A slap heard around the world
“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence”— Bayar Rustin
I write this in reaction to the sensational video I watched yesterday morning with Hollywood star Will Smith slapping another Hollywood star Chris Rock on live television at the Oscars. This spectacle is seen live by tens of millions of people. There is very little doubt that after that slap, it is likely that hundreds of millions of people have now seen this incident.
There was some debate about whether it was scripted or not but without a doubt the viewers were left stunned by what happened. For added reinforcement of his anger, Will Smith shouted expletives, warning Chris Rock to “keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth”.
Later, Will Smith received an award for best actor for playing the role of an outstanding Black father, and apologised to everyone except the man he slapped. He further justified his actions as an expression of his love for his family.
As a Black man, his bold violent emotional outburst in defence of his wife, who is battling with a health issue, resonates with us. This is a very human response, especially when we review our history of being emasculated as Black men while our women were being violated and not being able to do anything about it. I am sure this went into Will Smith’s response.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, I am able to see how clearly wrong his response was and how dangerously problematic his action is. It is likely to have significant impact in our Black communities here and abroad.
Violence among Black men is a scourge destroying our communities and particularly having tragic consequences for our sons. We only need to look here at home to see how our young Black men handle confrontations and conflict. Gun violence has taken many lives and the jails are filled with many others who have resorted to violence to handle disputes.
When we consider domestic violence, the impact of drugs in our community, along with our reckless usage of our roads, it becomes clear that we have a major problem on our hands in the Black community.
Will Smith has reinforced a dangerous message to the world that no matter how powerful, famous, rich and privileged we are, Black men are prone to violence. He has just reinforced the reasons why we are disproportionally caged like animals in the prisons of the societies in which we live. He has even reinforced why we are treated with lethal brutality by law enforcement.
With Will Smith’s behaviour, he has undermined decades of human rights and civil rights struggles for Black men, in particular, to be treated with basic human dignity. The tragedy has only been compounded by Will Smith’s son declaring pride in his father’s behaviour. It is further compounded here at home upon review of numerous social-media posts by our women that Will Smith was right and they want their husbands, boyfriends and daddies to do the same for them.
Let’s marinate on how much more powerful it might have been for the global Black community had Will Smith walked up to Chris Rock and grabbed the mic, even in anger. What if he would have scolded him for his insensitivity to his wife and brought awareness to her health condition? What if he would have strongly demanded that Chris Rock apologise for his remarks on the spot?
Rock might have complied and apologised immediately or refused to his professional and personal detriment. What the world would have witnessed was a powerful Black man confronting another powerful Black man and settling the conflict in a manner that would have complimented both of them. This would have truly honoured Will Smith’s wife and displayed to the world dignity and strength, even during the most trying of moments.
When Black leadership fails to act this way and resorts to stooping to the lowest common denominator of violence, it harms all of us. Here at home, we have had violence threatened on more than one occasion by our Members of Parliament. It is a wonder why we are shocked when our young sons resort to violence when they have conflicts. They have seen the examples from the most respected Black men in our community that violence is acceptable, no matter what status or titles we hold.
If we do not learn that violence is only strength as a last resort for self-defence, it will continue to cause significant damage in our Black communities and destroy our society here and around the world. Even more importantly, when we find ourselves in positions of leadership, we are responsible for our words and actions to uphold the virtues that benefit all of us, especially in testing moments.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017, and more recently a candidate in the 2020 General Election in Smith's West (Constituency 9)
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