I just finished texting a friend about how dope it was to see the old Aunt Viv and Aunt Vy from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the latest episode of the reboot, Bel-Air. My Sunday was complete: I had already cooked and cleaned, packed tomorrow’s lunch, transferred the last load from the washing to the drying machine. A text alert came in and I just knew my friend hadn’t noticed the little Easter Egg in the show and was about to ask me for more details.
“Will Smith just went off on the Oscars.” She wrote. “He just went up and slapped Chris Rock. Check Twitter.” I did. The video looked as absurd as the text I just received. Ain’t no way I thought, and wrote back. Ain’t no way. My brain immediately went to ratings, roll-outs, and quasi-realism. Instead of going to bed I went back on Twitter, looking for more information to support my immediate opinion. Ten minutes later I set my alarm and turned my phone face side down on the nightstand. Thirteen minutes later I picked up my phone and typed “Will Smith Oscars” into Reddit. Twenty-two minutes later I closed Instagram and double-checked my alarm before putting my phone back down. Will Smith…Chris Rock…Oscars…Nah, Ain’t No Way.
When I got to school in the morning, I quietly asked two students if they’d seen “the Will Smith thing”. One said yes, the other said no, both in a way that revealed that either way, neither of them really cared about it. Later in the morning, my boys and I group texted back and forth about how Duke and UNC had never met up in a Final Four before. Then, Petey wrote, “Yo, that shit wasn’t fake, b. Niggas get slapped everyday. This just happened to be on TV.” Vince agreed, “There’s no way they gon’ have a black man assault another black man on live TV for ratings.” That’s true, I thought. Ain’t no way they would do that.
Before lunch I ran into a teacher carrying a box in an empty hallway on the second floor. “So what do you think…Will?” She asked. The pause I took must have told her that I had lots of thoughts so she helped by narrowing her probe. “Do you think Will would have done that if it were a white man?”
Ain’t no way I thought. “But it wasn’t,” I said. “You know he wouldn’t have dared if that was a white man up there making that joke. What if it was a female?” She said. I forced a smile, not because I disagreed with her opinion, but more because I had not even processed that far yet. “I hear you,” I said, “I’m just still stuck on whether or not it was all real. I know what they’re saying now, but damn, I don’t know.”
I took afternoon attendance and told my class, “I want to show you something. I want you to just watch it without saying anything and then I want you to talk about your thoughts. Imma let you know off the jump: there’s swearing in this, so please chill and be mature and take this in, okay.” Before playing the two minute clip I gave context, only about the Oscars, because, you know, kids these days…
They spent the period sharing thoughts that touched on free speech and consequence, (toxic) masculinity and protecting family, social media and credibility, anti-blackness and cancel culture, and vaccines (yeah, it connected, too) among so many other things. My students shared and shared one at a time. After their dialogue slowly simmered away they turned to me, who did nothing more than lightly moderate the discussion and listen. “What are your thoughts, Mr. Morris?”
I thought about what to say. About what my opinion would mean to them. About how my views are relative to my life and how that impacts the words I choose to say, or not say, when asked a question by a student in a classroom. About how sometimes our values, our morals can be ethically correct to ourselves, but in conflict with others. And how educators should keep this idea of pluralism in mind when teaching and talking and thinking about things inside our school walls.
I turned off the projector, picked up my classroom keys, and waved their next teacher into the room. On my way out, I said, “ain’t no way.”