March 28, 2022

The One Tweet about the Will Smith/Chris Rock Oscars Fiasco that I Can’t Stop Thinking About.

I will spare you any bad jokes about “the slap heard round the world.”

Unless you went to bed super early last night and are just waking up now, odds are you’ve seen the video of Will Smith walking onstage at the Oscars and slapping Chris Rock, after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

For those who are still in the dark, here’s a recap from The New York Times:

“In an apparently unscripted moment that stunned viewers and audience members alike, Will Smith strode onstage and hit Chris Rock in the face after the comedian made a joke about the actor’s wife while presenting the best documentary award at the Oscars.

Rock joked that Smith’s wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith, was in ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ seemingly a reference to her short-cropped hair. Pinkett Smith has said she has alopecia, a condition that leads to hair loss.

Smith yelled and cursed at Rock after returning to his seat, demanding that Rock not speak about his wife.”

It was a stunning moment—and one the Hollywood community and, of course, folks on the internet have had a lot of opinions about.

I’ve read at least a hundred tweets about the incident, some admonishing Smith for physical violence. Others blaming Rock for his insensitive dig. Some applauding Smith for standing up for his wife and those who suffer from an illness or disability. Others supporting Rock and expressing concern for the safety of comedians as a whole. And others still who are turning the whole situation into a joke or meme. But one tweet thread stood out to me.

Sophia Bush, an actress and activist, tweeted this last night and it has stayed with me:

 

It was a simple statement, but there’s so much truth to it: “All of it, awful.”

As a country, we are so focused on binaries. Right or wrong. This or that. Good or bad. Victim or perpetrator. Black or white.

But oftentimes, we forget context. We forget that people are real, feeling beings. We overlook the fact that humans are complicated and things aren’t always as simple as right or wrong, black or white.

We forget that sometimes life isn’t just either/or—sometimes life is both/and.

Two things can be true at the same time.

Smith was wrong for choosing physical violence in that moment. And Rock was wrong for turning someone’s illness into a hurtful joke. 

Smith could have chosen to defend his wife with words only. And Rock could have chosen his words with empathy instead of carelessness. 

We have created a society where we don’t really see other people. We don’t see their pain or their struggles. This is particularly true when it comes to celebrities or those in the public eye. There’s this mentality that because they chose to work in the entertainment industry, because they chose to “be famous,” that they don’t have the right to complain about anything. They don’t have the right to be hurt when others shame them or make fun of them or use them as verbal punching bags.

And the same can be said for those whose struggles aren’t always seen (or aren’t seen as valid): those with an invisible illness; those with disabilities; those who smile on the outside while hurting on the inside; those who are disrespected or heckled because of their race or ethnicity or appearance or sexual orientation or because they don’t conform to society’s need for clear binaries.

We expect these people to tolerate whatever the world throws at them—even if we wouldn’t tolerate it for ourselves.

Smith said it best later in the broadcast when he accepted the Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena:

“I know to do what we do, you got to be able to take abuse, you got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you got to smile and pretend like that’s OK.”

That is true and also, it shouldn’t be.

My hope for both these talented entertainers, who I’ve watched and admired for years, is that they’re able to work past this moment. That they can acknowledge where they both went wrong and find a path forward with compassion.

My hope for us is that we can recognize that both actions were wrong and not demonize either man for being utterly, painfully human.

And that we can recognize where we view the world in strict binaries and work on being open to the idea that things are not always as easy as right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. That we learn to notice the moments that are both/and. That we learn to, as Don Miguel Ruiz said in The Four Agreements, be impeccable with our words—and then be just as impeccable with our actions.

And that we learn to be kinder to one another. Because isn’t anyone else exhausted yet by the opposite?

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