Entertainment & Culture
Oh, You’re Black Now? Why We Were Reluctant To Line Up Behind Will and Jada



“Everybody is prejudiced. Everybody has their life experiences that make them prefer one thing over another — it makes them prefer blond hair over a brunette; if you see somebody with dark skin walking down the street, you have a different reaction than you have [with] someone who is 5-foot-1 and white.”

The word “racism,” implies something worse: the feeling that your race generally is superior, and I have to say, I live with constant prejudice, but racism is actually rare.”
Will Smith

That’s not a quote from 10 years ago. On November 15, 2015 — a month before the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards — Will Smith sat down with a group of A-List actors at The Hollywood Reporters roundtable and made this statement.

Black people are very territorial about Blackness.

Remember how pissed off black women were that Racheal Dolezal thought she could apply some little-known chemical technology that made her caucasian hair nappy, do a few squats, saunter through the back door of Blackness, sit on the couch and pretend she was at the party all along? Very few sensible people agree with the “Black enough” measuring stick, but you just don’t get to waltz in and out of Blackness at will like it’s the local Rotary Club or a Kardashian vagina. It is a beautiful burden to carry and sometimes we resent those who shirk it off by refusing to acknowledge it, “acting white” or supressing it to gain white acceptance. I’m not saying it is fair, but it is true.

It has always been a struggle for black people to embrace Will and Jada.

Not because allowing Jaden Smith to allegedly act the fool while wearing an all-white Batman suit at Kanye’s wedding sounded like some “white people shit.” (You know a traditional Black mother would’ve taken Jaden into the bathroom and whipped is little yellow…)
Not because they have been dogged by rumors of being Scientologists and worshipping the Intergalactic Lord Xenu.
Not because Jada seems to have slightly shaved down her negro nose and lessened her black features with plastic surgery over the years.
Not even because Will wanted Quentin Tarrantino to re-write Django — one of the greatest black characters in the history of cinema.

It’s because, for a long time, Will and Jada seemed to have elevated themselves above their race. I don’t know when it happened but some time ago they seemed to have transformed themselves from The Fresh Prince and the-girl-from-A Different World-who-once-dated-Tupac into new-age saviors of the planet who came to teach us the universal truths only found in fortune cookies and trite Instagram quotes. Even their children seem to buy into the “Super-Smith’s” myth and always seem to be on some latter-day X-men type shit. It is mostly curious and hilarious. But it ain’t black.

While I don’t find it necessary for any celebrity to justify how they spend their money or what causes they support — the couple should have expected a collective side-eye when they spoke up about the lack of diversity at the Oscars after a suspicious lack of volume on the hundreds of cases of police brutality, discrimination and other issues Black people have faced over the last couple of years. I’m not saying that they weren’t with us. I’m saying that if they said something, it came out in a hushed whisper, and now that they’re screaming, we turn around, look at them and ask:

“Oh, so you’re Black now?”

Imagine owning a restaurant that struggles for years while your childhood friend — who happens to be rich and famous — never stops by to eat there. You know his presence would be a boost to your business, and so does he, but your restaurant isn’t trendy enough. After a few years, your restaurant suddenly becomes the hot new place to eat in town and your reservation list is constantly booked. What do you tell your old friend when he shows up wanting a premium table?

Will and Jada are old friends, but when Aunt Vivian clapped back at Jada for insisting that Black people break bread with them to right the wrongs of Hollywood, some people liked the pettiness because they knew Will and Jada hadn’t asked for a table during Ferguson or Baltimore. They didn’t come to the restaurant for Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland. Hell, they hadn’t asked for reservations since Will cried to Uncle Phil about his daddy not showing up.

But now they are black.

30 days before their boycott epiphany Will thought that racism in Hollywood was “rare.” In 1999 he thought it was a “great time to be Black in Hollywood” but when he found out his name wasn’t included on an Oscar ballot, he and Jada turned into Rosa Parks and Medgar Evers. Let me be clear: Most people agree with Will and Jada’s argument. It’s just hard to accept when the people who are making the argument have selfish reasons for doing so. You could legitimately think that I should buy all my friends a nice birthday gift, but it seems self-serving for you to reveal this to me on your birthday.

I know. You’re waiting for someone to say it aren’t you?

No one has uttered the phrase yet, even though I know when you heard Jada talking about “taking a stand” like an afro-less Angela Davis, I know y’all want to say it.
When you heard that Will Smith was turning himself into Malibu Malcolm X, I know you were dying to say it.
When I turned on the TV to catch some news about how the governor of Michigan poisoned the Black population of Flint, or how they exonerated the killers of Tamir Rice or were about to nominate a President who wants to kick out Mexicans and lock out Muslims, and instead heard Will and Jada talk about the injustice at the Oscars, I actually did say it:

“Nigga Please.”

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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