Will Smith recalled the numerous times he'd been called the N-word by police officers while growing up in Philadelphia.
Will Smith is getting candid about his experiences with racism and the police as conversations surrounding these topics continue to arise, highlighting just how broken the system is. The actor recently spoke to political activist Angela Rye on her podcast, On One With Angela Rye, about the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism as a whole. Will recalled how, during his upbringing, he had plenty of encounters with police officers who spewed derogatory racial slurs at him on several occasions.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
“I grew up in Philadelphia,” he notes. “I grew up under Mayor Rizzo. He went from the chief of police to becoming the mayor, and he had an iron hand.” Frank Rizzo was elected mayor four years after Will was born in 1968, and was notorious for pushing an anti-desegregation platform. The rise of police brutality under his hateful reign as both police commissioner and mayor was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize–winning exposé.
“I’ve been called n****r by the cops in Philly on more than 10 occasions,” Will recalled. “I got stopped frequently. So I understand what it’s like to be in those circumstances with the police.” Since Will grew up in a suburban neighbourhood and attended a Catholic school, he was able to observe firsthand the vast disparities between white folks' relationship with police versus Black folks and other people of colour.
“We are in a circumstance that we’ve never been in before,” Will noted, referring to the increasing attention paid to the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent protests fighting for justice for the countless Black lives lost at the hands of police. “The entire globe has stood up and said to the African American people, ‘We see you and we hear you. How can we help?’ We’ve never been there before.” However, while he understands rage as a response to racism, he feels that oppressed people need to rise above their rage in order to create meaningful change.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
“Rage is justified under oppression. But it also can be really dangerous,” he explained. “You got to be careful not to be consumed by your own rage, and that’s something that I’ve worked really hard on. Peaceful protests put a mirror to the demonic imagery of your oppressor. And the more still you are in your peaceful protest, the more clear the mirror is for your oppressor—for the world to see and for them to see themselves. I was really encouraged by how powerfully this generation was able to hold that mirror, and then the response of the world seeing and responding. I was deeply encouraged by the innate connectivity of the protesters, globally.” Watch his full conversation with Angela Rye below: