How Chris Rock saved Black America
TV was never more must-see. So much to unpack from the shocking footage that we've all seen by now, of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. Smith way overreacted to Rock's joke about Jada Pinkett Smith. Many people who dislike the joke and relate to Smith's felt need to protect his wife nevertheless understand that Smith was dead wrong.
Make no mistake: Black-on-Black crime took place on the world ceremonial stage that night. Smith is lucky that the Los Angeles Police Department didn't arrest him for assault and battery. He has Rock to thank for refusing to press charges. We all have Rock to thank for de-escalating a situation that could easily have spiraled out of control.
What if Rock had swung back at Smith after getting slapped in the face? What if Rock had barreled into Smith's back as Smith smugly walked back to his seat? Imagine the mêlée if Rock had "kept it real" by reacting to Smith in kind.
Yes, Smith has four inches and some forty pounds on Rock and did once play Muhammad Ali. But don't think for a moment that Rock stayed his hand out of fear. He stayed his hand out of commitment to the professional ethos: the show must go on.
It took only a few seconds for Rock to take back command of the stage, to joke: "Will Smith just smacked the s--- out of me!" I suspect that the real reason that Smith cussed out Rock was because Rock effectively laughed right back in his face. Rock nonchalantly moved on in a type of jiu-jitsu that further enraged the bully.
Rock's left cheek was smarting, and he was getting cussed out on live TV, yet he kept his head even as Smith was losing his. Rock said: "Wow, dude. It was a G.I. Jane joke."
Many people wonder whether Rock knew about Mrs. Smith's alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss. Given Black women's hair sensitivity, some think Rock should have known better than to go there, especially since he had already made a documentary film on the topic.
Rock apparently didn't know about Mrs. Smith's medical condition. Regardless, why should pointing out a woman's bald head be inherently insulting? Consider that back in 1997, one of the most beautiful women in the world, Demi Moore, played G.I. Jane. The movie depicts a bald and beautiful and bad-ass feminist icon. So it's not far-fetched that Rock might have meant the joke as a back-handed compliment to a beautiful Black woman.
But the Smiths took the joke in the worst way. And so Rock agreed to Will Smith's F-bomb demand concerning his wife. Again, we should not think Rock was afraid. We can hear Rock restraining himself at the 1:06 mark: "Oh I could, oh, OK..." He checked himself because he was committed to the professional ethos: the show must go on.
Understand: Chris Rock may be the greatest comedian of his generation. In that moment, he could have verbally destroyed the easy-target Smiths. But his Zen-like restraint allowed for the punch line:
"That was the greatest night in the history of television."
Note the past tense. Just moments before and on live television, the man had been assaulted and cussed out by Will freaking Smith. Yet there he was, in real time, already looking ahead of the surreal situation.
The world has seldom seen such grace under pressure. Black men today can thus stand taller, despite all the hand-wringing about the fate of Black America because of a certain Hollywood star's sudden fall from grace. For, thanks to Rock's character and professional discipline decades in the making...the show did go on.
Image: Andy Witchger.