The Slap Witnessed Around The World: Important Lessons We Can Learn From It

An event occurred just a few days ago at the presentation of the Oscar Awards that caught the attention of multiple millions around the world. At first, it seemed like a staged or what some might call a rigged spectacle due to the fact that the two men involved in the incident were famous comedians and actors, Chris Rock and Will Smith. Certainly, this drama that unfolded must be a hoax that was fabricated by these two men who were famous for perpetrating pranks during their comedy routines on both television and their live performances on stage. Nevertheless, it became obvious that this slap on the face of Chris Rock by Will Smith was not a prank when he exited the stage with an angry look on his face. Once he sat at the table where his wife and a few others were also sitting, he shouted out to Chris Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out of your mouth!” In Will Smith’s eyes, Chris Rock had crossed the line by making a joke out of his wife’s shaved head due to her suffering from a condition called alopecia. Jada Pinkett Smith, like quite a few other women (especially African Americans), had contracted this disease some years earlier that causes either partial or complete hair loss upon the head and certain other parts of the body. When Chris Rock compared her to the GI Jane character that was played by actress Demi Moore (who had shaved her head and ironically will be playing the same character in an upcoming movie, Will Smith took offense and got out of his seat and walked on the stage where Chris Rock was serving as a presenter and shocked him and millions of viewers around the world with a slap. When everyone at the event and the millions who were viewing around the world realized that what they had just witnessed was real and not fabricated or a publicity stunt, they were shocked. Immediately, two questions began to form in people’s mind. First, was Will Smith justified to respond in such anger and an uncontrollable way to what he perceived as Chris Rock making a joke out of his wife’s shaved head due to her contracting alopecia? Secondly, should Chris Rock had demonstrated more empathy and sensitivity in deliberately avoiding to make humor out of Jada Pinkett Smith’s condition?
I am going to reverse the order of my response to these two questions by addressing Chris Rock’s role in the incident first. When I was growing up in Newtown, I learned at an early age while attending Gordon Elementary School or interacting with other children (primarily boys in the neighborhood) that there was an unwritten rule and line that you dared not cross. To violate that rule or cross that line in most cases meant you were going to end up in a fight. Even some children who were considered shy and timid would feel insulted and violated if they were pushed against the wall due to defamatory and degrading words spoken against their mama. It was as if those negative words would trigger a mechanism within their minds and emotions that would compel them to retaliate and fight even if they knew that they could not win. In most cases, they would give you a by and ignore you if it was about your father or sibling. However, when mama was defamed and slandered (even if there was some truth in what was said) it would usually end up in a fight.
When a man becomes an adult, that number is extended to include his mother, his wife (if he is married), and his daughter (if he has one). Chris Rock being a Black man should have known not to violate that unwritten rule or cross that invisible line. However, in regards to Will Smith’s reaction, Chris Rock’s unempathetic and insensitive humor and teasing does not justify his lack of composure and restraint. Like some, I am of the opinion that Mr. Smith would not have tried that if it had been someone who he knew would not have turned the other cheek. He would have reacted very differently if it had been someone who would have hit him back right on the same stage with millions around the world viewing, regardless of the negative publicity and consequences.
So, knowing Chris Rock’s character and demeanor, Will Smith perhaps knew in advance that he would not smack him back.
In my opinion, this gives more credence to Chris Rock’s maturity and tolerance (though his remarks were wrong) than it does to Will Smith’s inability to be taunted and teased indirectly through humor about his wife. As a very successful actor and comedian who himself has made remarks about people that generated laughs at roasts, in movies and on television, as well as during live stage performances, Mr. Smith, though being insulted and incensed, should have nevertheless been able to bite the bullet and confront Chris Rock about the matter at a more appropriate time and place. He could have certainly avoided doing so during the Oscars, especially since he was the leading candidate to receive the Best Actor Award for his stellar performance in the movie, “King Richard”. His undisciplined action caused it to rain on his own parade. At the end of the day, the bottom line and lesson that we all can learn from this story is this:
Do not cross the line when teasing or talking to people. Also, stay clear of saying negative things about people who are endeared to them. Finally, discipline yourself to practice temperance and self-control when someone says something negative about you and yours.

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