Shortly after the slap heard ‘round the world last night, I feared my phone would catch fire from the tweets, messages, and calls. I am notorious for avoiding self-congratulatory award shows, and my friends know it. So they felt compelled to give me the news of Will Smith slapping the taste out of Chris Rock’s mouth for a twenty-five-year too late lousy joke aimed at his wife Jada Pinkett- Smith. I would venture a guess that Mr. Rock would agree. It just so happened; I watched it live and was well aware of the moment. The irony was I tuned in to see the reunion of one of my favorite movies, The Godfather, and as Michael Corleone said, “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
There is a perspective to the story missed. Black women in America and around the world—for that matter, are one of the least protected classes of people. Many stories were written, and black women’s groups have opined how often they are the bait and catch for the fish fry. Made to leap higher out of the water, only to be hooked by a combination of race and sexism, then roasted on a public fire. The most recent example is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Actress/ Comic Tiffany Haddish may have said it best, “When I saw a Black man stand up for his wife, that meant so much to me,” Haddish said at the Governors Ball after-party. “As a woman, who has been unprotected, for someone to say, ‘Keep my wife’s name out your mouth, leave my wife alone,’ that’s what your husband is supposed to do. Protect you.”
I woke up this morning to the ‘slap’ being the lead story nationally and locally. A black man lost his temper, made the move of jeopardizing his career, and defended his wife’s feelings and honor. There is no need to support or condone it. Although I love movies, the Academy Awards do not supersede everything. The immediate punishment Chris Rock received for his tasteless joke will pale compared to the mocking awaiting him from other comics, especially black comics. As a black man, I know being slapped at a party sets one up for endless jokes and being called out. Imagine that party being attended by millions, half saying go Will, and the other half calling you weak for not responding in kind.
After the altercation between Smith and Rock, I watched the face of Lupita Nyong’o when Mr. Smith retook his seat. I may be misreading her reaction, but, at first, she seemed shocked by the moment and then awed by the gesture. As a movie lover, the people really hurt were Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, Ariana DeBose, and Troy Kotsur. They lived the moments of their lives and for their communities but were obscured by a bad joke and even worst reaction. In the aftermath, I have heard white women on tv say today; I do not need a man to defend me. I can do it myself. Privilege may allow that luxury for some but can be deadly for others.
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