As a lover of philosophy, sociology and psychoanalysis, I am reminded of the words of Franz Fanon.
Violence is man re-creating himself
I understood these words to mean that for black bodies, violence, the mechanism used as a colonial tool of oppression, will be the same tool used to activate a rebirth of one's identity. A revival of the black subject's fragmentation, dehumanisation and lost selfhood. Often, we don't like hearing it. But there was a time when black skin was not seen as human. And therefore, our introduction to the world was as such. A commodity to be used in the servitude of capitalism and then tossed away when we grew too tired to labour or serve those who benefited from the blood we unwillingly gave.
Will Smith, actor, father, friend, husband and above all human, did what some might call the unthinkable on stage and slapped another high profile celebrity, comedian Chris Rock for publicly shaming his wife Jada Pinkett, who suffers from alopecia, a disease she has publicly talked about and battled with for many years. She wears a bald head with pride and advocates for healthy living and self-care. It can never be considered humourous to laugh at the suffering many of us are burdened to walk with in life.
The Oscars, a space considered for the most elite in the acting world, also organises behaviour. The behaviour of those who inhabit this space are often viewed as important, almost god like, because they are the only humans who managed to skillfully make pretending a professional job that pays quite generously. These wilful actors become, in our eyes, objects that are admired, adorned - a being who is superior. A consequence of this is that society forgets they are human with feelings, emotions. We disapprove of them showing negative emotions because to be able to express feelings, we have to first be seen as a subject. A living, breathing subject.
Social rules don't give these beings much room for making mistakes because there are expectations placed on bodies determining their movement and interaction with each other in these spaces.
When Will slapped Chris, the organisation of those bodies responded with nuanced views, some quietly cheering others visibly disapproving. What did occur was shock and horror because celebrities are expected to take criticism on the chin and keep on acting
And for us watching from our televisions and smart phones, we quickly exercise our opinions via the various social platforms. With little to no insight into these individuals' lives, we all have an opinion on who was right and who was wrong.
However, It isn't often that we see such a public display of a black man unapologetically defending/protecting his female counterpart. Sadly this has produced in many people a sense of ambivalence.
Will Smith, in a brief moment, was human. His accolades and status reduced him to being just a man, a husband, empathic for his wife, who visibly didn't find Chris Rock's humour funny.
We live in a world where the black female form is hyper-sexualised or diminished and told that we are not able to meet the eurocentric beauty standards cause Becky with the good hair doesn't have 4c hair curl patterns. To be a black body is to be viewed as not quite human and filled with harmful emotion. She is seen as a threat, the angry black woman expected to smile and transform into a real-life jester in the presence of non-black bodies to protect and pacify insecurities and inferiority.
Newsflash - black women, don't have the privilege of simply being in the world. Often, we are the focus of criticism or curiosity.
Historically we have been conditioned to see ourselves as ugly, a corporeal malediction. So it's no surprise that some of us find it difficult to see beauty in each other. To free ourselves from the mental prison of slavery and ancestral trauma and recognise our value.
We walk through the world filled with rage. Behind closed doors, sometimes this rage may reveal itself in many forms, violence, alcohol, drugs, infidelity, and any other acts which serve the role to suppress pain we still lack the language to articulate.
Black women are synonymous with strength, struggle and silence
Strength because we rise and face the world every day no matter what.
Struggle because we push through and fight for a space and a place in a world that wasn't designed for us to win or thrive and silence because the world did not give us permission to ask for help, and we never ask for help even when we are breaking down.
What Will Smiths act represents isn't just a slap. Instead, it amplifies a need for us as a black community to protect each other. To do away with the Blaise attitude, we were indoctrinated to adopt during slavery - a time when to defend our own would have resulted in death! A time when the settler seeking to control the natives introduced the concept of individualism through violence.
Safety comes to mind when I think of how it feels to shackle and bottle your emotion because expression comes at such a high cost, being harmed or otherwise. Black bodies, black men and black women are rarely safe in this world. When we experience pain, loss, disappointment, where can we go to feel safe? There isn't a place for us. So instead, we internalise, suppress it, laugh about it and keep going. Chris rock was comfortable making a joke because that is often our way of coping with painful experiences.
Will Smith's act is a reminder of our solidarity as a race. Our Love, devotion and protection of each other. Through social development and social organising, we are programmed to view violence as a bad thing. Something to despise unless it is being used to protect a white body. We are then able to justify the use of violence.
White bodies go to therapy, black bodies use self-berating humour. Jada's disapproval of this approach was powerful and calls for a conversation around how we might be able to use language and humour in a way that doesn't attack.
Cancel culture fuels views that produce more violence and inhibits healthy dialogue between indifference. The keyboard warriors gear up to incite further painful rumours. It reduces the conversation to an act and, with this, diminishes parts of the story.
If only we had a front seat view of the lives of these individuals, perhaps then we might be able to have a conversation about pain, painful acts, the protection of the black female subject, and truly begin the process of healing from the trauma residing in our DNA.
With Love always
Mon & Nai