Head to head: The slap heard around the world was not justified


Philip le Riche

For a husband, defending their family’s honor is (hopefully) one of their top priorities, not letting any slight go unchallenged. There is a difference, however, between defending the name of one’s loved ones and physically assaulting a man for a joke.

During this Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, actor and comedian Chris Rock leveled a joke at Jada Pinkett Smith, acclaimed actress and wife of Will Smith. “G.I. Jane two, can’t wait to see it,” said Rock, referencing the similarity between the buzz cut hairstyle of the film’s protagonist and the actress’s current close cropped hairstyle, which she has adopted due to having alopecia.

The remark was followed by the actress’ husband getting up on the stage and slapping Rock.

One may argue that Rock’s comment was in poor taste considering Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, but it is hard to justify Smith’s use of physical violence. 

Many routes of recourse could have been followed by Smith, such as requesting an apology afterward, but instead Smith decided to commit an act which could be considered assault.

Smith has long been the role model of a family man who portrays positive morals and values but this incident casts a shadow over his formerly illustrious reputation.

Even if Smith was righteous in his fury, his actions now place Rock – especially considering his calm demeanor after the incident – as the “bigger man.” Smith has now painted himself as someone who is easily upset and is quick to violence. 

The limits of free speech have been a great source of contention in the past decade, especially regarding comedy and the degree of allowable offensiveness. But, the core conclusion of freedom of speech remains the same; the ability of the individual to express themselves verbally, may not be denied. 

They should neither be muffled by policy, nor physical attacks. A person can voice their disapproval verbally – as one would hope would be the standard in a modern civilization. When a prominent figure acts with violence in response to a disagreement – and is supported by members of the public – it simply creates a world in which public discourse becomes more violent and leads to a more dangerous world overall.

Smith did attempt an apology during his best actor acceptance speech, however, but it was more so directed at the academy and his fellow actors than Rock. It was also tinged by an air of justification for his actions, which casts further doubt on the sincerity thereof. 

The academy has launched a formal investigation into the matter and the conclusion is yet to be seen.

Smith, as a father and man of 53, would hopefully realize that it sets a dangerous precedent when words are met with physical violence.