rage and anger.” He went on to say, “If you’re rearing a boy, especially in this country, you spend so much time talking to our kids about keeping your hands to yourself, controlling your emotions and then there’s also this long-held perception in this country that men of color, especially, can’t control their rage and their anger, and to see someone who’s been that beloved for decades — it was troubling on so many levels.”
Melvin was castigated on Twitter for his remarks because he feeds into this narrative that one Black person is a representative of every Black person.
America has a bad habit of making the actions of one Black person somehow mean all of us are responsible. I have written about this group guilt we feel before. Whenever one Black person does something negative it becomes a conversation about the “flaws” of all Black people and our so-called culture. This never happens when one White person does something bad. The White community is never held responsible for the negative actions of one White person.
ESPN talking head (I could just as easily say yelling head) Stephen A. Smith, went on Twitter to say, “You cannot do that S$&@!! Especially as a BLACK MAN, in that position, to ANOTHER BLACK MAN (@chrisrock) on THAT STAGE.”
If this was one White man slapping another White man, I would guess that their race would not be mentioned.
These are some of the headlines I read about the incident.
• Judd Apatow Deletes Tweet Stating Will Smith “Could Have Killed” Chris Rock After Backlash
• Celebrities Condemn Will Smith for Chris Rock Slap at Oscars: “Pure Rage and Violence”
• Howard Stern: Will Smith And Donald Trump ‘Are The Same Guy’
• Comedians react with horror at Will Smith’s Oscar slap
• Will Smith punches Chris Rock on live TV over Jada Pinkett-Smith joke
• Furious Oscars bosses hold secret crisis talks over stripping Will Smith of Best Actor gong after Chris Rock slap
• Jeanine Pirro Says ‘Oscars Are Not the Hood,’ Calls for Will Smith to Be Charged
We should make something perfectly clear. Will Smith did not punch Chris Rock. He slapped Chris Rock, after Rock unnecessarily insulted his wife. Rock did something similar at the Oscars in 2016.
I am not going to condone Smith’s act, but neither will I condone Rock’s “joke.” I am amazed at how many people lining up to defend Rock’s joke. Yeah I guess a joke can be funny as long as you are not the butt of the joke. The pained look on her face after Rock’s “joke” tells you how deep that “joke” cut. Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia. She has struggled with this auto-immune condition for years. She, like many Black women in this country deal with issues related to their hair. These issues need to be contextualized.
People of African descent have hair that is naturally curly. We came over from Africa with this type of hair. We were not ashamed of or self-conscious about our hair when we arrived. White people in this country told us that there was something wrong with our hair. They claimed they had “good hair” and we had “bad hair.”
The standard of beauty in this country still celebrates the look of White people. Look at the so-called supermodels, most of whom have always been White. Their long, straight hair is the standard of beauty. Everyone receives this message. The fact that a handful of Black women have overcome this standard and been put into that stratosphere of supermodels does not change the rule. Take a look at the hair of Black women that America claims are “beautiful” and you would be hard pressed to find a Black woman flaunting her natural hair style.
So when Chris Rock digs into the psyche of Jada Pinkett Smith by insulting her hair, it is problematic. I do not see all of these outraged people coming to her defense. She was an innocent bystander. Will Smith felt the need, justified or not, to protect his wife from this verbal attack. Smith has apologized, Rock has not.
For all those people calling for Smith to be charged because of this incident, I want to address how you responded.
Jeanine Pirro said “Oscars Are Not the Hood … You talk about criminal privilege. You talk about celebrity privilege, that guy has it. He wasn’t walked out of the Oscars. He could have been taken out in cuffs.”
Howard Stern said “What you saw on TV was a guy with real issues. That’s crazy, that’s crazy when you can’t contain yourself.”
Judd Apatow Tweeted, “He could have killed him. That’s pure out of control rage and violence.”
Where was this outrage from these people when police were beating the living daylights out of peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors around the country in 2020? Why was that not called “pure out of control rage and violence” also? These double standards really are sad. Pirro using purely racist language about “the hood” should be condemned.
Apatow claiming a slap could have killed Rock was so outrageous, he had to delete the tweet. Some have said White people need to stay out of this. People have every right to respond. By the same token, they need to be called out for these outrageous takes. Chris Rock had no desire to press charges. I’m sure he knows he crossed a line disrespecting Jada Pinkett Smith.
Very few people came to the defense of Jada Pinkett Smith and spoke about her husband simply defending her honor. For most of American history Black women have been disrespected. During the centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow segregation, any man could sexually assault a Black woman or girl any time they chose to. No laws or law enforcement protected Black women.
On the other hand, there were consequences, usually death, for any Black man who tried to defend his wife, daughter or mother from the disrespect and sexual assaults. Black men were forced to sit back and accept that they had no power to defend their loved ones. By the same token, White men would beat, kill, and lynch Black men and boys who even looked at a White woman or girl the wrong way. Nothing was more sacrosanct than the honor of White females.
Emmett Till was murdered because a White woman, Carolyn Bryant, accused him of flirting with her. The two men who kidnapped and murdered Till were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. They later confessed to Look Magazine.
This is one of the things Bryant’s brother-in-law J. W. Milam said in the confession:
“I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like nіggers – in their place – I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, nіggers are gonna stay in their place. Nіggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kіll him.”
Violence to protect the honor of White women has been the order of the day in this country for centuries. When Will Smith uses a slap to defend his wife, the world goes crazy. Comedian Tiffany Haddish had a different take on the slap.
“When I saw a Black man stand up for his wife. That meant so much to me. As a woman, who has been unprotected, for someone to say, ‘Keep my wife’s name out your mouth, leave my wife alone,’ that’s what your husband is supposed to do, right? Protect you. That meant the world to me. And maybe the world might not like how it went down, but for me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”
Haddish was able to see the events at the Oscars from the perspective of a Black woman who values that protection from Black men. Many others saw it differently.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Whites applauded the non-violent movement led by Dr. King. At the same, time they refused to be outraged by the violence imposed upon those innocent Black people. Black people are always supposed to be non-violent or not accepted. When Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, talked about Black people defending themselves from racist violence, they became public enemy number one.
The double standard when it comes to violence is nauseating. We hear people talking about “black-on-black crime” but those same people are silent about “white-on-white crime.” American movies are full of violence. Multiple, very violent American movies have won awards at the Oscars over the years.
The 1972 film, The Godfather, was nominated for 11 awards and won three, including Best picture and Best Actor for Marlon Brando. Its sequel, The Godfather: Part II received another 11 nominations and won six Oscars including best film and Robert De Niro’s Best Supporting Actor award. These graphically violent films are loved by Americans. Hollywood spends billions of dollars a year producing violent films.
Here is a short list of beloved American films full of violence: Goodfellas, Stаr Wаrs, Pyscho, Raging Bull, Bonny and Clyde, The Godfather: Part II, Taxi Driver, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Unforgiven, Pulp Fiction, The Deer Hunter, Rаіders of the Lost Аrk, Avengers: Endgame, Avatar, Iron Man, and Transformers.
American criminals, actually White criminals, are celebrated by Hollywood. How many movies have been made about the Mafia? How many films have been produced about Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dіllіngеr, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, and Bonnie and Clyde? What do they all have in common? Two things, they were all violent criminals, and America loves making movies about them.
How quickly we forget that Denzel Washington, who consoled Will Smith after the slap, won a best actor Oscar for the most violent role he ever played, in the film Training Day in 2001. How quickly we forget the degrading role Halle Berry won her best actress role in Monster’s Ball in 2002. Black men and women are constantly celebrated by Hollywood and the American public for playing criminals, prostitutes and violent “thugs” all the time. No one seems to be outraged over the fact that Black actors and actresses are forced to play these degrading roles in order to make a career in Hollywood.
After all of the fake outrage over the “slap heard round the world” dies down, we will still as a nation deal with the consequences of American violence that is celebrated and sanctioned. We will ignore the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotians killed by our military in Vietnam.
We will ignore the missiles fired from American military drones in Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other places. We will ignore the fact that in President Biden’s latest budget he is allocating $813 billion for military spending in fiscal year 2023. How about the $782 billion spent in fiscal year 2022?
One slap viewed by millions is no reason for this nation to once again attack the manhood of Black men. One slap is no reason to ignore the sanctity of Black men protecting the honor of their wives. One slap will not make us forget the constant violence imposed on a marginalized community based simply on the color of their skin. One slap will not make the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery disappear from our consciousness. One slap will not define the millions of Black men in this country. One slap will not define Will Smith.
“I think those are two men who had a real disagreement, and it’s up to them, not to the Academy, not to any of us. It’s up to those two guys to work it out. I want to know more and what provoked it and all that. But, I did think that Will’s speech was coming from that great place, that heartfelt place. He meant every word of what he said.” – Sіd Gаnіs, Former Academy president