There is certainly one thing everyone can agree upon with regard to the Oscars and that is there will always be a memorable moment, something people remember for years to come. The degree of memorability, however, often lives on the same spectrum as the depth of white supremacy and tinged with how Racism decides to enter in to deny and discriminate against the memory.
The 2022 Oscar celebration is no different. Will Smith smacked Chris Rock in the face in what would only be characterized as a gentleman’s rage if it had happened among two white men in the 19th or 18th centuries. It would have appeared as one gentleman with a white glove smacked across the face of the other. In the realm of woulda, shoulda, coulda, there are any number of ways Will Smith could have reacted to the smacked-ass comment by Chris Rock, who by anyone’s interpretation of his comedy knows no bounds, Smith gave him an openhanded smack rather than a closed fisted punch. Far more incendiary than the slap, which by many was seen as a prank at first, it was the profanity Smith delivered after which changed the dynamic of the confrontation and the event. In essence, jiggy got jagged. The flood gates were opened and like everything else where Racism resides, Race as color and Race as character entered the realm of ordinary public scrutiny to rattle and dismantle the memory of an actor’s finest performance in a motion picture, and for that matter, the awards of many who followed.
Of course, as is the case with all my essays on the subjects of popular culture and politics on the rare occasions I am pressed by conscience to provide commentary, this essay is not about Will Smith smacking Chris Rock, an opening for debate on whether his behavior was appropriate for standing up for his wife, or on acceptance of violence under particular circumstances. This is an essay on how public scrutiny is applied in the U.S. through its media for Black people in America and why it is important understand the same kind of differences exist within the junctures of scrutinization in a Racist, white supremacist culture of denial.
Indeed, scrutiny itself is one of the most important aspects of critical thought processes when applied fairly, most often in law and justice. But public over-scrutinization, like the kind that suffocated Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm Shabazz, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, among others in decades past, and that attempted to dehumanize Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her hearing for the Supreme Court is the real issue being glossed over while everyone vilifies a man for striking another man in a public venue where both men are too famous and make too much money as far as supremacists are concerned.
Recently circulating around the Internet is a story about John Wayne, an avowed white supremacist who told Playboy in a 1971 interview, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” and how he had to be restrained by six security guards as he tried to attack Acheen Littlefeather, an indigenous woman acting on behalf of Marlon Brando. By comparison, any memorability or scrutiny of John Wayne was non-existent after that interview and what little he received after the 1973 Oscars fizzled shortly after.
By far, in terms of memorability and over-scrutinization, Will Smith’s so-called “smack heard around the world” will probably outlive Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” in terms of the number of times he will be expected to apologize and how much he stands to lose as a result. Furthermore, I am certain there are people stopping right here in this essay who will comment that the actions of Ms. Jackson and Will Smith were not the same. I beg to differ. Again, the issue is not the event, but the public scrutinization after, such scrutiny that then turns to animus, especially by those who already had preconceived envy, jealousy, or hatred for either.
As I wrote earlier, the flood gates were opened and like everything else where Racism resides, Race as color and Race as character entered the realm of ordinary public scrutiny to rattle and dismantle the memory of an actor’s finest performance in a motion picture, and for that matter, the awards of many who followed. Black people must be especially cognizant of this fact in order to remain above the projections of inferiority and white group think mentality which says we are all to blame for the act of one Black person against another Black person. There is a reason for these projections, and it is historic as well as conditioned.
Many Black people have the tendency to think subconsciously more in terms of Race as character while consciously thinking in terms of Race as color, and there are many white people who subconsciously think in terms of Race as Color and consciously think in terms of Race as character. This means, many of us see ourselves as Black people first and our character second. This is why some of us are so quick to blame ourselves as Black people when clearly for most of us, we have never even met the people who committed the acts. For white people it is the other way around. This is why more white people overly scrutinize the actions, behavior and manner of Black people as bad, because they subliminally associate black with conscious bad behavior.
While among themselves, Black people may treat an event in terms of what we might have done in similar circumstances, and might leave it at that, white people will treat the event as inexcusable and will entreat as many potential punishments as can be, even to the extent of “cancelling” them forever in the memory of their culture. To say that Black people won’t cosign on the perspective of conscious white thought would be unrealistic, since there are some who do. Because this perspective of conscious white thought in terms of Race as Color and character is so pervasive in a Racist culture and society, it drowns out any other competing thought process, which is why no matter how many times Janet Jackson apologized, it simply wasn’t enough for the price of showing a bit of breast during a public event in front of millions, just as it will not be enough for Will Smith for slapping Chris Rock at a public event in front of millions.
Banned from the Oscars? Banned from the Superbowl. Vilified relentlessly for years? For at least ten years. Character assassinated? Certainly was.
Whether Will Smith will recognize there is no amount of money that can shield him from Racism and its most potent expressions of denial is unknown. If they take his Oscar away, Racism will have won, again.