Which Acts of Violence Do I Get to Speak About?
I had a gut reaction too when Will Smith marched up to Chris Rock on the stage of the Oscars and slapped him. My mind immediately dismissed it as an act, then I felt the surprise coming from Chris and I started to wonder if it could be real. I saw Jada's reaction when Chris first delivered the joke, and I recall being surprised at her obvious response- she's in the public eye and gets ribbed all the time? A joke had been made earlier that night about their reportedly polyamorous marriage, so why did she get mad now? Will was laughing when Chris first made the joke, then he decided it was in such poor taste that it warranted a smack on world-wide TV. I didn't know about Jada's struggle with alopecia, but when Will followed it up with verbal assertions to "keep his wife's name out his fucking mouth", reality began to settle in that we were all experiencing something that would be felt and talked about for a while.
Without centering myself in this discussion, I want to articulate the journey my emotions took because I imagine there are others who were this same ride. I was mad at Chris for the joke as I saw the pain on Jada's face; then I was mad at Will for resorting to violence (once I knew it wasn't a bit); then I was on team Will for defending his wife's honor; then I was on team Chris because we had all just witnessed an assault; then I was mad at Denzel and Tyler for comforting Will when Chris was the one who had been assaulted; then I was mad at Chris when I heard Jada had a medical condition that contributed to her bald head which was the target of his joke; then I was mad at the Academy for not acknowledging the elephant in the room when Will won the Oscar for Best Actor; then I was mad at the audience for giving Will a standing ovation when he won; then I was mad at Will for apologizing to his fellow nominees instead of the winner of the award Chris was out there to announce (which I STILL don't know who that was and for what) who completely l0st their moment in the sun because none of us could focus on their win as we processed what we had experienced; then I was mad that this had happened between two Black men on one of the most culturally Black Oscars ever; then I was mad because many white people would see this action as typical of how Black people interact with each other.
The next day the opinions were flying around furiously about the pervasiveness of violence, how violence should never be the way to solve any issue, how comedians need to be more sensitive to societal changes, and lots of comments on who was on "team Will" and who was on "team Chris". I do not believe violence should be used in any situation, but I also know that we live in an INCREDIBLY violent world and this experience on Sunday night does not deserve the amount of pearl clutching that many white people are doing. This did not happen because Will and Chris are Black or because Chris is a horrible comedian, or because Will is a horrible human. This happened because we live in a violent society and because Will had a moment of humanness where he did not use the best judgment. Will has posted an apology where he takes full responsibility for making a bad decision and does not spend any time suggesting that Chris deserved his reaction.
As a white woman, I put out two posts saying that I was going to spend the day listening to members of the Black community and not offer my opinion about what happened. I also said I thought all other white people should do the same. I believe there are some white members of my respective "friends lists" that didn't like that suggestion, because whiteness is not accustomed to being told that it cannot weigh in on events of the day. When Sean Combs (aka Diddy) came up on the stage not long after the slap and said that they would "handle this like family" at the after-party and lets get on with the show, I knew what that meant. This discussion was not for mixed company, and whiteness needs to take a seat.
If you identify as white, and you feel yourself getting angry by that suggestion, I encourage you to consider why you think you are entitled to express your opinion here? I am not saying you shouldn't or don't have an opinion, I'm simply saying keeping it to yourself is appropriate. If you need to point your energies toward something, think about the violence that whiteness is perpetrating against Black and Indigenous People of Color around voting rights, or the violence that heterosexual supremacy is perpetrating against LGBTQIA+ folks in Florida and many other states that are legislating around whether or not they have the right to exist in the open as they identify, or the violence against transgender folks who want to participate in sports aligned with the way they identify in every other way in their lives, or the violence against Black and Brown Ukrainians as they are routinely being left out of the ability to flee for their safety or enter neighboring countries to seek refuge from Russian bombs because white Europeans are considered more valuable to survive.
Just because we don't express our opinions about what repercussions Will Smith should experience doesn't mean we can't focus that ire elsewhere. There are MANY opportunities for us to share and act on our need to reduce violence - we need only choose. If we are more angry that we are not asked to express our opinion about the Oscar slap than we are about actually stopping violence happening all around us, then we are not actually focused on reducing violence. Perspective is the key to real and lasting change. Thanks for listening.