Will Smith's slap ignites debate about Black women's rights

It began with a Black man hitting another Black man live on television at the internationally televised Oscars.

Will Smith's slap ignites debate about Black women's rights

This was presumably to defend a Black woman being ridiculed for her hairstyle.

Many Black people saw it as more than an insult or slap. It was about Black manhood and what Black men should expect in the 21st Century -- as well as attitudes towards Black women.

The dramatic physical altercation that took place between Will Smith, actor, and Chris Rock, comedian at Sunday's 94th Academy Awards has raised questions about how Black men can publicly defend Black women from humiliation or abuse.

Although many women have rejected the misogynist idea that women's safety and protection should be the responsibility of men, others see Smith's defense of Jada Pinkett Smith as a loving act of principle and pushback against those who claim Black men don’t do enough for Black women.

Ayanna Abrams is a psychologist and the founder of Ascension Behavioral Health, Atlanta. She said that each woman's definition of protection from a spouse/partner can differ.

"Protection for some of us does seem like something that's more assertive in terms of going and speaking to somebody," Abrams said. She is also on the board at Black Girls Smile, which is a non-profit that focuses on Black girls mental health.

Abrams said, "For some people protection of Black women wouldn't have been (Rocks) joke not occurring in the first place." This includes protection for Black women and their bodies and how they are portrayed in the media.

Many observers believe that protecting Black women against verbal insults is not enough to protect them from physical assault.

Smith stunned the Dolby Theatre audience in Los Angeles, as well as millions of TV viewers, when he walked onto stage after Rock made a joke about how he loved Smith. 'G.I. Jane 2' is my favorite.

The joke was unscripted and made fun of Pinkett Smith's shaved hair. The 50-year old actor has spoken out about her alopecia diagnosis.an auto immune disorder that causes hair loss and can affect self-esteem and identity. Pinkett Smith, who was dissatisfied with Rock's jokes, rolled her eyes and slapped her husband across the face.

Smith returned to his seat and shouted twice at Rock, "Keep my wife's (expletive) name out of your (expletive).

Shelly Eversley, a professor at Baruch College, said Smith's language towards Rock made her wonder if the comedian's actions were motivated by love.

Eversley, interim chair of Baruch’s Black and Latino Studies program, said that "My wife" -- get your wife's name out from your mouth -- is a logic to property ownership.

She said, "In the history racial violence against Black women and racial slavery, we can see all the ways that Black women have been treated like property." "It doesn't make it any easier for Black men to do it than it does when it is done by white people."

Black women and men in the U.S. have adapted to gender roles that historians believe are rooted in Jim Crow and slavery. This was a time when standing up for one another in defiance of an authority figure or enslaver invited violence or worse. Generations of Black men have learned that in the face of systemic racism, legal apartheid, and high rates of poverty, success in life means protecting one's spouse's honor and protecting one's family members from harm in a white-controlled society.

On the surface, it's not dissimilar to the expectations that were placed on white American men and other ethnic and racial background men.

But times have changed. Eversley stated that today, Smith's act of disrespect for the Oscars is more likely be seen as an expression of unchecked ego rather than as a defense of Black women.

She said that Jada Pinkett Smith (Smith) was not a damsel-in-distress. "The notion that Will Smith treats her like she doesn't own a voice or has no agency should also be celebrated.

Eversley said, "That he could get away with such violence on national TV, go back to your seat, receive an award, and then go to party," Eversley added. "Suggests that even the tears over defending his spouse aren't about defending her but about his ego."

Smith, who was tearingfully accepting his award for best actor for "King Richard", apologized to the academy as well as fellow nominees for casting an overshadow on an eventthat, up until Rock slapped Rock, was filled with historic firsts LGBTQ representation and the Deaf Community, all taking place in a room where Black people have struggled to be represented.

Smith released a statement Monday acknowledging his behavior as "unacceptable and inexcusable" and offering Rock an apology that he did not offer during his acceptance speech.

Smith stated, "Jokes at your expense are part of the job. But a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much to bear and I reacted emotionally." "I'm still a work in process."

The academy condemned the actor's actions and met Wednesday in order to begin disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violating the group's conduct standards. According to the academy, Smith was asked by the academy to leave following the incident, but refused. They also suggested that disciplinary action could be taken against Smith for violating the group's standards of conduct.

Smith described caring for his family as a lifelong mission. Smith's best-selling memoir, "Will," was published last fall. He recalled seeing his father hit his mother so hard that she fell on the ground and spitting blood. Smith was nine years old at the time, and would later resentfully chastise him for not protecting his mother.

Smith wrote, "In all that I have done since then -- awards and accolades. The spotlights and attention. The characters and the laughs. -- there has been an subtle string of apologies for my mother's inaction that day." "For failing to stand up for my mother in that moment. My failure to stand up for my father. Because I am a coward."

Phillip Agnew is an activist and cofounder of Black Men Build. This national group focuses on the empowerment of Black men. He said that he rejects the media-perpetuated notion that Black men are less protective of their spouses, families, and communities than other people.

Smith said that there was some reaction to Smith's behaviour at the Oscars, especially from those who saw Smith's confrontation with Rock as an example for protecting Black women.

Agnew stated, "Protecting Black Women absolutely includes how we engage with our relationships, both intimately and platonic."

Smith said that Smith's actions were not the best if Smith was genuinely trying to protect his wife's integrity and honor.

The Oscars controversy arose at the end a week that saw a new approach to defending Black women. Senator Cory Booker, a Black Democrat, was praised for his rebuttal against the Republican colleagues' hostile questioning of Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson. Jackson is on track to be the first Black woman to be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Booker stated that Jackson was subject to insults which were "shocking" during the confirmation hearings on Wednesday.

You have earned this place. You are worthy. "You are a great American," Jackson said, drawing tears from Jackson as well as others who listened with rapt interest.

Paige Woods, Black Girls Smile's associate director, stated that there is some value in the discussion about the Oscars incident.

She said that the country's long history of using Black women as jokes in front predominantly white audiences is a sad fact.

"This at most has people talking, whether for good or bad reasons."


 

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