Will Smith yells at comedian Chris Rock (not pictured) from his front-row seat at the 2022 Oscars after taking the stage and slapping him for a joke about Smith's wife during the March 27 ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Will Smith yells at comedian Chris Rock (not pictured) from his front-row seat at the 2022 Oscars after taking the stage and slapping him for a joke about Smith's wife during the March 27 ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

There are right ways and wrong ways to accomplish most things. A few days ago, the world witnessed the wrong way to defend and honor women, if that is what Will Smith thought he was doing. For sure, walking on stage after laughing at a joke, slapping someone, speaking, and going back to his seat yelling an obscenity for all to hear, by no measure is the right way. We have watched Will Smith grow up into what we thought was a real man, only to find out he still acts like an unruly kid.

Watching him slap Chris Rock for no reason must have sparked memories in the minds of every woman who has been domestically abused by a man who assumed the woman would not fight back. It’s best that she wouldn’t because fighting back physically would have invariably caused her more slaps, kicks and a significantly longer beating because the man in question would become even more enraged. I know because I have been there. It’s never been a secret that I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

I compliment Chris Rock for not escalating Will’s insane behavior. Many women sat wondering if after “floor showing” about protecting his wife’s honor, he’d ever shown that kind of behavior toward her. Chris could have responded, causing a brawl that would have embarrassed most Black people. This was to have been a night of pride for us with so many Black participants, probably hoping Will Smith would win the Oscar, only to be shocked and embarrassed by Will’s thuggish behavior over a joke.

Chris Rock is a comedian. Comedians tell jokes and many of us were honored to have him at the awards ceremony. After Will’s horrible behavior, he eventually went to the microphone and had an opportunity to cool his hot temper and apologize to all of us, including Chris. Instead, he went to the microphone, all teary-eyed, without the necessary courage to apologize to Chris or to those who thought the “apology” he gave as insufficient.

Dr. Christian Gregory, I am glad you so eloquently discussed the issue concerning Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. As you stated, your dad taught how fear, hate, jealousy, anger and the danger to ourselves when we surrender to violence. He taught me that “anger can consume and destroy us” and, that by acting under the influence of anger, I relinquish the authority of my own self-control.

Dick Gregory taught valuable “character lessons” to young comics and others. Even though Chris Rock was the victim of violence, I am grateful he reacted as he did! We, Black people, did not need the unnecessary humiliation of Will’s actions amplified by a response in kind from Chris. If he had truly wished to honor his wife, Will could have emulated the actions of Senator Cory Booker. By not doing so, he missed the unfulfilled opportunity to make all Black women proud of who we are — not just his wife.

Yes, during the confirmation hearings for our sister, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Senator Booker taught a master class of what a Black man could and should do to honor a Black woman. Booker’s eloquence in responding to “real” racially motivated verbal attacks stood head and shoulders above Smith’s “contrived” and unrestrained response to a joke at which he initially laughed.

Before this is over, I think Smith will indeed recognize that “anger can consume and destroy you.” I fervently pray that he learns something positive from his unwarranted behavior.

Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.

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