Doldrums

Listening, or the Art of Shutting the Fuck Up

Ask me twenty years ago and I might have said something edgy, or something un-ironically unprofound such as, “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in equality.” As if they were two separate beasts.

No man is without sin. That much is clear. I still don’t call myself a feminist; that’s a title earned, not self-proclaimed. And there’s still a lot of self-realization that I need to accomplish before I get there – in my opinion, anyway. And while I may not call myself a feminist, I do believe in feminism. And I do try to learn from my mistakes – both past and present – because I want to be that better person, more than just an ally. An accomplice. But it isn’t for me to decide when I become one. 

When people accuse me of being a “good man,” I cringe. I’ve asked this to myself and to others around me: Am I a good person, or just a person who does good? Or even someone who tries to do good in this world. 

On Sunday, 27 March 2022, rapper-turned-actor Will Smith approached comedian Chris Rock and slapped him on live television to the shock and awe of audiences across the globe. Rock, who mocked Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, was rightfully put in his place. Jada’s “hairstyle” is a result of alopecia areata, a medical condition that causes hair loss.

This sparked an outrage on the social media-sphere. Several people (most of them white) called out Will Smith’s actions as violent, demanding he be punished. Discussions were had, comparisons were made. One woman on TikTok even went as far as comparing Will Smith to Russian tyrant, Vladimir Putin – a comparison that is more than just a stretch.

However, no one was holding Chris Rock accountable for mocking a medical condition. The very same people who thought Donald Trump was unfit for president when he mocked Serge Kovaleski, a reporter with arthrogryposis, were now ignoring how Chris Rock openly mocked someone with an autoimmune disease.

My Facebook feed was filled with local activists and poets who were also condemning Will Smith without holding Chris Rock accountable. A few thought there was no violence behind his words, at least not in the same manner as a slap. Arguments were made in the case against Will Smith, and anything that countered that was pushed aside. 

Which is common when it comes to the discussion of violence against black women. 

So I did what anyone should do in this case: I listened to black creators, most of them women. 

While a time waste – for the most part – apps like TikTok has given marginalized people a platform. And I follow some amazing BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ creators. Most of whom have taught me more than I could ever hope for (see, how I brought this back to my introduction?). And they had something to say to nonblack individuals: Shut up and listen. (OK, I may have paraphrased that.)

It’s understandable to want to express your opinion on a particular subject. I’ve been there myself. However, it’s important that we step back and listen to who our opinion hurts. Intent doesn’t matter; it’s the impact that’s important. Your words can still be harmful even if you had the best intentions when expressing them. 

Maybe what Will Smith did was violent. Maybe he should have handled it better than he did. Maybe he should have spoken out against ableism or violence against black women (verbal or physical). Because that is what he did that night, regardless of how you saw it. But you don’t have to condone it. That is in your right. But to excuse Chris Rock and not hold him accountable? That’s where your argument breaks apart.

Because how can you condemn one form a violence, while standing up for another? 

So maybe it’s time we shut up and listen.

Afterthought:

When I discussed this subject with a coworker, she told me that it doesn’t surprise her how many of us missed the point. We’re sheltered here in the Valley. Which is true. Most of our population is Latine/White, and black people make up a small percentage – 0.60% according to this site. It’s true that the Latine community experiences discrimination and violence, but are our experiences the same as those within the black community? And this is not to get into the wrongs committed against the Afrolatino members, because that is another post in of itself.

We all have the right to our opinion, and this is just mine. I may have gotten some things wrong, but the difference here is – I’m not about to declare it’s time for the healing to begin. Because we’re so far away from that until all violence is cured. 

Photo by Lucxama Sylvain

One thought on “Listening, or the Art of Shutting the Fuck Up

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