Why Will Smith Has it Wrong, Violence ≠ Advocacy
Like millions of people around the world, I gasped when Will Smith got on the stage during the Academy Awards and slapped Chris Rock across the face. This after Chris Rock made fun of Jada Pinkett Smith’s medical condition – alopecia.
As an advocate and mom of a child with diverse needs, I wish I could say this is surprising behaviour – from either man. Sadly, turning disabilities into punchlines is way too common.
But reacting with violence does not equal advocacy. Rather, it distracts from the real conversation – understanding and accepting a medical condition or disability.
Listen, I get it. There are times when my frustration level is high and I would love to scream and shout (but never hit). Yet I don’t.
Why? Because we have enough obstacles to overcome in having an honest and open dialogue about living with a medical condition or disability. Using violence just gives people another reason to tune out.
Yes, what Chris Rock said was out of line. But it’s nothing compared to what disabled individuals and their families hear each and every day.
I continue to hear the R word from educators, health professionals and random strangers. It’s even still used in medical forms.
Way too many of the conversations I have about my child are deficit based, instead of recognizing and building upon their strengths. Anyone who has attended an IEP meeting (individualized education plan) knows what I’m talking about.
And this deficit-based approach too often transcends to family, friends and even strangers.
I empathize with Jada Pinkett Smith living with a visible medical condition as well as having a husband who made Chris Rock’s comment more about him than allowing space for a conversation.
Lead, don’t be, the conversation
Imagine if he hadn’t jumped on stage and used violence, but rather used his star power to issue a statement the following day, taking the opportunity to educate people about alopecia. He could’ve explained that 1 in every 500 to 1,000 people in the US or nearly 2% of the general population are affected by alopecia at some point in their lifetime.
He could’ve shone a light on the condition, breaking down the stigma and showing the beauty and grace of his wife. Imagine how that would have lifted people up who are living with the condition, showing they aren’t alone in their struggles.
Heck, in his acceptance speech or media interviews, he could have educated people on alopecia. He’s in a privileged position where people listen to what he has to say.
But instead, he went for a quick hit, swore, and made it about him. Making matters worse, less than an hour later, he gets handed an award and has standing ovation.
For those of us fighting in the advocacy trenches, I could never imagine hitting someone, swearing at them, then getting accolades. Nope. I’d likely get arrested and slapped with a restraining order.
Be the example
Each and every time I advocate for my child, I try to show kindness and use storytelling to bring issues to light. I know any perceived bullying on my end will add yet another obstacle to getting support.
Sure, in the moment I may want to scream. But rarely does this result in any positive action.
We need to look for opportunities to raise awareness, educate and break down barriers. Sometimes these appear in the moment and others emerge overtime.
Instead of giving Chris Rock or Will Smith any more attention on this horrible incident, I ask you – how are you shining the light on what matters to you?
For me, I will continue writing, speaking and advocating for not only my child, but all autistic kids and their families. I will do so with dignity, kindness and love. And when I do get hit with hate, which happens too often, I will not drop to their level as my child deserves better.