If you’ve been anywhere in the world, you know the story: Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the live broadcast of the Oscars. Though the expletives Mr. Smith screamed were muted, other countries were quick to provide the audio. I had’t watched the Oscars in years, but this year I tuned in just in time to witness it all first hand. I was so startled by what I saw that I turned off the TV and headed over to Twitter to see if what I saw was actually what I saw because I knew Twitter would be on it.
There were so many theories, fake/not fake and everything in between. I didn’t know what to think so I just began to try and process my own feelings. I needed to talk about it, to get it out, so I went into a Clubhouse room on the subject at hand, moderated by black men and women. I definitely was less than eloquent because I still wasn’t quite sure how I felt in the moment. Now, I am a little more logical (at least I think so) with my thoughts.
Regardless of the backstory about Mr. Rock and the Smiths, regardless of whether or not the joke was tasteless, regardless of whether Mr. Rock knew about Ms. Pinkett Smith’s condition, regardless of it all, what I witnessed that night was a black man intentionally walking up to another black man to slap him, live and in living color! B***h-slap, Pimp slap, call it what you may, it was meant to be disrespectful and belittling. The stereotype about black men being violent and aggressive immediately came to mind and that’s what broke my heart. In fact, the moderator of the Clubhouse room I was in that night, shared a tweet by a man he knew, a man who is not African American: “Why did we let them in?”
The idea that Ms. Pinkett Smith was a damsel in distress who needed to be rescued from the mean old comedian by her knight in shining armor was almost laughable. Listen, I’ve watched some of her Red Table Talks where she has shared her opinions and her past. From all I glean, Ms. Pinkett Smith can stand her ground and cut Mr. Rock a new one if she so desired. My goodness, she often refers to her relationship with Tupac Shakur (Pac, as she calls him) as well as her past addictions so she understands the sharp edges of “that life.” Was Mr. Rock’s joke the worst or roughest thing that she has ever had to deal with in life?
I recall a television interview a talk show host had with Ms. Pinkett Smith some years ago (it may have been Oprah, I’m not sure). The question came up about her then budding relationship with Will Smith. She shared how she had rebuffed him many times because she thought he was too goofy. But, aside from that revelation, she said at some point about their relationship (I don’t think they were engaged at the time), “If this don’t work out, I’m going to have to go out and find me a woman!” Now, granted, it’s been years since I watched that interview, but the gist of that statement has stayed in my head; I even see her body posture as she leaned forward and laughed along with the host and the studio audience. It was kind of like her saying, “He’s my last resort.”
Chris Rock was startled in the moment at the Oscars but still managed to make a joke about the moment: “Will Smith just slapped the *!&% out of me!” I’ve read somewhere Mr. Rock is on the autism spectrum and has a hard tie picking up on non-verbal cues which may be why he did not step back or flinch as Mr. Smith approached him.
I’ve seen other videos of him in that moment after the fact and for a fleeting moment I see a little boy who does not understand the why of the moment and then slowly realizes the complexity of the moment. I hope that he receives the comfort and support he deserves as he continues to process “the slap heard around the world.”
Many of us wrestle with some internal somethings and have had those moments where we wanted to act out our fears and frustrations. But, it is in those moments that many of us have also had those internal conversations with ourselves about timing and consequences.
As an African American woman, I’ve learned and know how to keep the straight face even as I’ve had the explosions go off in my head. I would guess that as a black man in a majority white industry, Mr. Smith has experienced some of those same moments so I have to wonder, why exactly did he “choose” to make an example of another black man?
I’m pretty sure a Red Table Talk is on the horizon!
And the beat goes on!
p.s.I found the image below, an image I deem kind of appropriate for my post, where I think Mr. Smith just might be this moment in time as he processes, “Next.”