Black Men React To Will Smith’s Use of Street Justice
It has been referred to as the slap that has been heard around the world.
While presenting at the Oscars on Sunday, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s baldhead saying that he cannot wait for “G.I. Jane 2.” Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes permanent balding. The actress has been incredibly open about her painful battle with hair loss.
Unfortunately, the joke triggered her husband, Will Smith, and he gave Rock an old-fashioned, pimp-styled slap on live television. Rock did not retaliate and has chosen not to press charges against Smith, which would carry a misdemeanor battery charge.
Since then, the smackdown has created a forum on Black masculinity and violence that has gone viral, probably breaking new records in the number of views, stories, and celebrity posts on social media.
High-profile Black men like Smith have spent their careers navigating between the core principles and values of their culture (in Smith’s case in West Philly) and the new ones that accompany their success, wealth, and fame – a rare trifecta indeed.
It is evident that Smith, like many Black men, takes his role as protector quite seriously. When asked, “To slap or not to slap?” some local Black males – from a minister to a police officer – gave answers that were not exactly predictable.
“As a husband, he had to handle that (but maybe not on the stage),” said Vincent, 59, a former police officer. “You don’t talk negatively about a man’s wife. I do not care if you’re a friend or a colleague. Those are fighting words. It could be a Black thing, but it should be a man thing to protect your lady’s honor.”
Pastor James McKnight not only sits at the helm of Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles, but he also serves in the community. Like many people, McKnight first thought the incident was a ratings’ stunt. But, when he realized it was a real act of raw rage, he had mixed feelings.
“My initial response was, yeah, he handled his business,” said McKnight. “He honored his wife by checking another man who was disrespecting her. But in retrospect, I found the whole scenario troublesome because it featured two Black people hurting one another on one of the most esteemed stages in the entire world on a night that Black excellence should have been celebrated. Now, we are dealing with a tragedy.”
The question looming in the subtext of this event is: Are Black men angry? For hundreds of years, the media has cultivated racist images of Black men as confrontational, angry, and violent. This fearsome portrayal has benefited the conservative agenda. But certainly, anyone would be affected after hundreds of years of racial oppression, lynchings, police brutality and systematic inequities.
In Smith’s case, years of witnessing his father beat his mother could have also been a trigger that caused him to unleash his personal demon.
“Will has expressed in numerous interviews about how the role of King Richard has intensified his commitment to his family and deepened his sense of protecting them,” said Earl “Skip” Cooper, the former president and CEO of the Black Business Association and current chairman of the board.
“He has also talked about how bad he has felt even into adulthood about not being able to protect his mother from his abusive father. I think that played a part in what he did to defend his wife.”
As the world awaits what penalties the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will impose on Smith for his lapse in judgment or street code behavior, we have to salute Rock’s amazing sense of restraint and decorum in the heat of the altercation. Although most recently, Smith apologized on his social media.
“My hat goes off to Chris Rock for keeping the show moving,” said Derrick Douglas, 51, a 20-year veteran working for the MTA. “Can you imagine if the two icons were scuffling on the Oscar stage?”
That would be like watching Sidney Portier and Harry Belafonte fighting on the stage because Chris and Will are legends and icons,” added Douglas who agreed, Rock was out of line but deserved to be checked, but “without the cameras rolling.”