Editor's Note: As part of our on-going mission to hear perspectives from all sides, we invited Leslie Anne Wilkinson, a self described "proud feminist, ashamed white womxn who goes by she/her pronouns", to write guest blogs for Flappr. You can read Leslie's first blog "Decolonize Your Diet" here.
Doubtless by now you have heard about last night’s kerfuffle at the Oscar’s, in which Will Smith, one of the most successful actors of his generation (if not all time), unexpectedly struck Chris Rock, one of the most successful comedians of his generation (also, if not all time), on live television.
At first glance, it would seem this affair is strictly between two men, one of whom made a tasteless joke, and another of whom lost his temper. However, this superficial analysis belies the hidden truth lurking beneath this regrettable incident. For you see, both Will Smith and Chris Rock are Blacx, and therefore we must consider the ways in which a culture of White Supremacy led to this notorious moment of television.
Take, for example, the format of the Academy Awards themselves. The custom of inviting a Master of Ceremonies – also called an “MC” – to casually tease and joke about members in the audience is indisputably a legacy of Whiteness. The expectation that a grown man should be able to “take a joke” is derived from the White cultural preference for those who can “control their emotions” – the key word here being “control” – when in fact, this only makes sense from the standpoint of White cultural hegemony.
There are, in fact, many equal (but also better) ways to respond to such situations that do not involve merely “smiling” and “shrugging off” provocation. However, once Will Smith made his decision to rise from his seat and slap Chris Rock across the jaw, he was undoubtedly channeling the violence that undergirds Whiteness (and White Patriarchy in particular) which has been imposed on him by the prevailing environment in Colonist/European-derived nations like the United states.
How else would he have internalized the White idea that a man must “defend his wife’s honor”? I think this aspect needs no further explanation.
Moving on. We must ask ourselves whether our White addiction to “celebrating achievement” might not also have contributed to the atmosphere of anxiety that surely influenced Will Smith’s decision. Indeed, the very concept of an “award” bestowed on those who demonstrate “excellence” in some activity or field is yet another example of Whiteness. Had the Academy Awards been structured to distribute awards to everyone involved in the film industry, regardless of so-called “merit”, it is unquestionable that the tension that preceded the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation would simply not have existed.
Then, of course, there are the problematic features of “jokes” themselves. The idea that an offensive remark can, in the right context, be considered “light-hearted” or even “funny” is an egregious example of White Supremacy at work. This is because White humor relies on an inbuilt sense of superiority and inferiority. Whether “punching down” or “punching up” someone is always being “punched” (once again, White violence) and there is always a direction involved. In other words, one person is always oriented either above or below another person.
This is blatantly White Supremacist, and furthermore, Patriarchal.
Instead, we should re-calibrate ourselves to other forms of humor, such as Cooperative Humor best exemplified by BIPOC womxn who routinely laugh when working together to dismantle injustice. At a BLM rally last summer, I myself witnessed this joyous and infectious brand of humor when a young BIPOC trans womxn dropped hxr sign. Someone (most likely another BIPOC trans womxn) shouted out, “That’s okay! We all love you!” and we all laughed together in a gleefully mutually-supportive way.
It was beautiful.
So, to reiterate. While the online world chatters endlessly about the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident – who was most in the wrong, who should be most blamed, and so on – we must not lose sight of the true cause of this infamous moment: White Supremacy, since it is responsible for creating the conditions that compelled both Chris Rock and Will Smith to take their respective actions.
The real “ugliness” here is the obvious manifestation of centuries of oppression and intolerance inflicted by White (Male) Colonizers upon BIPOC Folkx and their equal (but much better) ways of knowing, laughing, and celebrating. It’s all so clear a child could see it – provided that child was properly instructed in the Critical Methods of dismantling toxic structures of oppression.
Yet another reason we must firmly oppose all Republican efforts to indoctrinate our children. As if we needed another one.