**This post contains references to physical violence and may be triggering to some readers. Take care should you decide to continue reading.**
By now, you have no doubt seen or heard about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at this year’s Oscars. It was a moment that was truly shocking – unlike anything I’ve ever seen on that type of program before.
Opinions began to fly immediately, especially after Smith accepted his Academy Award and spoke about love in his speech, apologizing to several parties present but not to Chris Rock himself.
But let’s begin at the beginning.
Chris Rock was preparing to present an Oscar, and in the lead-up to his announcing the nominees, he commented/joked that Jada Pinkett Smith looked like she was preparing for G.I. Jane 2.
G. I. Jane was a 1997 movie that depicted a woman buzzing her hair as part of her prep to join the Navy S.E.A.L.S. It was a big feminist deal when the movie came out. Rock’s joke came at the expense of Pinkett Smith’s close-cropped hair, which is so cropped because she has a medical condition called alopecia. Pinkett Smith has been open about her struggle with losing her hair – for months, she kept her head covered so often that folks started to speculate she was sick.
The joke Rock told was not only un-funny and lacking in relevance and timeliness, but it also was ableist as fuck.
Will Smith’s response initially was to laugh, but his wife’s face fell as she somewhat narrowed her gaze at Rock on stage. Then, within a few short moments of Rock’s flat “joke,” Smith had ascended the stage, slapped Rock, and returned to his seat, where he cussed Rock smoove out.
Plenty of folks are grandstanding about violence never being the answer to addressing a problem. Lots of tweets disputing Smith’s assertion during his Oscar acceptance speech later that night that, “love will make you do crazy things.”
Inexcusable, they say.
Violence is never the answer.
Don’t most folks regularly excuse violence as self-defense? Own guns they are trained and prepared to use to protect their families? Encourage their children to defend each other if someone is picking on one of them?
For those who are Christians, don’t they frequently espouse a doctrine of literal substitutionary atonement, wherein not only was the violence visited upon Christ’s body an act of love but was also necessary for the absolution of humankind?
Why are the conversations about violence beginning with the slap Will disbursed instead of beginning with the punching bag Black women are regularly expected to be in service of anybody else’s punchline or ambitions?
Is the inherent assumption that verbal violence doesn’t count? That ableism isn’t a form of violence?
Or is the real reason Jada Pinkett Smith, who was the butt of Rock’s tacky joke, has been relegated to footnote status because she is a Black woman?
Do folks decrying the violence of that slap *really* think there’s never a time that it’s acceptable to hit someone? That there’s never a defense for violence of any kind?
Or do they think Smith overreacted because he was doing publicly something we rarely if ever see anybody do: defend a Black woman?
Obviously, my questions are rhetorical. I know the answers because I live my life in Black skin and am a woman. I couldn’t wipe this Black off if I tried.
Antiblackness and misogynoir accumulated over the course of my adult life chased me out of the classroom and away from our church home.
I’ve been in rooms where the only person willing to defend me was myself.
The shit’s exhausting.
And every single person now decrying a slap but saying nothing about Black women being regularly shat upon is revealing that they don’t really care about us.
Y’all can really just say that.