Friday, July 1, 2022

Earl Ofari Hutchinson: More Than a Slap – A Teaching Moment

Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock Oscars in bgrd)
Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock (Oscars in Background)

*“I am a Black man in Hollywood-in order to sustain my position, I can’t get caught slipping, not even once, I had to be perfect at all times.” Will Smith wrote those words in a candid memoir some years back. They were perceptive, and spot-on words.

Unfortunately, in that one dumb and embarrassing split-second in which he barged onto the Academy stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock, he forgot his own words. Worse, he forgot that that misstep he warned about as a self-cautionary note, has implications far beyond just his unthinking moment of rage. It’s those implications-not the slap-that offer fresh teaching moments.

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The attack reinforced one of the worst, and most enduring, stereotypes about Black males. That is the long-standing image of the malevolent impulsive, violent, out of control, even thug image of Black males. What’s worse, two Black guys on the street or in the hood didn’t reinforce the stereotype. Smith and his victim, Rock, are two of the wealthiest, most successful, publicly visible Black men around. They did.

In that ugly moment, Smith transformed himself into America’s racial bad boy—again. It’s the shortest of short steps to think that Smith can be depicted as a caricature of the terrifying image that much of the public still harbors about young and not so young Black males. Then that image seems real, even more, terrifying, and the consequences are just as dangerous.

Will Smith and Oscar) - AFP/Getty
Will Smith and Oscar) – AFP/Getty

Many thought that former President Obama’s two-term tenure in the White House buried finally negative racial typecasting and the perennial threat racial stereotypes posed to the safety and well-being of Black males. It did no such thing. Immediately after Obama’s election teams of researchers from several major universities found that many of the old stereotypes about poverty and crime and Blacks remained just as frozen in time. The study found that much of the public still perceived those most likely to commit crimes are Black. It also showed that once the stereotype is planted, it’s virtually impossible to root out. That’s hardly new either.

This essay/comentary “More than a Slap, a Teaching Moment” continues at The Hutchinson Report.

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