March 28, 2022

Will Smith: the Protector & the Warrior.


*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

Imagine your partner has cancer and lost their hair because of it.

A stranger then makes fun of them for losing their hair right in front of your face.

If that stranger, in turn, gets slapped, many would say they got what they deserved for being so mean and insensitive to the wrong person.

Or imagine if someone showed up at a children’s hospital to make fun of them for losing their hair—we wouldn’t accept that as a society.

In this scenario, would we say, “But he’s a comedian so it’s okay”?

Of course not.

The level of how serious a disease is (or isn’t) shouldn’t justify making a joke. In the same way, making a joke shouldn’t justify being violent.

And even though violence isn’t the best way of responding, passiveness and silence can sometimes be just as destructive. Just ask anyone who has never had someone to protect them when they needed it.

There has to be a line in comedy that shouldn’t be crossed. And if it is, let’s not say that this is “wokeness” at play, but rather human decency. Because the seriousness of the disease that caused the symptom doesn’t change the justification of the bullying.

Some saw the violence of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock and understandably condemned it.

But let’s take a moment to paint the entire picture and then discuss.

Chris Rock made fun of Jada Pinkett Smith for her hair loss, which is due to an incurable autoimmune disease called alopecia areata. Alopecia can also be chemotherapy induced. It was an off-taste joke about a disease she has. It isn’t okay to make fun of the immunocompromised or anybody who has any illness.

Pinkett Smith once shared this about finding out about her disease:  

“‘It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear.’ She referred to the experience as ‘terrifying’ when recalling losing handfuls of hair while in the shower. ‘My hair has been a big part of me,’ she said. ‘Having the choice to have hair or not and then one day being like, Oh my God, I might not have that choice anymore.'”

It seemed like it took Smith a minute to understand the joke that was being made, but when he saw his wife in a freeze response and recognized what Rock was suggesting, he instantly responded as his Protector took over.

That said, yes: Jada is not a child, and didn’t necessarily need his protection at that moment. They weren’t under a physical threat and adult women can make up their own minds about how to react, or not. And at the same time, many have been calling for men to step up more because silence is active participation.

We also don’t know their personal dynamic and the conversations they’ve had for the last 25 years of their relationship. We don’t know if she’s expressed pain to him that he allows the media to mock his family without saying anything and that she would like him to stand up more often on their behalf. Beyond any gender roles, this is also a human being standing up for another human being whom he loves. If he did this for his sister, brother, or best friend, would it have changed anything?

We can sit here and judge him saying “Love can make you do crazy things,” as it seems like he’s blaming his unhealthy reaction on love. But the underlying element of it is that we all have done things we regret from a deeply hurt and reactive place. We thought it was love at the time when it really was just our own unchecked toxicity. Our perception of love, our pride, our ego, and our role in a relationship can and does make us do things that we thought we never would. It is something for all of us to explore within ourselves.

Now of course, in general, I prefer communication over violence.

There were other effective ways to handle this, but we’re not consciously thinking of that when we’re in a triggered response. At the same time, I can also deeply resonate with that warrior energy of wanting to protect your family.

We also may not realize that race plays a factor in the trauma response here, but I want you to pause and take a moment to think about the pain that exists around Black women’s hair throughout history. What’s so mind-blowing is that Chris Rock himself did a documentary about Black women’s hair, so you can’t even blame ignorance.

The joke digs a lot deeper than many white people even realize.

It’s also important to note that Rock hosted the Oscars in 2016, the year in which Black actors and actresses boycotted the Oscars for not having a single Black nominee. That year was the first time Rock made fun of Pinkett Smith, so there’s also a history there.

But if you want to know why so many women in the conscious community don’t feel a level of safety and protection from the men in their community, it’s because deep down, they know that most of them would never defend them if it came down to it. Even if it was deemed justified or necessary (and yes, you can argue that this situation was neither).

Instead, they would rather put their hands on their hearts and hire a mediator.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is actually a healthy response in most situations. But there are some moments that are just screaming for your Protector to come out and stand up for your loved ones.

And if protecting your partner and the mother of your children, who is being made fun of publicly for losing her hair due to a disease isn’t one of those moments, then I don’t know what is. There are healthier ways to do it though.

And if you’re one of those men who would have just sat there and taken it, the way that Ted Cruz did when Donald Trump made fun of his wife, then I can assure you that your partner doesn’t and shouldn’t feel safe with you. If you allow people to joke and walk over those you care about, I would suggest exploring your relationship with fear and courage. It doesn’t mean you have to resort to physical violence, but it’s better to do something than be completely passive in a moment that could be emotionally devastating for your partner.

I do give Rock props for staying professional after getting put in his place for making a terrible joke. Smith ended up winning the very next award and was in tears. The acceptance speech he gave at the end should be also talked about just as much as the slap. He wasn’t afraid to show his vulnerability, even after losing it publicly. You can even see the pride on Jada’s face during the speech; I can only imagine that she was thinking her partner risked it all, in her honor, and stepped up when he didn’t have to. For a brief moment in time, her husband didn’t care about his career or reputation and put his family first.

For me, Will Smith is a spiritual warrior. Not because what he did should be celebrated, but because a real one doesn’t have it all together 100 percent of the time. They’re allowed to slip and make mistakes and apologize and learn and grow. They don’t put on a fake front of being an enlightened person 24/7.

It’s also important to understand Smith’s history for context. He grew up watching his mother get abused and couldn’t do anything.

In his book, Smith writes:

“As a child, I’d always told myself that I would one day avenge my mother…I paused at the top of the stairs. I could shove him down and easily get away with it. Thank God we’re judged by our actions and not our trauma-driven, inner outbursts.”

It’s clear this was a personal trigger for him, and he decided that this was the moment to stand up for the women in his life as he wasn’t able to in the past. He clearly didn’t do it in the healthiest way, but I believe he set a boundary for himself and his family that won’t be crossed again in the future.

He’s not a perfect man, but he does carry strength and compassion.

And he showed us that even giants have weak moments, and it just makes them human.

Of course, taking immediate action from an emotional place wasn’t the most “evolved” choice at that moment, but people usually choose the opposite in these confronting situations, and that silence can be just as damaging. It’s easy to judge other people’s actions from the outside in, without knowing what it’s like to be in their shoes and carry the traumas they do. In our eyes, our own actions and missteps are justified, while other people’s actions are villainized. We think we know what we would do in a situation, until a random situation hits us at the wrong time, and we react in a way that we never thought we would. We then, in turn, carry shame for falling short when we thought that we knew better.

Most people suffer from the bystander effect and do nothing; they even laugh along with the crowd, like Smith himself was doing at first. But then something in him clicked. I bet some people wish they had the courage to stand up to someone like this, maybe even the bullies they faced in school, even though it’s not the right answer.

But I believe there was something deeply symbolic about this slap.

It was a man stepping up and protecting women, the immunocompromised, and the overall social acceptance of bullying people without limits or consequences. There is something about stepping into an unexpected moment, saying “enough is enough,” and defending someone you love at all costs.

I repeat, there were a lot of better choices he could have made but being passively silent and allowing someone to bully the mother of his children for her disease, in front of the world, was not one of them.

It was an unfortunate situation, but it was an impulsive human moment that came from a deep wound around injustice. Will Smith himself knows it was the wrong response and recently issued a public apology where he stated, “I am embarrassed, and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”

I truly believe that he is apologetic and embarrassed by the whole incident and will take steps to reconcile. This situation is a reminder that we are so much more than our weakest moments. And we must take accountability for ourselves for the moments that we slip and also create space for compassion and forgiveness if others take accountability for themselves when they do as well.



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