Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Will Smith 'perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community' by slapping Chris Rock at Oscars
Will Smith sent shock waves across the world when he slapped comedian Chris Rock during the live telecast of the Academy Awards on Sunday.
The incident spawned a mix of reactions, some of which argue that Smith did the right thing for defending his wife, while others have said that Smith’s attack should have disciplinary action from the Academy — at the very least.
Now, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is expressing his own feelings on the matter, penning a blog post arguing that Smith's actions are a “blow to men, women, the entertainment industry and the Black community.”
“With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community,” Abdul-Jabbar writes of Smith, echoing the opinion expressed on Monday by Today host Craig Melvin that it was "troubling on so many levels" for men of color.
Rock, who was presenting an award for Best Documentary, had made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head, saying, “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2 — can't wait to see it,” referencing the 1997 movie starring Demi More in which the main character has a shaved head.
When Pinkett Smith, who's been open about living with alopecia (a condition that’s caused her to lose patches of her hair, prompting her to shave it) rolled her eyes at the joke, her husband marched up to the stage and slapped Rock across the face in front of millions of TV viewers before walking back to his seat.
"Keep my wife's name out your f***ing mouth," he twice yelled at Rock from the audience.
Abdul-Jabbar argues the incident was more than just a slap to Rock, but rather a “slap to women.”
“By hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself — against words,” he states. “This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her.”
“This ‘women need men to defend them’ is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community,” he continued, adding that Smith’s “self-serving acceptance speech” in which he talked about protecting his family in the same way his character in King Richard, for which he won an Oscar, was tone deaf.
“Those who protect don’t brag about it in front of 15 million people,” he explained. “They just do it and shut up. You don’t do it as a movie promotion claiming how you’re like the character you just won an award portraying. But, of course, the speech was about justifying his violence. Apparently, so many people need Smith’s protection that occasionally it gets too much and someone needs to be smacked.”
Abdul-Jabbar also argued that actions like Smith’s brings back a “Toxic Bro ideal” that can be damaging to young men, especially men of color. In fact, Smith's son, Jaden, would later go on Twitter after the incident, boastfully writing: "And That's How We Do It."
“Young boys — especially Black boys — watching their movie idol not just hit another man over a joke, but then justify it as him being a superhero-like protector, are now much more prone to follow in his childish footsteps,” he explained, adding, “One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions. Smith just gave comfort to the enemy by providing them with the perfect optics they were dreaming of.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who worked with Smith on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the 1990s, added that the actor is a “charming, sincere, and funny” man, noting that he’s a “big fan of his movies.” But while he admires Smith’s work, the NBA player advised audiences to think more deeply about the incident.
“I don’t want to see him punished or ostracized because of this one, albeit a big one, mistake,” he said of Smith. “I just want this to be a cautionary tale for others not to romanticize or glorify bad behavior. And I want Smith to be the man who really protects others — by admitting the harm he’s done to others.”
After the Oscars show ended, Smith went on to enjoy the after-party festivities — including dancing to "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" as party-goers clustered around him enjoying every moment. It was later reported that Rock decided not to press charges against Smith, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Smith later took to Instagram to issue an apology to Rock, the Academy and his fans.
“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” Smith wrote in part. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.”
“I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris,” he continued. “I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”