By Ashley J. Hobbs
Grace: “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” episode with guest Jordyn Woods, a friend of both the Smiths and the Kardashians, made room for a multi-faceted conversation about how grace can be shown in the face of extreme public scrutiny and judgment.
Woods’ appearance on the March 8 episode came amid allegations that the 21-year-old model had had an affair with Tristan Thompson, Khloe Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her child. Her presence on “Red Table Talk” was met with an explosion of opinions on social media. Some were confused as to why Pinkett Smith would use her popular Facebook Watch show to air tabloid fodder. Others applauded the actress for standing with Woods and covering her as a mother would a daughter.
I was only made aware of the scandal involving the Kardashians because of Woods’ appearance on “Red Table Talk.” I wasn’t surprised to learn that she had been bullied—not only allegedly by those directly involved in the scandal but also by fans of the Kardashians. The comments on my Twitter feed were more than harsh. They were vile. Thousands of people who had never met this 21-year-old woman had made up their minds about her because of an obsessive allegiance to a popular socialite family.
Although skeptical at first of how their conversation would unfold, I couldn’t help but see parallels between Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith publicly rallying around Woods, and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—replete with foundational principles of impact, love, grace, forgiveness, and community.
Salt and Light
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste (purpose), how can it be made salty? It is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and walked on by people [when the walkways are wet and slippery].
“You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16, Amplified Bible
The episode began in The Smiths’ kitchen with Woods, Pinkett Smith, and Pinkett Smith’s mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris (Willow Smith usually co-hosts with her mother and grandmother). And although he was on location filming “Bad Boys 3,” Will Smith called in for a brief video chat. During the conversation it was established that Woods had been a member of the Smith family even before she was born. Her late father was a sound engineer on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which starred Smith, and the two families had become especially close.
“The world attacks. It just happens,” Smith said to a teary-eyed Woods. “I want you to know that you are supported and I got you and we got you.”
“Take your medicine and tell your truth. This is a part of what growing up is. This world is not going to break you. We won’t allow it,” Smith added, when asked for fatherly advice.
In the midst of what probably felt like a humiliating experience for Woods, the Smith family chose to utilize their platform to rally around her. Their choice was specific and I find joy in its intentionality. When much of the content the media offers us to consume is rife with anger, judgment, willful misunderstandings, violence, and hatred, the Smiths did not hesitate to become both salt and light. They became a community for Woods when she needed it most, displaying a much needed lesson. Their insistence on covering her showed Woods that she is valued. But something else extraordinary happened as a result; the conversation on social media took a 180-degree turn.
As the “Red Table Talk” episode came to a close, I watched as once degrading comments about Jordyn Woods shifted into musings on: the beauty of Black women holding space for other Black women; powerful families using their privilege and brand to protect people they love from attacks; the harm done by misogynoir; and compassion for those who make mistakes.
In the twinkle of an eye, derision had given way to adulation. Social media commentary had become empathetic because of one family’s fervency in being a true village for a daughter.
“Do not judge and criticize and condemn [others unfairly with an attitude of self-righteous superiority as though assuming the office of a judge], so that you will not be judged [unfairly]. For just as you [hypocritically] judge others [when you are sinful and unrepentant], so will you be judged; and in accordance with your standard of measure [used to pass out judgment], judgment will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:2, Amplified Bible
While giving others the benefit of the doubt and the grace to get it together when they have missed the mark isn’t a practice exclusive to Christianity, it is a major tenant of the faith. Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross is the ultimate display of compassion and grace.
The Smiths exemplified grace in a way that many of us who profess Christ have yet to fully embrace and live out loud.
Watching that episode of “Red Table Talk,” I felt called in. I felt something gently pulling at me, breaking me open to deal with my own judgmental posture. I was being invited to examine the times that self-righteousness caused me to miss key moments that had required my vulnerability and compassion. It is critical now more than ever to find and draw from our reserve of compassion for others; to not only to be of service to our brothers and sisters but to show the world how much further we can all go when we lay our swords down and choose to labor in love.
Growing up in the church, some of the people who showed me the most kindness and grace were Christians, but many were not. My understanding of grace came with witnessing it being so effortlessly given away by those who seemed to be naturally forgiving and joyful and kindhearted. And I wondered, “God, how did I get so far from being like You?” Often, it was the people who had been most discriminated against and harmed by society who had the most love to give. They saw the critical need to care for others and answered the call to do so—no questions asked.
Pinkett Smith took care not to insert her own opinions into Woods’ healing process. That is important. We throw obstacles onto the paths of the people we’re supposed to be walking alongside when we try to make them see things our way. We get in God’s way when we shame others and forget the incredible amount of mercy we needed when we messed up. We should help to clear each other’s paths to God, not obstruct them. We’re supposed to walk with one another—not drag or shove each other along.
Witnessing Woods’ episode of “Red Talk Table” pushed me to dig even deeper for a disposition of grace. To be the one to shut gossip down. To be the one who thinks twice before chiming in to deride someone I don’t even know. To be the one who would say, “I’m not throwing them away” when cancel culture would junkpile people who want to make amends for their mistakes. Their conversation made me hyper aware of my own less-than-shining moments, and hugely grateful for the grace I’ve been given.
Jesus’ miracles drew crowds. Lepers were made whole. The blind could see clearly. The dead drew breath once again. Of course, the miracles themselves are noteworthy, but the way they came are even more so.
The ailments were all different, but there was one thing each miracle had in common: Jesus came close and touched these people. He risked something to extend himself to those who needed healing mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He did this in a display of love that most would not. These people who came to Jesus, regardless of what they had gotten right or wrong in their lives, were healed because he allowed love to compel him to touch them. This is an example of the love we so often have the opportunity to display but choose not to because we’re too busy or annoyed or repulsed or bothered.
Jada Pinkett Smith extended her hands to Woods throughout the interview and invited her to “speak her truth.” She provided a safe space for Woods, a young Black woman, to be honest and accountable for her part in the scandal, and reassured her that the ordeal would not break her. This is not a courtesy often given to Black women. Regardless of whether the allegation of infidelity is true or false, the sheer pressure and bullying Woods and her family endured could have driven her to a dark place from which she might not have recovered. I shudder to think of what might have happened had she not been surrounded by such a strong support system willing to publicly claim and fight for her, to draw close and hold onto her when others kept her at arms-length.
I see God’s heart in being able to look at someone and say, “I know you messed up but we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to get through it. You don’t have to do this alone. We’re all going to grow and be better from this process.” I see His hands in our decisions to use our words and our platforms to speak life to those thrown away.
I don’t know their specific beliefs but I do know that, whether intentionally or not, the Smiths beautifully displayed Christ’s heart to Woods for millions to see. I do know that Jordyn Woods understands that she’s loved, no matter what the world says. I do know that sometimes all it takes is one courageous act to cause a culture to assess and shift its behavior toward love. I’m willing to bet everything I’ve got that righteous ripples will continue to flow from that beautiful red table.
Ashley J. Hobbs is a writer and creative producer whose work sits at the crash site of faith and culture. She authored an e-devotional titled, This Is For The Creator In You: A 7-Day Devotional for Understanding Your Creative Calling and Creating At Your Best and continues to encourage, inform, connect, and evoke through her work. Connect with her on Twitter: @ashleylatruly.