Last Sundays Oscars, host Chris Rock made a ‘joke’ about Jada Pinkett-Smith's lack of hair. Pinkett-Smith's baldness is a result of an auto-immune disease called alopecia that results in hair loss.
Rock’s ‘joke’ at Pinkett-Smith's expense prompted her husband (and that night's Best Actor winner), Will Smith, to leave his seat, walk onto the stage, and slap Chris Rock. Returning to his seat, Will Smith told Rock in no uncertain terms that he was to stop the cruel jokes at his Jada Pinkett-Smith's expense.
This caused quite a stir and the social media pages were electrified with analysis and opinion. For me, I was profoundly sad. Sad that everything about the situation was a shit show. Sad how quick people were to pick sides and attack from their holier than thou perches.
Reflecting on the whole public mess, I shared on social media:
"Not so long ago, my beloved lost all her hair as a result of cancer treatment. It was incredibly difficult for her. I can't adequately describe this brutal patch of her journey. As hard as it was, she still chose to go to work, go about the community, and to the very best of our knowledge no one was ever anything less than kind and compassionate.
As much as I abhor violence and left that part of my life behind decades ago, I honestly don't know how I would have reacted during her months of treatment if someone chose to make her lack of hair a cruel joke. I would hope I'd do better, but with everything going on... I'm not 100% sure - that bothers me. But, it's honest.
Let me say here that I am sad about Will Smith’s act of violence and Chris Rock’s act of cruelty. I am not here to weigh in on who's right and who's wrong. There are plenty of voices that are doing that.
I am inviting us to see this situation as a cultural mirror to reflect on our own (inner) violence (both active and passive) instead of being content to externalize it and project the problem on someone else.
In my post, I am confessing that violence lives in me too. That the tiger is still crouching near the door and given the right set of circumstances, there is a possibility that I just might act out in the same way as Will Smith. I’m not happy about it. I know better, and yet, that damn tiger.
Violence, in all its forms, is a human disease.
Can we see that many of our religious and cultural stories are built upon violence? We have made violence, especially retributive and social/economic violence an integral and often celebrated part of our cultural and religious stories.
So when we point our shaming Social Media finger at Will Smith or Chris Rock or ..., can we see that we have three of our fingers pointing back at us?
Are we really serious about our revulsion of violence? Do we really want to be the change we want to see?
When we come face to face with our own inner violence and our complicity with it can we own and actually take meaningful steps towards truly dealing with the problem of violence. When and only when we own and begin to deal with our own violence can we begin to be truly peace-makers.
This Smith/Rock thing is just sad. Can we squeeze any goodness from it? Can “the slap heard around the world” be the metaphorical slap that awakens us to consider our own inner violence and complicity in all its forms?
Can we find the courage to look in the mirror?
Postscript: In the shadow of events let me say I appreciate how Rock did not respond in kind and escalate the physical violence. I also appreciate Smith's genuine and thoughtful public apology to Chris Rock. All this to say is sometimes daisies can grow on a shit pile. This gives me hope.