First came the joke. Then came Will Smith’s slap.
It was the slap though that got everyone’s attention and talking about the Oscars. This was no ordinary “caught on video and posted to TikTok” slap. Nope. It was a slap between two of America’s most well known Black men celebrities that the entire world watched in real time. It has been shared and viewed hundreds of millions of times and likely to be a meme that will last for generations.
Now the slap continues to be debated across all forms of media as people jump in to share their opinion of who was right. On one side you have Oscar winner Will Smith and those who strongly believe he was defending his wife Jada by his actions. Then there are those who are shocked and dismayed that an act of violence and assault was broadcast across the world and it features two well respected Black men in the entertainment business. There is also the growing racial undertones of this social media driven conversation and how that is shaping the discussion of who was right and who was wrong.
Underneath it all, there is a sense that this was an issue of respect for and protection of Black women
For the past 7 plus days, Black women across our nation have watched the United States Senate Confirmation Hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. We have collectively watched as Republican Senators such as Ted Cruz from Texas and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina did all they could to verbally slap Judge Brown Jackson and undermine her humanity. Collectively Black women and girls watched and felt the pain of seeing such an amazing person endure the hate and disdain that America has and continues to show any Black woman who is determined to break down racist and sexist barriers that have existed since our nation was founded.
As we watched the confirmation hearings for Judge Brown Jackson, we all used social media and texts to share with our circle of girlfriends how we understood the body language of Judge Brown Jackson as she had to endure hours of irresponsible and deliberate attacks on her record and beliefs. We watched as her parents, brother, husband, and daughter looked at her with love and pride. We saw a Black family stand with this amazing Black woman and demonstrate to the world who we truly are.
We were moved to tears as Senator Cory Booker spoke words deep from his heart and shared how he and people across the nation were going to ensure that these hate filled attacks by Republicans would not be allowed to undermine our collective pride and joy of seeing the first Black woman ascend to serve our nation on the Supreme Court of the United States. Senator Booker stood for all Black Americans as he pushed to protect Judge Brown Jackson and all Black women and girls from these slaps of racism and misogyny.
So here we stand today after Will Smith and Chris Rock
A new week where all Black women and girls understand the importance to our future is on the line with the confirmation of Judge Brown Jackson and we are watching as the world gets distracted and debates the slap. The slap has become an outlet for many to take a position on supporting Black women but I wonder if we really understand what is and should be discussed.
A quick look at the social media accounts of Will Smith and Chris Rock is enlightening. Here are their accounts so you can check them out yourself.
Instagram – @WillSmith – 60.7 million followers
Facebook – @WillSmith – 111 million followers
TikTok – @WillSmith – 67.7 million followers
YouTube – Will Smith – 9.83 million subscribers
Website – www.willthebook.com/
Instagram – @ChrisRock – 4.9 million followers
Facebook – @ChrisRock – 7.5 million followers
Twitter – @ChrisRock – 5.3 million followers
Website – www.chrisrock.com
You see that combined they have over 266 million followers across their social media accounts. They have power and influence that few Black Americans have ever had. With a few quick keystrokes from their phones they can both reach millions of people with a direct call to action on important issues our community faces. So much power and influence, held by two individuals in America.
If you take a moment to look deeper into their social media, you also see something far more telling about how they both see themselves in the bigger connection to Black America. As dominant as the media coverage has been about the confirmation hearings for Judge Brown Jackson, you see that neither Will or Chris could find it in themselves to use their reach to share a social media post supporting Judge Brown Jackson. Even Jada tweeted a post to support the confirmation of Judge Brown Jackson. Yet not one single post across any of Will and Chris combined social media accounts to demonstrate they understand how important the confirmation of Judge Brown Jackson is for our community and specifically for Black women and girls.
The reality is that both Will and Chris are superstars that are unwilling to truly stand up for and with Black women and girls in America. Their display of self-centered masculinity last night should remind us that we fail to hold many of the celebrities that we support to the same standard that we hold ourselves. It’s not enough to defend Black women and girls in your immediate circle when you have the reach that both of these men have.
Will and Chris, I have to ask, do you not see yourself in our broader community? You both have a daughter(s) and do you not see how you are letting them and all Black girls down by not using your status to stand up for all of us? Who do you think goes to your movies, watches your shows, or attends your comedy tours?
Chris you made the documentary Good Hair about Black women and our hair and yet in the era of the CROWN Act you made that joke? Will, did you learn nothing from playing Richard and specifically the scene where he explains to the girls why their rise in tennis was important to all Black girls in America? Oh I know, to use and expand on the horrible and poorly aging quote from another icon Michael Jordan, Republicans buy movie and concert tickets too.
But look who has used their celebrity status to engage followers to support Judge Brown Jackson. Comedian Loni Love, actress Kerry Washington, actress Yvette Nicole Brown, comedian Robin Thede, and others.
For Black Gen Z, we have a responsibility to continue to use our collective voices to demand that those stars and celebrities that we support use their voice for good. There is nothing to support about what is going on between two selfish and disconnected men from our community. They have and are demonstrating that they do not understand the responsibility they have to also stand with us. Saying that the joke and slap at the Oscars has anything to do with the collective experiences of Black women in America is disingenuous and honestly a slap to the face of all Black women and the real and ongoing struggles in America we are dealing with right now.
If you can’t stand with us in our times of need, in this case using your public voice to support the confirmation of the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, then in all honesty we should show individuals like Will Smith and Chris Rock that we could care less if they slap each other to craziness. This is a two way street Will, Chris, and all Black celebrities. You stand with us and we stand with you. We should learn one lesson from the slap, we should always remember to check where these so-called celebrities stand with us before we will stand up for them.
Haley Taylor Schlitz is 19 years old and in her third year at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she became Texas Woman’s University’s youngest graduate in history when she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is also the host of the online show Zooming In w/Gen Z. Follow all her endeavors on Instagram and Twitter.