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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.