We are a group of Black women ranging in age from 88 to 101, collectively 753 years of life experience. We have gathered each Tuesday since the early days of the pandemic. We share our collective witness—life stories that have intersected with many of the notable events of the last one hundred years of Black history. As matriarchs of the cultural narrative and core values of the Black community, with a collective gasp we ask, ”What happened?”
Everything began normally. Hollywood stars came out and paraded along the red carpet. Oh, the glitz, and glamour. Aware of the historic aspects of this particular Oscars, our community shared the excitement. The behind-the-scenes production team, represented by movie and television producer Will Packet, was intentional in putting together an all-Black production team. Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes served as two of three co-hosts; Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Ariana DeBose, Denzel Washington, Questlove, and Beyonce possible award winners. As a community, we needed to support these shining stars.
Then it happened—the slap, seen around the world. It took everyone by surprise, and a good bit of time to process. It began with a joke by comedian Chris Rock about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hairstyle. Our collective years of Black women’s hair, can certainly empathize with Ms. Pinkett Smith, who has been vocal about her battle with alopecia. In response, Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock. Mr. Smith returned to his seat and later won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the film King Richard.
There are many ways to unpack this occurrence. We have heard the voices that have chosen sides. However, we must begin by acknowledging the devastating role violence has had in our communities for the past four hundred years. Regrettably, as we see it, violence found its way into the ceremony, whether in the form of an unscripted joke aimed at Pinkett Smith or an unexpected slap landed upon the face of Mr. Rock. For many in our community negative acts against our women, whether physical or verbal, have cut deep and provoked reflexive reactions. We are not condoning violence. However, we can certainly understand a Black man’s defense of our virtues. Especially in a society, which negates Black beauty and too often attacks the innocent Black bodies of young men and women. A “yo mama” comment, or the shooting of someone like Eleanor Bumpers, cause deep emotional hurt, especially when undeserved.
A Christian core value, whether intentional or not, was on display when Mr. Rock showed the ability to turn the other cheek. The bible informs us in 1Thessalonians 5:15, “See nthat none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” –(NRSV) To have Mr. Smith arrested would not have benefited our community. It was best for everyone to allow the show to continue. Reflection, repentance, and forgiveness all take time and may not have been fully revealed in Mr. Smith’s initial apologies. Still, we believe it was the best he could do at the time.
The fall out is huge and distorts the values of our community. Based upon what we understand about both individuals, we believe it was not Mr. Rock’s intention to hurt, and Mr. Smith’s reaction was out of character. Mistakes happen. Moving forward, we pray the focus is upon collective remedies to violence such as public displays of grace, mercy, and forgiveness to and from both men and their families. Matthew 7:1-2 reminds us, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Those we place upon a pedestal can fall. We cannot turn our backs and speak poorly of them. This should not be. We must continue to lift up the achievements of both of these Black men. For we are all made in the image of God, and we all fall short of the glory of God. Stony a road we have all trod. It does not diminish us. Therefore, work out our differences in private.
One of our group was born in the wake of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Mental, emotional, and spiritual health of communities and individuals are very fragile in such times. We pray for healing, and a cacophony of words and actions that bespeak love, kindness, and encouragement. Hugs instead of slaps to hurry the healing process along. Lastly, we lift up those representing us at the Oscars. You have done us proud. Continue to advance our values and make a difference in our lives and in our community. Let’s continue to look for what is positive and simply live in a manner that allows us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before our Creator. Rev. Pond graciously gathered the opinions and wrote their editorial. The ladies unanimously approved.