When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27, we sadly witnessed the legacy of pain and childhood abuse. Both men had previously bravely admitted to the abuse that they experienced as children. Will Smith admitted to witnessing his mother being physically abused by his father and feeling helpless. Chris Rock had previously disclosed that he himself had been physically abused as a child.
So Sunday night was the perfect storm. Will Smith having just inhabited the role of Venus and Serena Williams’s father was immersed in the feelings of protection of family and especially of Black women. What I saw was his original laughter at the joke made by Rock at the expense of his wife, and then the humiliation he felt at allowing this to happen. I saw him leap to the stage to stop the abuse by using the same violence he had witnessed as a child.
When Chris Rock was physically and verbally abused by another Black man, it recreated for him the trauma that he experienced as a child. I hope that when he makes a public statement he will be able to connect that assault with what he experienced as a child, as I believe that would be both healing for him and affirming of other victims of childhood abuse.
For the same reason I hope Will Smith is able to acknowledge that by assaulting Rock he recreated the violence that he himself witnessed as a child.
In no way do I condone violence of any kind, in particular how Will Smith responded to Chris Rock that night. But as a psychologist I do understand that feelings of pain, humiliation and powerlessness felt by children when they are either physically abused or when they witness physical abuse is something that is deeply, tragically felt for the rest of their lives.
This horrific incident reminds us all how delicate the minds of our children are and how we must protect them from all violence — verbal, physical or psychological.
Paula Angelone, Ph.D.
One fine body…