Sam Pasman ’25 is currently undecided as to a major. In addition to The Flat Hat, Sam participates in the running club, Team Blitz, and is the scholarship chair of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Email Sam at email@example.com.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
I’ll be honest. I don’t know celebrities. I have never taken an interest in celebrities. I don’t know every detail of Will Smith’s relationship with his wife that reaches the public. I knew of Smith primarily as a great actor, nothing more.
Yet the violence of the backlash against Smith is truly quite shocking. One letter to the editor of the New York Times called for Smith to have been “escorted out by security and stripped of the award.” Judd Apatow, for his part, insisted that Smith “could have killed him [Chris Rock].” Still, other critics declare that Smith’s behavior plays into the hands of the angry Black man stereotype, or that his actions “normalize violence.”
Are we so deluded as to believe that racists need Smith to behave a certain way to further their perceptions of black men? That a slap across the face could be lethal to a healthy grown man? That Smith’s actions have “normalized violence” when Hollywood continuously turns out superhero movies replete with conflict and destruction?
Some may argue that Rock, as a comedian, has a right to mock and make fun of others. In part, he does have that right because that is his line of work. Society accepts it as legitimate, and people enjoy watching him perform it. Yet, we as a society also establish rules about who and what Rock can make fun of. I do not think that illness, either physical or mental, is considered by many to be a legitimate target of mockery and jokes. In his remarks about Jada Pinkett Smith, Rock crossed every line of what we consider acceptable.
Celebrities are taught to smile through the memes, the tabloid reporters, their gossip mills, the jokes and the judgements made by all of society about their every move. And in the case of Smith, this was most likely emphasized at every turn in his training due to his race. The fickleness of the public with its celebrities is doubled in his case solely due to the color of his skin. On Sunday, he stood up and said, “No more.” He let us know that this is not 1947, when Jackie Robinson underwent months of gruesome threats on his wife and was expected to swallow his anger, to grin them all away. This is 2022, and our standards and rules are supposed to be better than that. Sometimes, our rules must be enforced via force because rule-breakers cannot be deterred any other way. We are all taught that you stop a bully by standing up to them.
If they hit, you hit back. And now Smith is to be condemned for doing what all of us were taught to do?
When I heard what had happened, I thought back to an elementary school classmate who had also lost her hair. I imagined someone standing up on a stage and jeering at her, the most vulnerable of my whole class, for her illness. I won’t say that I know exactly what Smith must have been feeling, because I cannot read minds, and because there is a great difference between a long-ago classmate and a wife. But I do know how I would have felt in his position. And that is why I cannot condemn his behavior.