A congregation of the United Church of Canada
March 30, 2022
You have probably heard the news of ‘the slap’ that occurred during the Oscars on Sunday night. In case you haven’t, a Black male presenter made a joke denigrating a Black woman’s medical condition, and her husband, a Black man responded by walking onto the stage and slapping the presenter. You may wonder why I took such great pains to include the description of their race. The reason is that race is integral to the story, and to the reactions to the incident.
To begin, the people involved are all well acquainted, friends even. There has also been some history of tension among them over the years. What I’m saying is that there are layers to this story that are not immediately evident. The predominant first reaction online has been that while the presenter crossed a line and did violence (and make no mistake, words can be much more damaging than a slap) – while that’s true the reaction has been that the slapper did worse by assaulting the presenter. “Violence in any form is never the answer,” goes the response. True. It must also be noted that such reactions come primarily from White persons, but they’re usually only focused on the physical act, not the verbal one. This story is playing out much differently in the Black community.
Black commentators I’ve read have argued emphatically that non-Black persons cannot understand the constant degradation of Black women’s bodies in society, media, and the workplace, and especially sensitive is the subject of Black women’s hair, which was the subject of the ‘joke’. But it wasn’t a hairstyle choice that was being mocked – it was a medical condition called alopecia, which when compounded with the endemic degradation of Black women’s bodies provoked the husband to lash out. Both presenter and slapper have publically apologized for their part, as they well should. Interestingly, in social media circles where White voices are dominant the presenter is defended and the slapper is denounced. Where Black voices are dominant it is reversed. The slapper is heralded for standing up to a bully and defending Black women.
This is all very nuanced and complicated. The layers of race, and racism, in this are complex. I am not sure that I should have even tried to lift this up. As many voices have said online, “White people ought to sit this one out.” Had either or both the presenter or slapper been White this story would have played out very differently. It’s a strong reminder to all of us that situations have nuance and complexity, and when racial minority is involved we (the dominant White culture) all must press pause and be quicker to listen than speak.
Is this a spiritual issue? Absolutely. ‘Otherness’ takes many forms – race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, ability, education, experience, etc. Our ability to understand the depth of ‘the other’, their wholeness, their humanity, their strengths, their inconsistencies, their being, is at the core of what ‘love of neighbour’ means. And we pray that ‘the other’ will strive to see our wholeness as well.
And if you want to know what my ‘hot take’ on this is, well, I’m not going to share it. I’m going to sit this one out, and just listen, and learn, and seek to understand. Because today, that’s what neighbour-love looks like.