Will Smith Recalls Being Called the N-Word and Weighs in on Social Change

Will Smith may be an international superstar, but he has also lived with the reality of being Black in America — namely, being called the [N-word]. The entertainer sat down for a frank conversation with political commentator and analyst, Angela Rye, to discuss today’s era of social change, and who exactly called him a [N-word].

Will Smith
Will Smith | Al Bello/Getty Images

Will Smith commented on social change during the COVID-19 pandemic

In a video posted to the actor’s YouTube channel, Smith and Rye discussed the current societal climate, and noted the global response to the killing of George Floyd, among other Black Americans who have died in police custody. Floyd died after Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck, ignored his cries for help, and remained in position until Floyd became motionless.

The video of the event went viral and set off a series of protests and calls for justice in the Floyd case and numerous others involving Black Americans and law enforcement. Smith stated that he is “deeply encouraged” by the peaceful protestors, and said this about the worldwide movement:

It’s like everybody was sitting at home looking at their devices when what felt like a new atrocity to some people but was happening over and over again for African Americans. And for this to happen in this time for the whole world to see what we’ve been saying for hundreds of years. My grandmother taught me to try to be thankful for these times, and these opportunities, to try to be thankful for your pain. And we are in a circumstance that we’ve never been before. 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.

Will Smith on YouTube

Smith recalled facing racism and being called the N-word

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Rye noted that some individuals might assume that Smith is immune to discrimination due to his superstar status. Smith responded to that misconception, described his experiences with racism, and detailed incidents of being called the N-word. Smith explained the following:

I grew up under [Philadelphia] Mayor Rizzo. You know, he went from the chief of police to becoming the mayor, and he had an iron hand.

I’ve been called [N-word] by the cops in Philly on more than ten occasions. I got stopped frequently. So, I understand what it’s like to be in those circumstances with the police, to feeling like you’ve been occupied. It’s an occupying force.

But I went to school out in the suburbs, so I went to Catholic school. So, I understand what the disparities are in a really interesting way. White kids were happy when the cops showed up, and my heart always started pounding.

There’s a part of this that people who don’t grow up in that, you just can’t comprehend. You just can’t comprehend what it feels like to feel like you’re living in occupied territory.

Will Smith on YouTube

Smith’s final thoughts

Smith ended the YouTube segment on a positive note, expressing a desire to give back and make a difference. “I am pledging my unending devotion to the evolution of my community, and the evolution of my country, and ultimately the world toward the greatest harmony that we’ll be able to create. I am happy to be alive during this time, and to serve.”

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