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Why I Cheered When Will Smith Slapped Chris Rock 
By Melina Abdullah 
Published April 8, 2022

Melina Abdullah (Courtesy photo)

I didn’t watch the Oscars. I was traveling, and working, and organizing.

I admit to being slightly annoyed when my group chat started blowing up on Sunday night…Folks in my circle gasping, exclaiming “Oh my God!” Finally, one called out, “Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars!”

I still didn’t care, thought it was a silly thing to expend energy on. I’ve never been a big fan of either of them. Neither were big supporters of Black Lives Matter or the movement.

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There’s a whole thing about how Chris Rock gave a side-eye introduction of our folks at the Pride March years ago. Will Smith has never been accessible or embracing. I don’t care what silly little tiff the two had. Until convoluted details about Jada compelled me to watch Chris spew out a joke about Will’s brown-skinned, radically-free, unapologetic, brilliant Black wife-mother-of-his-children’s lack of hair.

As Chris’ cackle hovered, Will joined in laughter momentarily…then Jada’s pain cut through the air, tapped him on the shoulder, lifted him from his seat, and carried him to the stage to slap the daylights out of Chris, then saunter back to his front row seat and warn, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f-ing mouth.”

Twice he spoke those words. And tears welled in my eyes, my heart danced, and I cheered from the depths of my soul. I then watched the clip of Will win the Best Actor Oscar and talk about the need to “protect” and “defend”…he didn’t say “Black women,” but he named Aunjanue Ellis, Venus, Serena, and the Black girls who played them in King Richard.

He named Jada. And the tears that were welling in my eyes became more abundant. As I dabbed them, my Spirit cried out “And me! And me!”

Experiences…new and old…came rushing forward…I was fresh off a federal civil court case that I inexplicably lost as a jury (that included not a single Black woman) refused to believe me…or any of the supporting video or testimonial evidence, over the lone White cop who accused me of committing battery.

I had spent the week watching clips of the Senate confirmation hearings of soon-to-be-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson…watching Ted Cruz assail her about children’s books, Fox News challenge her intellectual standing, and random Republicans rake her over the coals about everything from child pornography to critical race theory.

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I was in the midst of strategizing around how to defend one of our most revered and genius intellectual leaders who a White-supremacist-patriarchal system dares to attack in an ultimate act of hypocrisy. And we are in the midst of a month when police violence claimed the lives of Breonna Taylor, Meagan Hockaday, and Wakiesha Wilson. A month claimed by Black women to celebrate our divinity in the midst of a world that attempts to make us into mules.

When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, I imposed my own being in Jada’s seat and felt the imperfect-perfect love of two Black people, who share a partnership, and children, and intimacy, and life, and care, and pain. While Black women have never been defenseless, I yearn for love and protection by our brothers, especially when there are too many examples of betrayal…like that of Chris Rock that night.

When Will Smith slapped Chris across his face, I felt like, finally someone was standing with us and for us. And also sitting in Jada’s seat were my mama, and my daughters, my sister and my sister-friends, my mentors, Black women who are “strong and fragile.” Black women who labor and love Black men and the world.

Black women who are the lowest on the socioeconomic ladder and deemed “Sapphires” for daring to scratch and save to support our children. Black women who are told to smile politely through abuses…to “persevere.” Black women whose limitless gifts and talents are constantly appropriated and by White women and profited from by a capitalist system, especially an entertainment industry that enables the berating of Black women from Academy Award stages.

I have since had an opportunity to unpack things a bit, to think…more than just feel. I’ve thought about how my own pain and experiences might color my view. I’ve thought about contradictions as I contemplate and work to build a world of peace as I cheer on the slap.

I’ve thought about how the slap might be used to fuel a narrative about Black men and violence. I’ve thought about how much more satisfying it would have been had Will Smith slapped Ted Cruz.

I’ve also thought about what it means that White folks constantly interject their opinion…that 300 of them “unfollowed” me on Instagram, chastising me for cheering on “violence.” I’ve thought about White feminists who challenge my brand of womanism…dragging me for a “damsel in distress” narrative.

I get that its complicated. I get that my initial response is not the same as one that I’ve had the time to sit with. I also know that I am not the only one longing for more slaps to cheer for. For more Will Smiths to stand up when Black women are disrespected and disregarded.

What Will did was an act of defense and protection. I cheered and cried because I am so very tired of standing alone, of being told to swallow my grief and pain and take it.

Take it from a system of White-supremacist-patriarchal-capitalism and take it from Black men who stand on stages, big and small, and make fun of Black women with bald heads in front of White audiences.

Melina Abdullah, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter  and former chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at CSU-LA.

Categories: Opinion
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