Will Smith, Chris Rock, and What You’re Missing About That Slap

Condemning the slap or the joke (or both) is the easy part — there’s much more we need to discuss

Tim Wise
7 min readMar 30, 2022


Image: Will Smith, by celebrityabc, Flickr, Creative Commons license 2.0

First, I want to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding once we reach the nuance portion of what follows.

I do not believe it was OK for Will Smith to slap Chris Rock at the Oscars for making a joke that Smith felt mocked his wife.

Given that Smith has now apologized to Rock, it appears he would agree with that assessment.

Although Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith starring in G.I. Jane 2 was inappropriate and hurtful — Rock ad-libbed it unthinkingly, without regard to the emotionally and often physically painful condition that prompted her to shave her head — it did not merit striking the comedian in response.

This is not to say that violence is never acceptable.

I believe it can be in certain circumstances — for instance, in self-defense or vicarious defense against the physical assault of another. But this is not one of those times.

Surely it must be possible for men and husbands to land somewhere between how Ted Cruz reacted to the blatant disrespecting of his wife by Donald Trump and how Smith handled the disrespecting of his.

Surely there must be some space one can claim between pathetic and groveling acceptance, on the one hand, and slapping the shit out of someone, on the other.

Surely there must be some way that men, in response to slights against the women in our lives, can manage to keep the focus on the women who have been aggrieved, giving them space to respond as they see fit rather than placing focus on ourselves and our need to respond for them.

All that said, life is more complicated than those last several paragraphs can convey. So please stick with me for a bit.

When people act out of character, it’s good to explore what’s really going on

When someone with a history of aggressive or violent behavior does something aggressive or violent, perhaps we can assume they’re just assholes, reverting to type.



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)