By Andrianne Gunn
Because I’m black, disabled, and woman enough to comment on Will Smith, Jada, and Chris Rock at the Oscars….
I can appreciate why many white folx set the boundary to not speak on this topic and I know there are black women specifically asking people to step aside from this conversation. I see why all of that is happening.
I don’t usually chime in on the EDU moments where race and other intersectionality happens because generally my contribution to the revolution is existing in the first place and I have shit to do and don’t want to take on the labor of explaining the things because I’m already living the things and there are people who love explaining the things.
Today though I’ll chime in.
I was a bald black-ish woman around the time GI Jane was popular. I have been burned time and again with a straight comb. And my hair has been ridiculed, complemented, and commented on my whole life. There isn’t a day. And one might think compliments are wonderful and fun, and maybe they could be if 50+% of them didn’t also have weird microaggressions and othering statements in them.
My hair has come out in clumps many times in my life. Sometimes from lye and relaxers attempting to straighten my hair, sometimes from illness, sometimes from stress. I do know the fear and shame of losing the asset of hair. Black women and our hair is a WHOLE thing. And part of that thing has to do with going through pain, and great expense, and time to be presentable and acceptable to this country’s culture.
This culture that was built on violence, and still perpetuates violence, yet has the audacity to claim that violence is not the answer – when it suits them. When they can put US in our place. And that violence is part of the lineage we carry and turn inward against ourselves.
I recently read Will Smith’s memoir.
His father was violent. And his father was violent in response to society’s violence against him. Will was unable to protect his mother from his father’s violence – he ran and hid. And he also ran and hid instead of protecting a young girl from entering the house of a known predator in his neighborhood. Both of these happened when he was a young kid.
And because of these events, his core wounding is that he is a coward. His strategy for trying to keep his family safe was to be jovial and fun and keep everyone happy and laughing. I picked this strategy to survive my childhood trauma too – it works when it works. Will was so good at it he made a massive living taking that strategy across the globe.
He literally won the hearts of the world when his character punched out an alien as he said “Welcome to Earth” in Independence Day.
Those of us familiar with acting and performing would understand that Will also has a hard time shaking his characters. He doesn’t often have to inhabit someone other than himself for films but when he does, it takes him a while to return to himself. In his first big role in the movie Six Degrees of Separation he had a hard time shaking his love of Stockard Channing, and he almost lost Fresh Prince of Bel Air because he couldn’t remember how to be the Fresh Prince. I think it’s the 1st 6 episodes of season 2 where you can see him still talking funny and not knowing how to inhabit his body.
So Will recently played Richard Williams and Will says very clearly in his Red Table Talk interview with the Williams family that the thing he’s kept and the thing that he took home to his family is the realization that Richard was a lion FOR his family, unlike Will’s dad who was a lion TO his family. And it changed the way that he is showing up as a parent and husband.
Chris Rock’s ”Joke”
So when Chris Rock “made a joke” as Jada’s expense, Will was laughing and jovial as is his strategy for surviving, but when he saw that “his woman” (his own terms) was not okay on this night where he is celebrating and potentially going to be celebrated for embodying the lion that is Richard Williams, with his own baggage of being a coward who didn’t protect women, he got up and slapped Chris Rock.
Chris Rock did not tell a bad joke in some hole in the wall club in Sacramento. He told a joke about a black woman’s hair in front of a wealthy white audience on live TV that was being broadcast globally on the biggest night of Hollywood. The power imbalance of the impact of holding the mic on that stage that night in front of those people was such an excessive use of force and was a greater violence than the standard violence of attacking a black woman you have previous beef with using “a joke.”
This situation also became more than a comedian on a stage telling a joke that went south because it was a black man on a stage in front of wealthy white people and telling a joke about a black woman. That “joke” turned that moment into a minstrel show. Yep, so many layers that most non black people wouldn’t even think about.
The deeper fuck of it all, is that some of us felt all of what I’ve written instantly without need of explanation. And THAT is why some people are bowing out of the conversation and being asked to bow out of the conversation.
It’s all so fascinating, isn’t it?
But here’s the thing, at some level, everyone’s take on this is the “right” take.
We all get to have our responses.
I grew up having to earn respect at the end of my fist, and my toughness, and my willingness to defend the people I cared about. It would be absolutely absurd for me to tell anyone else that violence isn’t the answer. Trauma and violence is not something I have the luxury of trying on as a thought experiment.
This is where a fairly unknown construct is useful, I won’t explain it, but there’s a model called Spiral Dynamics that explains the way that societies evolve over time. This model gives color codes to explain large cultural shifts. There are people who have the luxury of safety and the ability to actualize beyond violence as a solution. Someone could suggest that Will Smith’s money and status should put him in that safe and actualized place, but those people probably don’t understand trauma – generational/cultural/personal enough to understand how we all got here.
Masculinity is also part of the picture here. Masculinity keeping men from going to therapy. Masculinity compacted with race dynamics leaving black women some of the most unprotected people in our country and unprotected especially from black men – because of the ways that cycles of violence play out. Emasculated men often turn on each other and on women.
Can we take a moment to marvel about all of the things we can be and are talking about in this one situation?
I’m just as excited to talk about the reckoning that is happening in comedy. Maybe comedians should be prepared to be slapped. Maybe we all should live in a way where we might be slapped. I know that’s an awful thing for me to just to spout off for those of us, me included, who have been in abusive relationships and our bodies already respond as if this is the case, but I mean it more now as living with the awareness that we really do have an impact. I mean it as taking a greater responsibility for who we are being, and how we use ourselves and our platforms.
A comedian’s job is to read the room well enough that they can find the things that will cause everyone to laugh. And the new standard is, if someone is hurting from your joke then it wasn’t funny. The new standard also includes not making yourself the butt of the joke. And I’m totally here for all of it. I’m here for all of us appreciating more nuance and holding multiple threads of “truth” of experience at once. And I’m here for an evolution of what is actually funny. And I’m excited for people getting a deeper understanding about what this whole being a person in the USA and being a person in general is all about.
And since we’re talking about thin skin and violence. I think the thin skin we should be preserving is the foreskin – especially since it’s the most sensitive part of the penis. Especially since it is a gross trauma we inflict on men at birth and pretend it’s of no consequence. I grew up in boy world and I think it’s absolutely disgusting to cut off the most sensitive part of the penis, and then castrate boys/men from their emotions around 4-8 yrs old and then sell them the story that once they get a great job and a fancy car a they will be able to conquer all the women with their magic stick except they can’t really feel those woman or respond to their subtle muscle contractions and I think men are unconsciously aware of this and deeply resentful.
That’s all up in there too. What I’m saying is there are so many layers to this whole thing…