As the mixed reactions to Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars mount, Black men are speaking up in defense of the Academy Award winner.
The infamous slap came moments before Smith accepted his first Oscar for Best Actor in the King Richard film. Rock had cracked a GI Jane joke in reference to Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hair loss and Smith lost it. Pinkett-Smith has been open about her battle with alopecia.
Comedian Shedrick Garrett doesn’t approve of Smith physically assaulting Rock on live television. But as a Black man, he understands what it feels like to suppress emotions for so long.
“It comes a time when you just get to your breaking point,” Garrett told NBC News.
Mental health experts have cited Smith’s reaction to Rock’s lighthearted joke as a sign of pent-up rage. The Men In Black star has spent nearly two years being the butt of the joke following Jada’s “entanglement” confession with singer August Alsina in 2020.
“They’ve been the subject of memes, people making fun of them on social media, in the news, and so I think he was kind of reacting in that moment,” David Staten, a licensed counselor in South Carolina, said.
“He wasn’t just slapping Chris Rock—I feel like it was a slap at his critics all across the world.”
Donald E. Grant Jr., a clinical psychologist and the executive director of Mindful Training Solutions, believes Smith smacking Rock was a possible response to frustration the actor has been harboring over constant criticism of his marriage.
“Chris Rock was an easy object for him to aggress towards,” Grant said.
“I think his problem is with Jada and the fact that, in many ways, he has become the poster boy and meme for an emasculated man, and I think that’s the challenge that he has to manage and deal with.”
While Smith credited his slap with being his way of “protecting” his wife and family, Grant said the smack was more a reflection of unresolved emotions.
“We try to teach boys who go in and out of schools every day, when somebody makes a joke about their mother, that they can’t physically respond to that,” Grant said.
“Yet, we’re looking at this saying this is protection. I don’t want my son fighting the kid in school because he made a mama joke. That’s not the model we want to set.”
“It happens with millions of men,” he added. “They’re just not at the Oscars to show their misplaced rage.”