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OK, Will Smith smacked Chris Rock almost a week ago. The news and social media have dragged that moment up, down and all around and a lot of us are over it. But what I’m really over is the onslaught of judgment from Black Hollywood when they could be using this moment to highlight deeper issues that plague our communities. Mental health, especially.

I’m in the camp of people that thought Will took it too far. If his intentions were indeed to defend his wife – Jada Pinkett-Smith –  against a tasteless joke, he could’ve had the same effect by staying in his seat and saying what he said–even though cursing Chris Rock out would’ve caused controversy, too.

But in that same moment of watching the smack heard ‘round the world, I had empathy for the Fresh Prince. Because what I sensed was a situation blown out of proportion due to what may be unreconciled emotions or maybe even trauma.

I didn’t read Will Smith’s memoir, but from what I’ve heard about him witnessing his father abuse his mother as a child, I can see how he now carries this sense and responsibility to protect women in order to compensate for times he couldn’t.

And even though Will and Jada did their best to clean up the tea spilled about Jada’s affairs with singer August Alsina, social media still dragged them in a fashion close to online bullying.

Criticism from Black Hollywood misses possible root cause of Will Smith’s behavior

The past few days have been filled with more investigations and interviews than the January 6th Insurrection. Questions swirled around whether the Academy asked Will to leave after the assault. Our feeds have been flooded with minute to minute reporting on what consequences will be handed down. And finally, we’ve listened to mass commentary from other celebrities including a host of Black ones.

Wanda Sykes said she was sickened by Smith’s actions and thought it was gross that he was allowed to stay and receive his Oscar.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accused the actor of perpetuating stereotypes against Black people.

Even after Will’s acceptance speech tribute to Venus and Serena’s father, Richard Williams, Williams himself chimed in by condemning the star’s actions.

All of these opinions are valid but none of these people took the opportunity to discuss what may have been the root cause of such a reaction.

The fact of the matter is, hurt boys grow into hurt men. No matter how much money they have, how beautiful or successful their partners are and no matter how many people are kissing their asses.

Mental health resources needed in Black communities

Kids that grow up in homes witnessing domestic violence are more likely to have mental health issues and develop into adults that exhibit violent behavior.  One way to mitigate the trauma of being exposed to violence at an early age is through cognitive behavioral therapy. But as it relates to Black boys and communities, mental health resources aren’t readily or easily accessible

Black people in Hollywood understand the hardships of being Black in the public eye and should be aware of the stigmas attached to and current struggles in our communities. This was a chance to say, “Yeah Will did that and he was wrong but A, B, C, D could be a reason why. This is why we need more mental health services.” But, controversy sells–advocacy doesn’t. And unfortunately we live in an era where so many of us have opinions absent of analysis and solutions.

Will Smith was wrong for what he did. Yeah he embarrassed himself and honestly stained what was supposed to be an evening of Black Hollywood Magic. But, there needs to be more conversation about why he did it because it wasn’t just about a bad joke. Digging deeper into the why doesn’t absolve him of being held accountable nor is it a slap in the face to Chris Rock (no pun intended).

People in Black Hollywood can have their opinions but they should also remember from where they came. “Making it” doesn’t mean you’ve escaped the trauma of growing up and living while Black so whenever possible, create spaces for awareness, advocacy,  accountability, love and healing–not just condemnation.  

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...

27 replies on “Black Hollywood Dropped the Ball in Advocating for Will Smith”

  1. Thank you for speaking on and clearly defining this issue! Black folks always seem to be there own worst enemy! If we don’t learn to take care of each we are doomed.

    1. 1. Will did not grow up disadvantaged. His mother knew that her son had witnessed and been victimized by her husband’s behavior and it was her responsibility to seek help for him, back then, when it could have done him the most good.

      2. Will knew, deep on his soul, that there were some things going on in his marriage that did not sit well with him, things that were not the best examples for his children, things that made him feel hurt, betrayed, and violated, and things that he wanted to disapprove of, veto, and go off about, but he stayed silent, knowing that suppressing those feelings is not what makes you a better husband.

      3. Will became a millionaire at the age of 17. He has had the means, the option, the ability to seek professional help for his childhood trauma well before his first marriage and certainly since the additional stress brought on by his second marriage and raising a blended family.

      4. If Will ever had a problem with anything Chris Rock said about him and/or his wife prior to Sunday night, all he had to do was reach out to Chris and let him know that he didn’t appreciate the jokes about him/his wife, and to politely, but firmly, ask him to refrain. If they talk it out, Sunday night never happens. If Chris has a history of jokes on his family that Will doesn’t like, but does not address, Chris does not read minds.

      5. Days before the Oscars, Jada makes a Tik Tok video from an interview in which she proudly proclaims that she “loves” her hair and did not care what anyone else thought of it. Now, if she wants to, she can boldly proclaim that she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her hair AND she can be humiliated, insulted and hurt when Chris Rock makes a joke about the way she is wearing her hair, BUT, I think most people could follow along better if she would just pick one stance or the other.

      6. Will made a fool out of himself, severely damaged his reputation, lost his ability to vote with the Academy, used Richard Williams’ legacy to try and justify his actions (when Richard Williams NEVER slapped anyone who was disrespectful to him or his children in the name of protection), and apologized to everyone except the person he slapped. And when he did issue the standard, publicist-generated written apology, it rang hollow as a. a way to mitigate the punishment he knew was coming from the Academy, and b. a way to gain favor with the fans. No, apologize the same way you offended – in person – face-to-face. And he has yet to do it, but he can’t, because he would lose Jada’s respect.

      So you think we should feel sorry for Will? No ma’am, I do not.

      1. T. You are on point. Could not have said it better. The article seeks to blame unrelated stars for Will’s embarrassing and criminal actions. It was a joke about a hairstyle choice, not about a medical condition. To try and say ut was is disingenuous, aka a lie, to justify a criminal action. Tasteless joke it was not, but taste is an individual opinion.

    2. A lot of people have mental scars from some sort of childhood trauma. People do seek help and Will Smith could have done the same thing. Will Smith definitely was wrong!!! Just because she has spoken about her hair condition doesn’t mean that Chris Rock was aware of it. There were at lot of entertainers who did not know about her Alopecia. What Will Smith did WAS NOT CHIVALRY IT WAS PURE ASSAULT!! Did Chris Rock know beforehand? There are NO FACTS to back this up. People are ASSUMING! What exactly was Will “standing up for his wife’s honor against? She didn’t like being referenced to with the military? She didn’t like being referenced to white woman who played the role of GI Jane? which by the way the movie’s character was fierce and determined. Will, Jada and Chris have all been on the comedy side of the industry therefore having knowledge of how the industry operates, Will Smith not only emasculated another Black Man on National TV his wife sat there with a smile on her face once he walked back to his seat. He than began to swear and curse at Chris Rock while she was still smiling not even trying to calm him down, touch his hand to sooth him, she sat there with her hands closed together in her lap. I repeat What exactly was disrespectful about the joke to the which Will Smith himself was laughing at. And to claim he was defending his wife’s honor!!! BS!!! As soon as he noticed she wasn’t laughing then in comes his hypocrisy goes up on stage to emasculates another Black Man on national TV. Will emasculated Chris and Jada emasculated Will, no Will emasculated himself. This was disrespectful and ghetto. For all that men of color have to go through on a daily basis, this was ANOTHER public display of how we devalue one another. This could have been handled with RESPECT and TACT. He could have walked up there and demanded an apology….not assault a “brother”.
      Will chose to be ghetto in response to an ill-advised joke about his wife. In my opinion, he could have asked him to apologize. HE DIDN’T. He CHOSE to show, on national TV, how he values his own people. SMDH.
      Would he have done this if a woman, or white man had made the same joke? ????
      Overall, we need to be mindful and cognizant of how this will affect our communities after this. This is not funny…it’s a SETBACK and will make it harder on other comedians.

    3. Black men in our community must learn how to control their emotions. Violence is nothing new. Turn on any news channel or walk through any hood and the violence is rampant. Families have to seek help for mental illness. It’s not up to the government to do it. YOU MUST CONTROL YOUR OWN DESTINY!!

    4. Will was dead wrong….Stop making excuses for his behavior…That’s why the black community is in the shape that it’s in, mother’s making excuses for their child’s behavior…. Chris is a public comedian..Anytime publicly, he is going to make a joke…Alopecia ain’t no death sentence….Most people will have it as they age…It’s a part of life….This article did not even check on Chris, he is 57 yesrs old, Will could of caused him damage….Chris is the victim, not Will or Jada….And this article did not even touch on this… If someone came up and hit one of your family members because of something they said, would you be so forgiving and trying to find out what their childhood traumas are…I think not….Will was dead wrong and should be punished..

  2. There is no excuse for Will Smith’s behavior, I don’t care about his personal demons when he takes it out on other’s, if he can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen, he has a smart mouth and a little less than good behavior and this is what he is passing on to all the kids that look up to him and that’s ALL KID’S, I know the what Chris Rock said was distasteful to some but this is what his show is about and Smith wouldn’t have said anything if it was about someone else, stop coming to events that you know that comics tend to involve the audience, ????????????????

    1. So freaking tired of excuses for and defense of bad behavior by the self-entitled privileged. Sickening.

      1. Violence is unacceptable and should NEVER be justified, applauded and celebrated as a counter to words!!

  3. I said from the beginning he was triggered and what we were witnessing was a man fracturing before our eyes – but us white folks were asked to stay in our lanes.

  4. I wholeheartedly support those with mental health issues but this is a grown man who has the means (for a very long time) to find help with his childhood traumas. There is no excuse for violence period.

  5. I am disappointed that a celebrity, a role model, would behave this way. I think Will Smith should make a PSA about his unacceptable action.

  6. It seems like everyone was a fan of Will Smith or at least I thought they were… how many celebrities or better yet people in general within their lives out here made mistakes….I’ll wait??? Who are we to judge someone who clearly has been going through bs on top of being a mega star… y’all acting as if he didn’t apologize at all to the academy and Chris Rock who went after his wife not once but many times since 2016 (go look it up) yes he made a mistake and took accountability for his actions like a responsible person should do… but you folks are just saying the most but how about this you place yourself in his shoes and see how he may feel day in and day out… he’s a human being and don’t act like any of y’all is perfect that didn’t had any mistakes y’all wish y’all could take back either… don’t be that devil denzel quoted because of 1 mistake STOP IT!!!

  7. When did bully-joking become ‘funny’ — even fashionable?

    Whether it’s Don Rickles, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers — or Chris Rock — the comedic style of verbal bullying at someone’s expense shouldn’t be considered ‘funny’. It’s not; whether it’s on the playground or at The Oscars.

    And then…to do the passive-aggressive …. “Can’t they take a joke?” is simply cowardice.

    Goading, baiting, verbally antagonizing in any other forum is taken for the dark-triad behavior that it is.

    Don’t be hypocrites and want sympathy or the antagonists; when the victim that everyone is supposed to laugh at has finally had enough.

    Yes, The Oscars was a bad-bad setting in which Will Smith to lose it….but no worse than Chris Rock pushing on it, pushing on it, pushing on it. Chris Rock gets paid a lot of money to be a cruel-provocateur for the sake of click-bait — he’s only a comedian to the unkindest among us.

    Half the blame of this pathetically sad incident goes to Chris Rock, IMO.

    1. On top of everything you just said: Chris Rock was NOT the host of the Oscar’s. It’s the hosts who roast awardees, not guests of the hosts. Rock was only asked to present the award. He made the stage his private comedy show. Not only that, he ad-libbed that joke in, went off-script. Apparently Rock belittling Jada goes as far back as the 90’s when she spoke at the Million Man March. I’ve also read somewhere that Rock and Jada went on a date once, which Jada described as the worst date ever.

  8. Chris Rock’s joke wasn’t mean spirited. Jada is a beautiful woman. You can’t make a joke like Chris did on an ugly woman. Only because she’s so beautiful is it funny. Jada should take some responsibility here. If she didn’t get all upset then Will wouldn’t have done what he did. She’s bad news and has again caused Will some serious hurt. He needs to get away from that woman. She’s no good.

  9. Great article, Tanesha Peebles. Finally someone’s given more than a sentence about “trauma” and “mental health” which is at the core of how this incident unraveled. The number of incidents of violence and murder has risen to an all-time high during this pandemic. Couple that with the pressures of being Black and successful in Hollywood having grown up in an abusive home, is it a wonder that Will could snap?

    To T: I’m always amazed how self-righteous people can make statements and pass judgements like they know all of the facts. How do you know that Will didn’t try and talk with Chris about his jokes? Many may recall Chris called Jada out when she boycotted the #Oscars in support of #OscarsSoWhite. Rumor has it that Will Smith had warned Chris Rock to not make his wife Jada the brunt of his jokes again and that if he did he would #slap the …… out of him. This whole series of events from making a joke out of someone’s disease to the slap and Hollywood’s reaction seems more of a concern about appearances than mental distress and how both men crossed the line. For Black celebrities to pile on like they couldn’t conceive of someone snapping under the pressure, is either ignorant or they’ve been drinking too much Kool-Aid and is deeply disturbing. And for those who are so concerned about the #Oscars being more inclusive and are happy with Will’s decision, we now have one less vote for diversity.

    Black people and the Oscars need to do some critical self-examination of how we arrived at this place, when the insults and abuse become so distressing that those who have been Awarded the “cherished honor,” don’t want it. Will’s not the first that’s resigned or didn’t want to attend or accept their honor Wasn’t it Sean Penn who threatened to “smelt” his Oscar and encouraged a boycott of the 2022 Academy Awards if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t allowed to speak, citing it as “the most obscene moment in all of Hollywood history”. Funny everyone seems to have forgotten about that. Did you see him at the Oscars? Maybe he chose not to attend. I think Will Smith, plain had enough of the “BS.” By the way there’s a documentary about Kanye West, another Black celebrity at his highest level of success who seemed to have lost his mind. I definitely need to watch that one to try and understand what happened to him. Will Smith’s momentary snap seems a little more understandable. However, those who need to pass judgement and throw stones instead of having compassion really need to check themselves for a pulse.

  10. Chris Rock has publiclydisrespected Jada multiple times, as well as Black women in general, most of his career and all for laughs… LAUGHS! Why doesn’t the white public speakout against violence by police against innocent Blacks??? Because they really don’t care. But white people are advocating for Rick, cause he’s only dissing Black women… SMFH

  11. Steve,
    To your rhetorical question, “Why doesn’t the white public speak out against violence by police against innocent Blacks???” To which you respond, “Because they really don’t care… But white people are advocating for Rock, ’cause he’s only dissing Black women,” are interesting comments to me. [sic]

    As the architect of the Diversity Commission established in Edmonds WA, and a member of the NAACP; and a $contributor to Black Lives Matter, I guess that I should have concluded my comment in support of Will Smith thusly,

    A White Woman

    But, I empathize with your generalized contempt and disgust. I really do.

  12. Jada’s view ha *always* driven this bus. How she views marriage, how bad behavior is overlooked even without repentance. Her ‘entanglement’ is clearly what it IS: INFIDELITY. A *massive* slap in the face (pun fully intended) that Will has chosen through a public Tea session on Red Table Talk for his wife to strut her excuse right in front of him, to constant interviews where he defended her bad choice and hi lak of boundaries. So I’m not surprised that it all came to a head and he lost it. No human being can keep up that high-pressurred fake dance forever…

    Not making an excuse there- I’ve just been in his shoes publicly defended my partner’s infidelity. And putting myself last. The key here is he is now my EX-husband. And I never slapped *anyone*. He needs to embrace his own Truth and not feel responsible for parading Jada’s story to the world. The minute he values himself and races his own Worth he would not feel the need to slap anyone… And Jada needs to grow up.

  13. If we are allowing Willl Smith a pass for smacking Chris Rock because he grew up witnessing his mother being abused, then we are giving every person a pass to abuse their mate, their children, and anyone who offends them because they suffered abuse or witnessed abuse as a child. We could also add that anyone who suffered sexual abuse or was molested as a child get a pass if they abuse another human being as an adult.

    Even though we know they are more likely to do, we cannot give them a pass. My father murdered his pregnant girlfriend when I was four. He was also abused as a child by his father. And he abused my mother. He went to prison for murder.

    Study show that children of inmates are seven times more likely to go to prison. The violence in adolescence is often repeated in the next generation. But we cannot give a pass or excuse for it. Because many others stop the cycle. Who by the way, don’t have the money and resources that Will and Jada have. Will acted very narcissistic that night.

    Lastly I have been hard of hearing/deaf all my life. I got profusely teased by my family, friends, classmates, and coworkers. I didn’t smack or punch anyone in the face. I did however say some rude words in my offensive tone.

  14. I appreciate this article and it’s thoughtfulness; which encouraged the best thread of comments on this sad situation I have read. I hope Will Smith can come to terms with whatever he is struggling with and finds his peace. He has entertained the public for many years and is a gifted comedian and dramatic actor. This fact will never change.

  15. Stop making excuses for his aggressiveness. He alone is responsible for his actions. Not his mother or anyone else.

  16. I did not get that the article was rationalising WS’s horrible display of aggression. I think people of colour are so unconsciously obsessed with white validation that if black folks err in any form or fashion, esp in a major setting like this, there is a collective feeling of mayhem. ‘They’re letting down the ‘race’. It’s trauma. The writer made a crucial point. Not just reaction, that’s so damn easy, but analysis and solutions and I will add perspective. The US is using all the ‘analysis’ and then some to excuse a degenerate. A thug. A crook. To be Pres again. Him and his band of unethical, twisted, racist thugs. Millions of white Americans and even people of colour, ‘analysed’ and even ‘accommodated’ this. That said, WS was uncharacteristically violent and ugly. He had a moment. Not a lifetime of acting this way, that we know of. Not only was his character assassinated, but that of his wife’. Her ‘frivolous posturing’ on soc media, exposing the inner workings of their lives that for many, is too unconventional, and seriously ‘messed up’, compared to your ‘normal’. Some say this traumatised him. Left him with ‘issues’. When so many men, black and white cheating and sleeping around, are they not traumatising their partners? And so many women, socially wired to put down women especially a woman with sexual frissons with unsuitable suitors etc..I get it. Not my cup of tea either, but it’s her life, her choices. Jezebel JPS traumatised WS and his losing his rag is due to ‘that life’. Rock is a comedian in the age of no holds barred. To me, comedy is for people who don’t have the balls to say what they mean, so you make it a ha ha and you get paid to talk sh#$. And we disguise this coarse idea of comedy we have nowadays as being the last frontier of ‘free speech’. That’s white people’s self indulgent privilege speechifying that people of colour are taking up. Diminishing people is not funny. It wasn’t so with white people back in the day, and it isn’t so now. And whether people think she deserved it as she posted so much is irrelevant. It was the Oscars. Not CR hour of comedy .He knew of her condition. Comedians have to ‘know’ things about situations or people in order to look for where they can garner a laugh. If he had ridiculed the other preceding nominees then we can say it was all in context. But he didn’t.He singled her out. And if WS was smart he could have had his moment, without the shameful and undignified display of force. But he didn’t and I too, like millions cringed. The fact that soc media ransacked his life, called him out, said everything under the sun is now stale. Losing one’s self control is something many of know about.. Those who say he has money and time and resources to sort out his whatever I hope the many imperfect, flawed among us do the same, sort out themselves. Our uglies might be private, but they’re there. I feel certain, many of us have burnt bridges, let loved ones down, let themselves down, lied, cheated and caused grief etc to someone at some point in their lives. And that’s OK. You’re human. You live and you learn. And so is he.

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