The Academy Awards were held this past Sunday night. I did not watch them. But as I went to bed on Sunday night I checked my newsfeed and there was drama around Will Smith and the slap. Apparently, Chris Rock, a comedian, made a joke relating to Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s spouse. And Will Smith bolted up onto the stage and slapped Rock. Then he made a comment using an expletive on his way back to his seat. Evidently the audience, live and in their living rooms, was left stunned and unsure about how to respond.
After an episode like this, do we think, well, that’s a celebrity for you. That’s how the rich and famous act. They think they can get away with anything. And since Smith is Black and so is Rock, a white person might be thinking, that’s Black people for you. Can’t control themselves. More Black on Black crime even among the rich and famous. That’s just how they are. As I said, a white person might be thinking this but wouldn’t say it. We are quick to stereotype and then to see things in a way that reinforces those stereotypes especially when it involves something negative. And we may not have any idea that we are doing this. We may think it is just the way things are.
The day after the slap, Smith issued a thorough apology for the slap. He took full responsibility. He expressed regret over his behavior. Smith admitted he had work to do and that is not who he wants to be. It was an admirable apology. So, now do we think, that’s how the rich and famous act. They take responsibility for their actions. Those celebrities, they realize when they are wrong and they apologize. And if you’re white, do you think, that’s Black people for you. So responsible and accountable and honest. Yup, they’re all like that. Probably not.
Yes, we are likely to stereotype, and we are likely to stereotype around bad behavior. Poor conduct. Lump people together over wrong doing. That’s how stereotyping and bias usually work. What about this lumping people together? Do you/we want to lumped together with all Christians? Or all whites? Or all Blacks? Or all Americans? Or all women? Or all men? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that. I don’t want to be lumped that way.
The gospel is a message of radical freedom. And that freedom includes being free from stereotyping and bias of any kind because stereotyping and bias constrict not only the one implicated but also the one who holds the confining ideas about people. Stereotyping and bias constrict everyone’s freedom. It limits us all. It harms everyone and restricts our ability to fully function and contribute to society as a whole. We all suffer when negative stereotyping holds sway.
In the wildness of mercy, each person is unique and sacred. Each an individual. If there is any lumping, we should be lumped as a species. As a human family.
Or better yet, what if we are lumped with the community of all life forms? Then we can truly all flourish freely!
As Will Smith stated in his apology: “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive.” Bias and stereotyping can be forms of violence. And we have all been guilty. We, too, can make amends.
May we give thanks for the amazing diversity of the human family. Every individual holy, sacred, and beloved. Each created in the image of the Divine. All with the capacity for love and creativity and relationship. May we learn to identify and to overcome all the attitudes and images that separate and divide us as a human species. May we learn to live together as one. Amen.