By now, most people have heard about what happened at the Oscars. Chris Rock made a silly joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head and her husband, Will Smith, went up on stage and slapped Chris for it. This incident has pretty much overshadowed everything else about Oscar night.
Like so many other people, I have something to say about it.
I’m starting with something that I have seen so many times that I’ve lost count. I saw it when I was growing up and I saw it as an adult and then as a parent. Two siblings are fighting. Parents try to ignore it. The fight escalates and one child hits or kicks or otherwise physically hurts the other. More often than not, parents punish the child who hit the other but they don’t punish the other child for taunting and provoking.
Will Smith was provoked. His wife has an autoimmune disorder that leaves her with hair loss and jokes about it are tasteless at best, offensive at worst. I think he had every right to defend her. However, I think he handled it incorrectly. Slapping Chris Rock was a mistake. Even Will agrees. How do we know this? Because he apologized publicly. I read his apology and it comes off real. He was wrong and he admitted it.
But what about Chris? Was Will’s slap worse than Chris’ tasteless joke?
Most of us have heard the old saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones but names can’t hurt me.” And we know that it’s not true. Words can hurt far more than sticks, stones, or slaps. Not only is embarrassment far more painful than physical injury but it’s often not validated. Physical injury gets you sympathy and compassion and maybe some ice cream. The psychological and emotional injuries caused by words are not seen or perceived and so people often don’t take them seriously. That adds insult to injury.
Our Torah doesn’t disagree. If you hurt someone physically, yes, you have to be accountable for it. But unless the the person dies from that physical injury, it’s not considered murder. Embarrassing someone, even with just words, is considered to be Shfichat Damim- murder.
As I write this, I’m still waiting to hear Chris Rock’s apology to Jada Pinkett Smith. She’s dealing with her autoimmune disorder and she’s being brave and sharing it and trying to give hope and strength to others. I think she and her bald head really are beautiful just for that. If she had chosen to go bald for a movie or TV role or to make a fashion statement, then maybe the jokes wouldn’t be so tasteless. She might’ve even laughed. But Jada has a medical condition and has no choice in the matter and so the jokes are tasteless and offensive. Which is why the one who made the jokes, who taunted, who provoked, should not be let off the hook.
Nu, Chris, we’re still waiting…