I don’t have any opinions to share about Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, Black women’s hair, or alopecia. I don’t know any of the people involved, and I know just enough to know that as a white woman watching the internet television version of this situation there are many layers of shit-I-don’t-know-shit-about going on underneath every bit I do see.
What I do want to talk about today is white people’s rhetoric.
I see plenty of white people up in my feed talking about “violence is bad.” Y’all, that’s a rhetorical ethic. We don’t actually think violence is always bad, we use the idea that violence is bad as a way to control people who don’t have the same access to power that we do. As a white woman, even when I’m literally just friendly-smiling, I do so with a face that everyone knows can sic legally gun-wielding uniformed thugs who can and do murder with impunity on anyone brown I claim to feel threatened by. Every choice I make about how “violently” or not to throw my literal hands is made in the context of a carceral state rooted in white supremacy. The primary function of “violence is bad” rhetoric coming from us is to preserve a white monopoly on violence as we tuck our hands away and rely on the police and prison industrial complex to provide us with what passes for feelings of safety.
Also? Our conflict resolution strategies aren’t better. Calling cops definitely isn’t better, but even stuff that’s super normalized: talking behind people’s backs, smiling and laughing while feeling torn up inside, talking to a manager, talking ourselves out of our feelings altogether, cutting off communication and connection, withdrawing, harboring grudges, pressing charges, demanding that someone listen to our complaints for hours on end, crying, pretending, threatening, avoiding… I’m not saying there’s not a time and a place for many of these things, I’m just saying that strategies for dealing with conflict can’t be neatly divided into “violent” and “good,” and just because we’re not throwing our hands doesn’t mean we’re not being violent.
Also, “Chris Rock is choosing not to press charges” is not news. Of course he isn’t. Black men don’t get to use having been wronged as an opportunity to wield social or state power. That’s white women you’re thinking of.
I suggest that white people who, like me, have a woefully incomplete understanding of what happened at the Oscars yesterday take a pause to steer ourselves away from blanket judgments like “it’s absolutely never ok to joke about a medical condition” or “it’s absolutely never ok to hit someone” and lean instead in the direction of “conflict happens, and there are lots of ways people manage that.” Our ways aren’t better, and we can’t do our own healing on top of this high horse.