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Oscars Slapgate: What We Should Learn From It

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This incident happened more than a month ago and it still refuses to leave my mind. I'm neither a fan of Chris Rock or Will Smith, the sheer audacity of what happened is what stays with me. What Will Smith did was wrong, there is no doubt in that. But, what Chris Rock did wasn't right either. As a comedian, you have the liberty to make fun of a lot of things. Physical appearances and illness not included. The way we look is what people see first, anything a little out of the ordinary hurts our self-confidence. More so because people ensure to point it out. It hurts no doubt. Now imagine being mocked for it. I wasn't aware of Jada's alopecia areata until this happened. Maybe even Chris Rock wasn't, after all not everyone immerses themselves in social media all the time. Will Smith should have handled it off stage than talk about the dangerous things that love makes us do. I mean this was the man who won hearts by forgiving his cheating wife.

The reason why it is hard for me to let go of this incident is because of how close it hits home. Being mocked for the way I looked is something that I have gone through since childhood. Being a skinny, dusky, tomboyish girl with acne, I was struggling with self confidence since I was in my teens. My parents were mocked for me being skinny, saying that they couldn't afford to feed me. A cousin of mine used to sit next to me and place her hand right next to mine and ask me to look at the color difference. Acne shaming is something I go through till date. Why am I talking about this with regards to slapgate? I'll tell you why. Such things mold you into a person you never thought you would be. Unknowingly, they turn you into something else.

When people mocked me, I obviously felt inferior. That's not the problem here. In my head, the others were superior. At a young age, I learned that it is superior to make fun of people. If you are privileged, you can put others down. Passing comments means you have arrived. Unfortunately for me, I carried this attitude much into my teens and twenties. After all, this is what I had seen in the environment I grew up in. The issues I was battling hurt me immensely, and being mocked only added to it. I felt that the ones who were doing it were powerful and that's what I should be someday. It pains me to say this, but yes, I have been a Chris Rock for most of my life. I've mocked people for the way they look, the way they dress, the way they speak and what not. I hate myself for what I did, but honestly, that is what I'd seen growing up. While it hard to learn new things, it is much harder to unlearn the old.

Humor and sarcasm is usually a coping mechanism for those who battle an inferiority complex. Not everyone gets that and it is very easy to cross the line. When you have gotten to a place where you think that you are in a decent place in life and are happy with the way you look and feel, and people still find something to mock you for, that stays with you forever. I was a good student and scored good marks, but when it came to joining the college I wanted to for graduation, my parents couldn't afford it. I had to settle for some far-away college that fit within our budget. A cousin mocked me for this openly at a public function. That was the first time I realized how sadistic some people are. They don't feel good about themselves until they put others down. I did not want to be one of them. Still, I wasn't fully aware of the extent of damage my comments were causing others.

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Thankfully for me, there was a change in the admission process and fee structure and I finally got into the college I wanted to. But, I shall never forget that night where I was kicked in the gut when I was already hurting. That was fourteen years ago and here we are today. With time and interacting with the right set of people, I began to understand the effect words can have. Then began the process of learning to be a better person. It did not happen overnight and it is still ongoing, but I know that I'm a much better and calmer person than I was a few years ago. This was considerably easy when compared to the unlearning I had to do. I mean getting rid of twenty plus years of conditioning is not easy. I had to make a few wrong friends, lose a few right ones, go through emotional upheavals before I could figure out where I was going wrong. Like Chandler Bing, I had a sarcastic comment on anything and anyone at the tip of my tongue. My idea was not to control my tongue, but to control my mind so that I couldn't think of it in the first place.

Having a supportive partner is a plus. He's pretty much gone through the exact same things I went through. Who knew sharing one side of the family would have lead to so much emotional trauma, individually and together. We understood why we were the way we are. Together, we had to unlearn a lot and start seeing people for who they are. It wasn't easy as we were are still a part of a family that feels the need to make derogatory comments on everyone. Be it on their weight, their choices, their lifestyle, financial situation, partner or illness even. When we started taking a closer look at these people, we started understanding others better. Consciously, we made the right choices. We made genuine conversations and found that people enjoyed our company more. With time, those mocking tendencies and sarcastic overtones started leaving our mind. 

I have always said that reading has helped me become the person that I am today. Three books that helped me see the kindness in the world and imbibe it in my life are, Wonder, A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that these books changed my life. The Pullmans gave me an excellent fictional family who taught me the right things. Ove taught me the importance of love and being nice to others. Eleanor helped me get over years of emotional trauma by being kind instead of being rude. Funny part is, I had no clue what these books were about when I picked them. Of course I read the blurb and thought that they'll be just some fiction. Little did I know about the impact they were to have on my life. Trust me, if you want to change yourself for the better, the universe finds a way.

Be kind, everyone is fighting a battle. How many times have we heard this? But, have we really listened to it? I'm sure Chris Rock has now. Will Smith did the right thing by standing up for his wife, but it was not the right way. People's comments on you are a reflection of them, not you. Years ago, my therapist told me this, "You cannot control what people say about you, but you can control the way you react to it". I have often gone the wrong way and lashed out in anger umpteen number of times. This space of mine has seen most of it too. Today, I know better.

Let us be kind to one another and think before saying something that even has the remote possibility of hurting someone else. Saying it doesn't make you powerful. It is time you understood this. Else, trust me, it will come back to slap you hard somewhere down the line.

Comments

  1. I so resonate with this post. It sucks to have family and 'well wishers' who love kicking you when you're down or just mocking ones shortcomings. Have faced it all my life and despite the decades of building a tough exterior, the occasional barb does get through and stings like hell. Hmm... I actually have two of those books on my kindle and never got around to reading them. As you said, I just figured it would be regular fiction.

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    1. People need to understand how their words affect others for a life time. Sadly, no one cares. When you get a chance, get to those books. They are really good.

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  2. Oh well, relatives (most of them) are such pests. I had a few that I despised while growing up. Luckily, my dad was a bureaucrat who was highly placed so it scared them to keep their mouths shut. I was a topper too and a girl, that surely led to many barbs especially among North Indian small town folks. You know how pervasive the slants are for dark-skinned girls but luckily I had wonderful siblings and friends so nothing was too damaging. But, I totally get what you say about people being so casual and obnoxious with comments about appearance, status etc. It makes me cringe. Your therapist was so right. Exactly what I told my kids when they struggled with bullying or barbs when they were tiny. Kids are so mean these days. I can never understand. Coming to the incident, I liked Will Smith a lot and he did fall from grace for me. I am also with you that making fun of someone's condition is really low. But slapping someone on stage is atrocious. I wish that Will Smith had got a harsher punishment in some way.

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    1. I wish he had handled it better too and yes, he should have been banned from the Oscars for life and not just 10 years. Relatives who make such statements are just cruel. They don't understand how much it impacts the others especially when they hear such remarks coming from someone close to them.

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  3. It takes a lot of honest introspection and courage to accept your weaknesses and that also is the first step towards overcoming them. Reading about your journey is inspiring. And I'm so glad you're finally in a good space. I remain a little divided on the Will Smith case. What he did cannot be condoned but what Chris Rock said was also unpardonable. Making fun of someone's physicality is such a lazy brand of humour and a lot of comedians resort to it. I cannot stand it at all.

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    1. Comedy is a beautiful thing when done right, not when mocking others. I hate such humor. It took me a while to unlearn what I had seen and learned during my childhood, there are still so many things that I'm unlearning.

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  4. How early childhood exposures have an impact right. I see something similar happen even today, where my very own family and people mock me and question my capability for I have a daughter he is on the lean side. Strange... I often wonder who sets these norms....and the slightest deviation from it kicks in ridicule of some form. It must have been so traumatic for you as a young mind, having those you call your people pass statements that are just so uncalled for. And as you say, hope we all our more kind to each other. Oh by the way, it takes lot of courage to speak up about such experiences. Hats off to you.

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    1. I'm glad I spoke about it finally, I had to get it out of my system. Childhood exposures are so important and something like this will leave a scar for life.

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  5. Yes humour is a coping mechanism that I have used many many times. Your growing years were tough. Those bitter remarks can never be forgotton. I got a few in my kitty too. But too bad for those people, we have moved way too ahead in life.

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    1. Exactly! I have moved on way too ahead and will not think twice before calling them out now.

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  6. I applaud the courage and the honesty with which you wrote this post, Soumya! I can relate to some of the things you said about how you felt when people made nasty comments and derisive remarks on you. I myself went through it while growing up, and was always made aware by others (mostly relatives) that I stood nowhere in comparison to my beautiful mother. In so many ways our environment shapes us, especially when we are in our most impressionable years but thankfully, some of us find out that the toxic self-talk and thoughts we pick up as "normal" are anything but normal. Books are a great way to understand the world in it's true light. I'm glad you picked up those 3 books. I've read all three of them and they are truly mind-altering and life-altering books. They say kindness and compassion towards oneself is the first thing you learn, and only then can you show kindness and compassion to others. I'm so glad you've moved on from that painful past and can now look back on that journey in a completely new light. More power to you, my dear. Such a pleasure to read your post after such a long time.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Esha. What is normal anyway? And who defined that? I'm glad I have learned to ask the right questions and understand kindness now. These 3 books actually did change my life. I cannot recommend them enough.

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  7. The environment in which we grow up has such a profound impact on how we show up in our lives. It isn't always easy to change our learned behaviors and to do better that what had been modeled for us growing up. And it certainly isn't easy to be so vulnerable and honest in sharing our past. I applaud your courage and honesty here, Soumya.

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    1. It is really hard to unlearn and it is a lifelong process. I'm glad I've made a start. Thank you, Shinjini.

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  8. It's sometimes unfortunate that we can't choose our family. Especially if they turn out to be toxic. But for those toxic members, I believe it's always best to treat them like toddlers with tantrum issues.

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    1. I've cut out these toxic people and will not think twice before calling them out now.

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  9. This post is brilliant and I relate to it. I have time and again been body shamed for being chubby. What people think of as humour hurts another person and leaves a lot of lasting scars... people don't seem to comprehend this fact. I need to take your therapists advice though as even till date I feel worthless when someone comments on my weight. I don't get angry... i shrink and lose what little self confidence I had gained. But as you said having a great partner helps and I am more confident in my own skin today.

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    1. I can only imagine what you must have gone through. When I was skinny people mocked me. When I gained weight due to PCOS, people said that I looked so good when I was skinny! I mean, make up your mind. As long as you are healthy and happy with the way you are, nothing and no one else matters. Having an understanding partner is so vital when you have gone through something like this.

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  10. Only a strong person can write such an honest post owning their imperfections, Soumya. I believe that it is okay to make mistakes, but it is mandatory to learn from them and make changes according to that learning. Truth is, not everyone does that. People are often invested in blaming circumstances and others for the mistakes they commit and keep making those mistakes long after the said circumstances change. I agree with you, humor is a defense mechanism to protect ourselves. But we are responsible to make sure that we are not hurting anyone else with that humor. The Oscar incident could've been dealt with differently by both Chris Rock and Will Smith.
    I am sorry that you had to deal with unkindness in the past. We all were subjected to unkindness from our close relatives and that is ridiculous. But let's make sure we won't carry that tradition forward. There is a difference between humor and humiliation. Let's be kind to our fellow human beings and teach our kids the importance of kindness.
    I applaud your honesty, Soumya. :)

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    1. Thank you so much for coming to comment again, Vinitha. It hasn't been easy for me, but I'm finally understanding people and life better. I'm glad I'm finally seeing the right things. Thank you, Vinitha :)

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  11. I've been waiting to read this for such a long time. Finally, read it. I am fond of crying when I read something really close to my heart, but I couldn't now, because I think I am at a place where healing is happening for good. I've had people leave me for acne, but I am glad now. I'm mocked until today for this. I used to cry earlier, but I've learned to live with it because it's what has made me the person I am today. It has not just moulded me, but has made me understand life in a more compassionate way as I grow older. I've mocked people for the exact reasons, but sometimes I've been at a place where I didn't realize where I was going with it. I'm learning a lot too, especially learning that you could love a person so much, but still have very little to talk to them, still cherish them for who they are. You are one among them, whom I have huge respect for and I adore a lot.

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  12. Time to throw kindness like confetti. Enough of putting others and ourselves down.

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