A couple of months ago, an organization I work with decided we were going to do something unique and special this year. So, I passionately began to helm the Raising Kings program of One Village of Alliance, based in Wilmington Delaware. This is my 10th year involved and it’s also the 10th year Raising Kings has existed.
One of the events in the program is a screening and subsequent panel discussion of “King Richard,” the award-winning movie that tells the story of Richard Williams and his raising of two tennis queens Venus and Serena. The story is an amazing testimony of struggle, discipline, and fatherhood, among other things. So it was a perfect discussion piece for Raising Kings, which is rooted in rearing young African-American boys into adulthood.
But the story of Richard Williams was so powerful that we decided to use it above all other movies and TV shows as exemplary documentation and representation of what a lot of men go through these days. The movie stars Will Smith who would go on to win the academy award, but you know this. And you also know that he now infamously and tragically assaulted Chris rock at the Academy Awards shortly before taking home the coveted best actor honor.
The last thing we need now is another think piece on what happened between Will and Chris. But, there is an undeniable relatability and it’s an unquestionable conversation piece. So, join us today March 31, 2022, on AllHipHop‘s YouTube page as we talk about the themes and issues raised in “King Richard.” Naturally, We’ll also discuss, within context of course, Will slapping Chris. This is grown man talk – not gossip.
I found relatability in three people involved. One is Will Smith. The other Chris Rock. And then there’s Jaden Smith, the youngest son of Will.
I am not about to pretend like I understand what it is truly like to be Will Smith. He lives a very public life under constant scrutiny, with the last few years looking rather hellish from afar. His personal business, his family’s business, and the intimate details of his marriage have been revealed for all to see, pontificate about, and opinion-hate on. He and Jada are at least partially responsible for that. They or their camp has willingly divulged and have owned a great portion of what we talk about.
I am relatively private, but there is an aspect to this I understand. I consider myself a pretty nice guy (sometimes standoffish, introverted, and anti-social at times, but nice), but I do know what it’s like to be pushed to the brink. I know what it’s like to be coerced by circumstance into explosion. Unfortunately, these situations happen a lot, because men are not readily taught how to properly process their feelings. Or those emotions – those true emotions – are repressed. Or hidden under the mask of conformity. And suddenly said man strikes a tipping point where he (sometimes she) can no longer hold it and that rage is directed at someone or something.
In this instance, it was Chris Rock. I am not here to analyze Will Smith as a person or his personal views on a joke said by a comedian at Hollywood’s most prestigious event. But I am here to say that it was truly unacceptable how he expressed himself. He said it himself: he was wrong. When I lost it, I had to deal with the consequences of those actions as well. And so will Will. He’ll still be rich beyond measure, but there will undoubtedly be consequences and repercussions. He and The Smith Family are considered royalty by many. And his family unit is exceptional. Hell, Jaden even compared them to the X-Men once. I felt that.
Last year, I interviewed the great rapper MURS and I told him a story about my father. In that story, I shared with him that I got into a squabble with some boys in the neighborhood. These boys happened to be white. I can’t remember exactly what happened between us, but my dad came out and all the problems dissipated. Those boys decided they wanted to go get their dad. And my dad waited in the middle of the street for them to get him, but their father never showed up. My dad did not have to use violence, but I was a proud kid.
In fact, I was extremely appreciative that my dad was tougher than their weak patriarch. And, I still am, if I am being honest. I would have to have been at their dinner table that day. My pops had a stature that was forced most men (and us kids) to stand down. He never had to resort to violence, because it was a losing proposition. So, when Jaden Smith decides to tweet “And That’s How We Do It” with pride, it remains problematic.
In our conversation with Raising Kings, I am hopeful that we will be able to put some of this into perspective. No matter how you slice it, violence is not the answer. Most of us don’t have the safeguard of the pristine, largely white, Hollywood Academy Awards as a refuge.
I hate that the world was watching. I hate that the kids were watching. I hate the idea of masculinity – purported toxic masculinity – changes, morphs, and maligns according to the situation.
To me, there was one person that needed protection.
Chris Rock literally needed protection, as he was assaulted.
When I say, in the headline, that “I’ve never been Chris Rock,” that is not an insult. Chris Rock has been open about being bullied ruthlessly in his younger years. Nearly every fight or altercation I have ever gotten into was defending somebody, oftentimes a weaker person from a bully. So, I feel awful for Chris Rock. And the more I think about it, it’s nauseating how folks are celebrating and justifying this attack.
It is my instinct to applaud him for his restraint, for not fighting back, and for staying with the program. We really can’t say what was going on in his mind and he has already stated that he’s still processing it. I can say though, I have never been attacked physically in a way that I was unable to defend myself or lash out even. I have been assaulted in other non-physical ways and was helpless, but that is another story. One of my elders told me, “Never be violent, but if somebody puts their hands on you, you try to kill ’em.”
Straight like that.
But, this is not that kind of matter. I see a lot of people talking about what they would do in that situation – if Will Smith slapped them. And I find it hilarious that everyone knows just, right-and-exact, what they would do. First, Will ain’t slapping your crazy a###! You are a layperson sir and have nothing to lose, sir. Quite frankly, based on how Chris Rock has presented himself in film, TV, and in his comedy specials, he is not a tough guy in any way. And that is ok.
People, typically Black women, speak about the need to protect Jada Pinkett Smith, but it is Chris Rock that “suffers” from a condition similar to Asperger’s. NVLD is a non-verbal learning disability that results in strained social skills and also learning difficulty. He was tested long before this assault. Chris Rock needed help, support, and security that night. And he didn’t get it. In fact, little is said about how he’s doing. It almost seems like nobody cares that a 57-year-old man was brazenly assaulted in front of the world and nobody did anything. The memes like “Pursuit of Slappyness” are also a form of ambush. He even apologized for messing up the night for the hosts.
Reportedly, Will Smith declined or refused to leave the award ceremony after being asked. They asked. He declined. And he still won the award. That’s an amazing level of privilege and power. I am almost jealous. In the streets, a fistfight or a slap can get you murdered. Security in the clubs I frequented would beat rabble-rousers from inside the club all the way to the street. And dump you. These are not the streets and this is barely real life.
All in all, I find the whole situation to be tragic.
I like each and every one of these individuals, but understand I know them exclusively through their work and projected personas. Including Jaden. I think he is an incredible artist and I wish he would do more rapping. I reminisced on interviewing Jada in college with a former classmate recently I feel like Will Smith is our Hip-Hop Denzel Washington.
And Chris Rock? I hope just he is well. Everybody does not hate Chris. We love Chris.
We are allowed to make mistakes. A lot of our greatest moments come after the mistake. At our lowest points, it yields the opportunity to make right what was wrong. It has happened to the best of them, including myself.
But it is critical that we learn collectively. It is critical that our kids process this properly. And it is critical that we continue the dialogue and continue to sculpt out what masculinity is and really looks like. Especially when it is on display in front of the world. And this is why Raising Kings is “changing the image and expectations of Black men and boys.”
Instead of writing a think piece, next time, I might just think peace.