Current Events

Will Smith and the Shattered Fragments of Black Men

At the 2022 Oscars, presenter and comedian Chris Rock made a joke toward the actress and wife of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett. Rock said, “Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2 can’t wait to see you,” seemingly about her short haircut and the GI Jane movie in which actress Demi Moore sported a buzz cut. While Will Smith laughed, I believe seeing his wife rolling her eyes in disgust caused him to react. Will Smith, who was projected to win the Oscar for best male actor of the year for his role as Richard Williams in King Richard, walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock. For a minute, Chris Rock appeared stunned, and so did I as a viewer. Both men are comedians, and I was wondering was this a scripted incident to bring hype to the Oscars.

As the night went on, we soon discovered the altercation was not a joke. Will Smith went on stage, slapped Chris Rock, sat back down in his seat, told Chris Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his fucking mouth, and walked back on stage to accept the Oscar for best actor about fifteen minutes later. Will Smith apologized to the Academy during his tearful speech and said, “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I ever met. I got to protect Saniyya and Demi, the two actresses that played Venus and Serena. I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people.” (Will Smith has since issued a statement apologizing to Chris Rock.)

Many on social media quickly constructed a narrative that Will Smith defended his wife because she has alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes extreme hair loss. Others on social media chose to call out Will Smith’s behavior stating that violence is never the answer.

To be honest, no one knows what Will Smith was thinking at that moment. As much as people may speculate online, no one knows what Will Smith was feeling at that moment except for Will Smith. However, after watching the incident repeatedly, I begin to focus on the physical distance from his front-row seat to the stage. What would compel Will Smith to walk that distance and slap Chris Rock? I wondered about the weight that Will Smith was carrying on his shoulders with every single step. Weight that didn’t just appear on Oscar night. Weight that didn’t occur because of a joke. Weight that, to the naked eye, many people would never know that he was carrying. Will Smith spoke about being called to protect his family and others in his acceptance speech. I wondered who was protecting Will Smith? Who is looking out for Will? Who has Will’s back? Who had Will’s back enough at that moment to say, “Pause. Don’t do this. This is a moment that you are going to regret.” Who loves Will enough to stand in the gap for Will? Sometimes we need people in our lives that will save us from ourselves.

In 2020 we watched Will Smith and his wife sit at the Red Table and discuss her relationship with singer August Alsina. The hurt and pain on Will Smith’s face were almost tangible, even through a computer screen. The expression of hurt and sorrow on Will’s face quickly became a meme used on every social media platform. He became the face of someone taking a loss. From his autobiography, we have read about Will Smith feeling tortured by the connection his wife had with 2Pac, stating that he felt insecure and cowardly in comparison to the late rapper. When Will Smith discusses the abuse his mother endured at the hands of his father, he feels inadequate that he didn’t stand up to his father as his younger brother Harry did.

While I am unsure what Will is dealing with, I believe it is much deeper than what we saw on Sunday. The incident on Sunday was the fruit. If Will Smith wants to heal, he must deal with the roots. It seems to me that Will Smith has a lot of unresolved issues that he needs to confront. In his decades-long career, Will Smith has laughed through many things. There are times that humor is used as a mask. It made me wonder how many things are Black men simply laughing through while sweeping their pain under the rug? As Will Smith stated in his Oscar speech, “I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse, and you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you, and you gotta smile, and you gotta pretend like that‘s okay.”

What happened at the Oscars speaks to a more significant issue for me. Unlike many of my peers, I am not one to prescribe Will Smith’s actions to “protecting Black women.” In my opinion, this had nothing to do with protecting Black women but the brokenness inside of Will Smith that he has not dealt with. It speaks to a more significant issue for me about the brokenness of Black men. I believe we do Black men a disservice during this moment when we construct a narrative around them that isn’t centered on healing. We do Black men a disservice when we justify actions that I believe are rooted in internal hurt. It is a disservice because we are once again pretending that we do not see the pain. The easy narrative is dismissing a more prominent issue- the mental health of Black men and boys. Black men and boys are often forgotten people when it comes to mental health and self-care. We pretend as if we do not notice the cracks in Black men all while they are shattering before us. On Sunday, I believe Will Smith’s cracks were showing and if we are honest with ourselves, the cracks have been showing. And many of us didn’t take the time to pause and honestly think about what happened but went with a narrative that made us feel good. We made it about us and Black women and protecting Black women all while Will Smith continued to break.

I am tired of Black men shattering before me. I have seen it too many times. A very promising young man in my city, a good friend of mine is now facing an attempted murder charge because we didn’t recognize the shattering. Our homes are filled with Black men that are shattered. Our school system doesn’t know how to deal with Black boys that are shattering. Entire industries profit from Black men that are shattering. How long until we deal with the shattering? Aren’t you tired of picking up pieces? According to a 2019 report released by the Congressional Black Caucus says that death by suicide among Black youth is rising faster than any other racial group. Suicide ranked as the 3rd leading cause of death in Black men from ages 15-24 and Black men are four times more likely to die by suicide than Black women. Aren’t you tired of saying if only someone knew? It is happening in front of your eyes.

How many Black men pretend that they are okay when they are not okay? How many Black men are trying to smile through the pain? How many Black men spend years swallowing down sadness, pretending they are fine? How many Black men choke back tears because they fear being seen as weak? How many Black men succumb to drugs and alcohol because a substance is the only thing to take the pain away, even if only for a few moments? How many Black men are silent when their souls are screaming inside? Where is the outlet for Black men to say I am hurting? Where is the industry built around the self-care of Black men? Where is their pathway to healing? How do we allow Black men to face their pain? We must work to create space for Black men to be seen and heard, to allow them space to be vulnerable without judgment. If we are going to construct narratives, let us build narratives that tell Black men that crying isn’t weakness, that hurting is part of being human, that protecting Black women doesn’t always mean violence. Teach Black men that to love anyone, you must love yourself first, and that starts by confronting your past so that you are in a position to love fully, honestly, and openly.

I am so tired of seeing Black men in pieces. I am not celebrating the fragments of Black men.

What I witnessed on that stage was the cracking. I am exhausted seeing Black men in pieces. We must find a way for Black men to face the shattering. I wait for the day we work toward and celebrate Black men becoming whole.

13 replies »

  1. Very interesting perspective, one I honestly had not thought of, and certainly one I won’t hear from mainstream OR social media. You’re right; having gone through depression myself for years, I know our society doesn’t allow men to be comfortable opening up about what they feel. It means we’re weak, right? 🙄 But actually, it takes a great deal of strength. The stigma has to be eliminated.

  2. As usual, you wrote beautifully and it spoke to me. I have been a fan of his movies and music for years, and his 2005 album, “Lost and Found” has a song called “Mr. Niceguy” which alludes to his feelings on being pushed and pushed and pushed. In another song on the same album, “I Wish I Made That/Swagga” he raps, “I guess they think Will ain’t hard enough / Maybe I should just have a shoot out / Run up in the bank bustin’, grabbin’ all the loot out / Whoop somebody ass, taking my boot out / Right on TV so all y’all can see me / Just ignorant, attacking, actin’ rough / I mean, THEN, will I be Black enough?” This was 17 years ago, and the cracks you mention were showing then. I can’t imagine the pressure of being him, and, as you said, no one knows what was going on in his head except him. I am going to share your article on my page, because for the past few days all I can think about in regards to this incident is forgiveness, mercy, and grace, and how I wish we were more disposed to share these with one another. Thank you again for your writing and your willingness to educate the world.

    • OMG! You are so right! What I saw on that stage is a man who was going through some kind of sht, that we don’t know about. Whatever he was thinking, this goes so much deeper than Chris Rock, and I very much suspect that Chris Rock (who it must be said has at least been trying to do some work on himself) recognized this, which is why Will was able to speak to him afterward at all.

      I immediately referenced that song in my head because i remember the specific incidents mentioned in it when they happened. People have been taking potshots at him for nearly three decades. And its especially hurtful because it keeps coming from Black men who haven’t done any of the work, and so hold him to a standard of Black toxicity.

      He has the reputation (and the persona) of being good natured and outgoing, and for that he has been called some really nasty things and his Blackness constantly questioned, all while dealing with the white supremacy of the industry he’s a part of. A person gonna snap, and at some point no one was there for him so he could snap in private, rather than on a world stage.

      It is compassionate and nuanced takes like this, from Black men and women who have been following his drama for years, that I’m doing the most reading on, because all that white people want to offer are useless platitudes about violence, or condemnation o f this actions without any understanding or depth, and I have no patience for it.

  3. The system makes too much money on the shattering of Black and Hispanic males specifically, and poor males of any racial background generally.

    I think the biggest factor for Black males is that most Black males don’t know they’re shattering. The system drops us all the time. Add to that, many of our outlets are tapping on our glass as we fall, making a situation of shattering more likely upon hitting rock bottom. Most rappers are adding to the issue with fabricated tales and glamorizing war stories. The music is geared towards teen and young adult consumption, i.e. when they’re figuring life out and still impressionable. The music has become the father figure or big brother to many of us and that has proven to be less than healthy.

    Having outlets to help repair Black males that are shattering would be a good start. However, I think it’s equivalent to adding more padding to the floor. What we need more than that padded floor is a system that isn’t intentionally dropping us in the first place.

    • Indeed! Its going to have to be a system that we create for ourselves though because I sure don’t expect white people to create it. They can’t even catch each other, which accounts for the tremendous amounts of violence that white men engage in in their fruitless efforts to regain their lost manhood.

  4. And don’t forget Chris Rock. In a time when “we” demand “snarkiness” from our entertainers, when we demand and applaud confrontation, Chris Rock is also a victim in many ways. They are both players in our game.

  5. This touched my heart! Brought tears to my eyes literally! Black Men should be able to have that outlet and be free with showing their emotions as us as women do without judgement! I love what you have written and will share with others to read!

    • Thank you very much. Black men truly do need an outlet to be free. I wish that for them. ❤️

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