The Slap Heard Round the World: Why It Matters So Much

Gooood morning! … So, as I tend to do when tackling a really rough subject, I’ve started with a picture of absolute “awwwww!” to help temper the rest of the post. Whenever you start to feel yourself getting overwhelmed by the discussion (God knows my blood has been boiling for the last two days), please refer to the puppy.

So, I imagine by now EVERYONE knows that a) I do not discuss current events in this blog unless I find it too important to let go, and b) that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars award ceremony on Sunday. For those of you who may have missed it, Smith was at the ceremony with his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, who suffers from an autoimmune disorder that causes irreversible hair loss. (And it is common knowledge she has this condition.) Rock, one of several co-hosts for the ceremony, during an award presentation went off-script for a moment and made a callous, cruel remark, spotlighting Pinkett-Smith by name and making fun of her disorder. On live television, being broadcast internationally, in a room full of her professional colleagues. At first, the audience laughed, because, “hey, it’s a joke, right?”, but attitudes started changing very quickly when Pinkett-Smith’s face fell, and Smith yelled at Rock to shut up. Rock did not even acknowledge the Smiths’ reaction, so, in a minute, Will Smith left his seat, strode up onto stage, and slapped Rock in the face.

The fact is that, because it was the Oscars, even those in the theatre were uncertain if this moment had been previously planned. No one stopped Smith, he left the stage, so did Rock, the ceremony continued, and social media literally blew up across the globe.

Within half an hour, Rock had been checked for injuries (there were none reported), the police had been called, and Will Smith was stewing somewhere away from the cameras. It’s also well-documented that in those moments, actors Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry met with Smith and — the court of public opinion definitely wants to gloss over this part — PRAYED with him.

Shortly afterwards, Smith did receive the award for Best Actor that he’d been nominated for. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. In his tearful acceptance speech, he thanked Washington for his insight and counseling, apologized to those present and to the Film Academy who makes the nominations, and spoke about the kind of person he wanted to be. He took responsibility for a poor decision. He has since apologized to Rock as well.

But this whole time, Smith has NOT backed down from the fact that he was defending his wife. She was the very public target of a mean insult, issued without her knowledge, without her approval, and something getting WAY too ignored in this whole thing is how SHE felt about it.

Who gives a damn about how Chris Rock feels, since he chose to be a jerk, and a bully, and obviously thought he’d get away with it? What the hell do his motives matter? Getting laughs is more important than emotionally gutting someone in front of their peers?

What it boils down to is this: Ableism was once again allowed to be acceptable over empathy. Causing scandal at the expense of a chronically ill woman’s feelings was deemed all right. The boundaries of common decency were rearranged to exclude a man overreacting while trying to stand up for a loved one, and to protect a certified asshat who didn’t think before he spoke.

The fact is, when the slap was delivered, a lot of disabled people sat up and took notice. Without condoning the physical aspect of Smith’s action, many folks agree: He was defending his wife. He wanted to make the insult stop. He did something about the cruelty, instead of pretending it didn’t matter, didn’t hurt, didn’t scar. For that, he deserves ALL the respect.

If you act like the slap happened in a vacuum, completely ignoring the circumstances that led up to it, you are saying what Chris Rock did was okay. And that is NOT OKAY.

(Puppy break)

Since the whole thing went down, most of the media has screamed about what a monster Will Smith has become — refusing to discuss the WHY behind it all. Refusing to acknowledge Smith’s public apologies, humility and contriteness. (Isn’t that what we always tell our children? “Say you’re sorry. Don’t do it again.”) People were horrified at this one misstep from a man who is largely viewed as a good person. A misstep that, again, he has taken responsibility for.

Where’s Rock’s apology to Jada? Nowhere. Rock has been dead silent. I haven’t heard a word about him issuing a statement or accepting Smith saying he was sorry, nor owning the fact Rock himself deliberately provoked such intense anger.

When you condemn the reaction but not its catalyst, you are sanctioning the behavior that created it. You are endorsing hurting people’s feelings as an appropriate way of life.

Quite often, I ignore celebrity news, gossip, and scandal of all sorts. Most of the time, I don’t peruse unfamiliar social media channels and doomscroll. But last night, I went digging, because I needed to know: In this battle over who was right, less right, wrong, or more wrong with regards to The Slap, what was winning — ableism, or fighting ableism?

I was positively tickled pink when I realized the tide is turning in favor of the latter.

More and more and more posts are circulating the internet, defending Smith’s motives but not his actions, and completely condemning Rock. An entire can of worms has been opened regarding many of the celebs who came out on Rock’s behalf, the community of Team Will finding and posting these people’s dirty laundry — and it’s a LOT worse than what happened on Sunday night. I won’t get into all of that, but let’s just say, some of the stuff I learned 12 hours ago about certain people is definitely cause for concern…

The bigger picture of this incident has always been and remains: America is a society that tolerates bullying. Our society excuses malicious words and deeds in many forms, and allows those who spread the hate and hurt to carry on without consequence.

It is BEYOND time that human beings moved on from laughing at the disabled and the ill. It is BEYOND time that such things are considered acceptable.

I know Will Smith reacted in the heat of the moment and wasn’t intending to start a big conversation on how we treat people with medical conditions they can’t prevent, but…he has.

Maybe we’ll finally get somewhere with it.

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