Is It Racist to Criticize Will Smith for Slapping Chris Rock? It Shouldn't Be

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool

This just in: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has banned Will Smith from the Oscars for 10 years, according to Variety and other sources. (By other sources, I mean virtually every news site on the internet.)

Will Smith had already issued an apology and resigned from the AMPAS when this new punishment came down. He wrote in a statement Friday that he accepts the Academy’s punishment, according to Deadline.

“I accept and respect the Academy’s decision.”

This punishment comes of course in response to the “Slap Heard ‘Round the World,” where Chris Rock took one to the face for making a rather tame joke about Will Smith’s wife’s hair. (Some people thought the joke was mean; but if you saw Demi Moore in the original GI Jane, you could also take it as an homage to badassery.) The clip has been played ad nauseam–this one, posted by Guardian News, has been seen almost 94,000,000 times, but I’ll link it here anyway, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock or are just returning from the International Space Station.

So, these are the facts; Will Smith slapped Chris Rock; Smith has since resigned, and has now been punished. There you have it. The facts aren’t really up for debate.

What is up for debate, apparently, is whether or not criticism of Will Smith’s behavior is… you guessed it… racist.

That debate picked up steam on social media Friday night, with many proclaiming the punishment of Smith overly harsh, and that the severity of the punishment is because he’s black. Just type “Will Smith Oscars racism” into the Twitter search bar and you’ll find a maelstrom of vitriol from both sides of the debate. However, it is important to note that the Academy did not take back his Oscar.

Interestingly enough, the racism charges were being thrown around before the punishment was meted out. Here’s an example from the Guardian, published on March 29:

White outrage about Will Smith’s slap is rooted in anti-Blackness. It’s inequality in plain sight

Everyone from Jemele Hill to Billy Crystal to Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Whoopi Goldberg has weighed in on whether the act was assault or justified, and whether race was a huge component of the incident itself, and/or any criticism of it.  Howard Stern weirdly decided that Will Smith and Donald Trump “are the “same guy,” somehow implying that Trump had any relevance to this event whatsoever (he didn’t).

But the debate shouldn’t be that complicated; in fact, it shouldn’t be complicated at all. A much larger male–whether Latino, white, Asian, doesn’t matter–walks up to an unsuspecting, much smaller male (of any race), and slaps him (hard!) across the cheek in front of an international television audience. Not to mention, this takes place in one of the holiest chambers of Hollywood. Why do we need to take the race of the perpetrator into account? A man committed an assault, and therefore should pay the consequences.

I like Will Smith, and think he’s a great actor. Men In Black? C’mon man, that’s good stuff. I don’t wish him any ill will. It’s hard not to feel empathy for him, especially after he appeared in possibly the most cringeworthy video of all time, a “Red Table” talk, where his wife openly talked about her affair with another man. (“Red Table Talk” is a talk show starring Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter Willow, and her mother Gammy.)

The story was never about race at all. It was about violence.

But when we can’t criticize one man for slapping another in fear of being called racist, it shows that the Left’s obsession with race–and constantly pushing us to view every single thing through the lens of race–means we can barely converse at all.