A Slap in the Face of the Black Race

Only a little time has passed since the infamous slapping or should I say assault of Chris Rock by Will Smith. Like Rock, I am still trying to process what I and millions of others witnessed on that infamous night at the Oscars. My mind is still stuck on the moment toward the end of the show, when Rock was presenting and ranking on some in the audience in a comedic fashion and said what he said about Mrs. Smith. Next thing you see is Will Smith walk up to the stage and slap Rock! As a Black person, I was so embarrassed to see a brother attack another brother as millions of viewers watched. The assault and horrible behavior that followed blew my mind. I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

Mad as Hell

On a night that was to be a memorable one, the assault and barrage of anger and cursing overshadowed those very achievements of Black people. Let’s start with Bay-area producer Will Packer who made history as the first Black person to lead the Academy awards’ all Black production team. I didn’t know that until after the shocker. Kudos to him, but I can imagine people saying, “see what happens when we let Black folks lead!”

The cloud that hovered over the victories and memories darkened the moment of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson who won an Oscar for best documentary for “Summer of Soul.” A rap producer/musician winning an Oscar for directing his first film was derailed by another Black man, a fellow Philadelphia native I might add, who chose public violence over a reasonable response. Overwhelmed by his own emotions and probably coupled with the fiasco that proceeded, he couldn’t even get through his acceptance speech wishing his father was alive to see his improbable-yet-well-deserved victory.

It got worse during the in-moratorium video montage. There was a lot of murmuring. Smith’s own Oscar win for King Richard was blurred. Viewers were too consumed with disbelief of what happened to fully appreciate and celebrate the wonderful feats of these individuals.

I should have felt pride and admiration in seeing a popular and hardworking entertainer finally ascend to join Hollywood’s most creatively respected Black actors, alongside Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, and Samuel L. Jackson. At that moment, I felt the opposite. I was mad as hell.

Ironically, In Smith’s acceptance speech, he mentioned how overwhelmed he was by what God is calling him to do and be in the world. Well, he must have misinterpreted what God was telling him. God’s word does not speak about reacting with violence but about turning the other cheek! Smith also mentioned being a river to his people and to protect people. My question is this: is violence the only course of action in a situation like this?

Diary of a Black Man: Fueling the Misconception

How dare a person attack another just because words were said and what I believe was unintentional and part of a comedic routine or in any situation. It’s no secret that many people still have a negative perception of Black people, especially Black men and the aggressiveness and anger they say are representative of the Black race.

History shows us that the Oscars, like other award shows, were always geared toward celebrating the achievements of those other than people of color. This lack of inclusion intentionally avoids honoring the talent of non-white actors. These programs, though slowly, have worked to change the narrative of award ceremonies.

With the slap, some Black people like myself, saw Smith propagating destructive racial stereotypes about Black men as inherently aggressive and violent. Experts in racial stereotypes say many of the responses, particularly among white people, were rooted in anti-Blackness. Others made excuses saying that there must have been challenges that layered the moment.

Let’s be honest. There is no excuse for the violence Smith exhibited. I don’t care what Smith was going through personally. There were better ways, in that environment, that he could have reacted. Perhaps speaking with Rock after the show, like a grown man.

The reaction heard around the world of the slap emphasizes the unique burdens felt by Black men when they do something wrong, particularly in public. Shaun Harper, a professor at the University of Southern California, explained that when white men act badly, their actions aren’t attributed to their race. But because Smith and Rock are both Black men, so much of the conversation about their altercation is being characterized as Black male violence. Is this what we want connected to Smith’s Oscar win? No, but it is. Unfortunately, Black men are faced with always being the best versions of themselves, a cultural mandate that can exact a harmful and sometimes deadly toll.

Black parents like myself, teach and I must say, warn our sons about being careful how they dress, and how their demeanors are perceived by the people who see them as a threat. We teach them that their emotions and especially their anger are not permissible, and can have harmful consequences. And here we are.

Let’s face facts. One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Black people as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions. Smith just gave comfort to those who believe this to be true by providing them with the perfect visual they were dreaming of. The thought may be, “you can take the man out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the man.”

As I ponder more about this incident and try putting things into perspective about Smith’s actions, I’m still mad, but I praise him because he has been fortunate to find a balance of relevance and trust within Black and white spaces. Black people may look at Smith as the one who can show white people our creativity and beauty in a concept that they can comprehend. He makes white people feel comfortable around him. Probably up until Oscar night!

Yes, there are those who support Smith’s actions. Comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish who, after witnessing his Oscar slap, said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and added that she wished she had a man who defends her like that. “It meant a lot to me to see a Black man stand up for his wife,” said Haddish. In this instance, from what? Words? Have we sunk so low as a society that we can just stand by, watch, and excuse violence? Black people know that the moment we step into violent territory, for whatever reason, we’re made into an example that reinforces the misconceptions of how the world views us.

Closing Thoughts

I do commend Chris Rock for keeping his cool and professionalism. Although stunned, even under those circumstances, his response was powerful in the positive sense. I also commend him for not filing charges. Things could have gone another way.

Black men have lost their lives in violent altercations over insults or arguments. This feels like a betrayal. It’s a slap in the face of the Black race.

 

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