8 thoughts about ‘The Slap’ now that we’ve had a day to process, argue and debate it to death on social media and wherever Black folks gather
OPINION: Choices were made; consequences and repercussions, too. Now let’s talk about the other stuff.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
As with almost any important event that happens in the Black community—Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars over a joke Rock made at Jada Pinkett Smith’s expense is a Black community event—I’ve learned to wait a day and watch the conversations surrounding it.
It’s amazing how split we—the Black People—are over what happened. I’ve seen the entire gamut of takes, from the ashiest of ashy to the most well-moisturized and saturated, about every single aspect of this incident. The conversations about male toxicity, protecting Black women, proper decorum in front of white people, why we care about white people, what Chris Rock should have done, what Will should have done, etc. There are literally a million conversations to be had about this, and given the way social media works, I’m sure we will literally have them all.
As a point of note, last night, Will Smith offered up an apology to Chris Rock via his Instagram page. During his speech for his best actor win for his role as Richard Williams in the movie King Richard, Smith noticeably apologized to the Academy and the nominees but didn’t mention Rock at all; he addressed him directly via his statement on the ‘gram. This won’t be the last we hear about, of course; aside from not pressing charges against him, we have yet (as of this writing) to hear any statement from Rock. Soon come one way or another.
Well, since most of these things have been covered by social media, I’d like to offer some thoughts; I don’t know that I have a whole thinkpiece in me about any of it, and I’ve read some fairly eloquent statements and pieces from folks speaking about it and what it represented. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll offer some of my own, perhaps non-trending thoughts (with a few that directly speak to it just for posterity’s sake).
1. I have no idea what I would have done in that situation; I’d wager most of us don’t.
I’ve wracked my brain about what it would take to get me to walk up on a stage on what is supposed to be the biggest night of my professional career and ensure that my family would be the only people who would ever care that I won. I’ve run through all types of scenarios in my head like I’m Dr. Strange, and I couldn’t even find the ONE that would send me up on stage. But I think that’s the point; you don’t really know until you know.
Same with Chris Rock. In my heart, I’m swinging back in the moment, but I’ve only ever been open-hand slapped as a child (one of my neighbors did this in Germany, and it set off a THING; this was not a situation where you put your hands on another person’s child—police were called) and never as an adult. I’ve certainly never been slapped on an internationally televised awards show stage. I wonder if Chris Rock hasn’t played it over in his head, trying to decide if he should have swung on Will. Hell, I replay conversations in my head where I missed the opportunity to say the exact right thing where I could have dropped the mic. I’m just saying until you’re in entirely improbable situations, you probably have no idea what you’ll do in one.
2. Will Smith is so beloved and thus non-threatening that Chris Rock probably didn’t even realize what happened until Will yelled at him to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth.
When my neighbors walk up on me too quickly, I tend to tense up and prepare for the worst. Yet, Chris Rock saw Will walking towards him and more or less…welcomed it. This, after making a joke at the expense of Will’s wife, Jada. Like Chris Rock couldn’t have had a single, solitary clue that Will Smith, one of Hollywood’s favorite and most bankable stars, would ever put hands on him. That is how loved Will Smith is; if he’s walking towards you, even after you made a jacked up joke about his wife, you still assume he’s coming in with a smile.
3. I read Will’s biography, Will, and apparently, Will used to do this. To anybody.
Well, I audiobooked it. Don’t get me to lying. But Will talks about early in his career, he was known for sucker-punching folks who talked trash about him or disrespected him. Because of his cookie-cutter image, folks kept testing him, and he had had enough, so he started firing off on folks. According to his book, Will used to fight people, like, every weekend, trying to prove how not soft he was. Perhaps he had a flashback?
4. The how, when and where to “protect Black women” conversations have been NOTHING short of eye-opening.
One of the reasons I didn’t rush to write something about this is because I really wanted to see what that conversation looks like, and it’s been telling. The number of women I’ve seen speak about wishing their men would stand up for them in such a manner was surprising; I genuinely thought most folks would think Will was in the wrong. And some of it put some things in perspective. Let me be clear; I do not know where I land on how Will handled it; in my head, if I’m going to slap Rock, I’m going to wait until a commercial break and find him backstage.
And it seems like most of the men I’ve spoken to and read on social media were very much aligned there with “time and place.” The women—many, not all; I’ve definitely seen various opinions on the women’s side—felt proud to see their man put his woman and her protection over everything else, time and place be damned. I heard women have conversations that were largely about whether or not their man would do that for them. I have no idea what to do with this, but it’s a conversation that is WAITING to be had in a very public fashion because even I was super surprised by this, and I consider myself (maybe erroneously) to be very much on the “protect Black women” spectrum of the convo.
5. Can we talk briefly about how Chris Rock took that slap and barely broke his stance?
I mean, he did break his stance. But the fact that he started with his hands behind his back—an almost perfectly stance to take a blow—didn’t fall and regained his composure after getting hit by a man who is bigger, taller and presumably stronger was one of the most impressive things to see. I’ve watched the video, I don’t know, 100 times at this point, and the physics is astounding. See, the smack didn’t even force Rock to break stance; he did that on his own after it was over. The amount of equilibrium he had in that moment is surprising. Look, I ain’t saying Chris Rock has been slapped or punched in the face before because of his jokes (I actually have no idea though I would imagine comedians sometimes get into squabbles), but he definitely ate it and kept it pushing. That’s another thing I don’t know exactly what to do with, but it’s…something.
6. Jada’s eye roll spoke volumes.
That is also something I’ve watched over and over. It must be annoying to hear people take cheap shots at you and your relationship over and over. And Chris Rock has taken a few shots at her over the years, which is interesting. I assumed they were friends (and I suppose maybe they are…or were); they did all the Madagascar movies together, for goodness’ sake. Either way, her eye roll definitely had A LOT of weight behind it. And whether or not you feel like “it was just a joke,” joking about Black women’s hair seems like a joke not worth making, especially coming from a person who made a whole documentary about Black women’s hair. Did he learn nothing? That’s, to me, what made it so personal.
Chris Rock is a comedian in the know; Jada’s hair journey is something she’s been talking about, and people have been talking about it for quite some time now. It seemed like an a–hole move that was entirely unnecessary. I just don’t believe that he was unaware that she has a condition (a common one at that), and even if he wasn’t, he knows about the relationship between Black women and hair. That joke lands differently for Black women than anybody else. Rock should have known that, in my opinion.
7. To assume that you can say whatever you want under the guise of comedy is a terrible assumption.
Here’s something I learned while blogging, and it has had an impact, honestly, on how I choose what to write about at times: Is the juice worth the squeeze? There are other people on the end of those specific takes, good or bad. The idea that you can just say what you want and it doesn’t have any repercussions is stupid, comedian or not. If you come for somebody and they take it personally, well, you basically sent for them, and sometimes they show up in the form of their husband who slaps the s— out of you on stage at the Oscars.
I learned early on that when I wrote things that took aim at folks, those folks often managed to read them and sometimes they came for me after the fact. I’ve had public dustups with multiple celebrities, at this point, over what I viewed as a harmless joke I made in a post I assumed nobody would read. Turns out, the people you write about read stuff about themselves. And I’m not famous. I don’t think violence is ever the answer, necessarily, but I also understand that well, sometimes, people only understand violence.
8. Y’all remember the show The Slap? They must be seething right now.
Back in early 2015, NBC aired a miniseries called The Slap about the aftermath of a situation at a birthday party where an adult slapped a child and the entire fallout from it. It was based on an Australian show and also a novel. I remember watching this—especially as a parent—and realizing just how many tentacles one bad decision can have and how it impacts friendships, communities and environments, etc. It was both a ridiculous show and one that did a pretty decent job of highlighting just how one incident unravels in the lives of people involved. I’ll bet since then, if you googled “the slap,” that show was there. Now, “The Slap” is the term given to this incident forevermore. Talk about losing a battle you didn’t even know you were fighting.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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