Hollywood actor Will Smith informed the Daily Express in Britain that America is not a racist country:
It was as if some part of me was validated [after Obama won the election.] It was something that I’ve known for a long time that I couldn’t really say: “You know guys, I really don’t think America is a racist nation.” I know that I feel like that sometimes but I just don’t believe that. There are racist people who live there but I don’t think America as a whole is a racist nation. Before Obama won the presidency I wasn’t allowed to say that out loud because people would say: “Oh yeah, of course for you, Mr Hollywood!”
What to make of this?
John McWhorter said the same thing the other week, but with Will Smith saying it far more people will hear it. Will Smith, after all, is a Hollywood star, while John McWhorter is an egghead.
True, Smith’s own success is a sign that things are getting better. What Obama is to government, Smith is to the film industry: it was not all that long ago that Hollywood would not give the lead in one of their top films to a black actor for fear that it would lose money because only blacks would come out to see it. Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, as good as they are, were always being paired with a white actor, if you remember. So was Will Smith himself in the “Men in Black” films.
So maybe it is a good sign: if Smith and McWhorter are saying this now, then maybe in 20 years the rest of us will be saying it too. Change has to start somewhere – though I have never expected anything good to come out of Hollywood or right-wing think tanks – but you never know.
On the other hand, what Smith says sounds a little too much like what most white people seem to think: that racism is just a matter of a few bad apples. So maybe he is just kissing up to the white world, which, after all, butters his bread – or maybe he has been brainwashed by it. Or, most likely, he is so protected by his wealth and name that for him it is, in fact, just a matter of a few bad apples – like the ones who will let him kiss Rosario Dawson in a film but not a woman who is pure white. I wonder if McWhorter would count that as an “imperfection”.
For many who live in black ghettos, even in some middle-class ones, it seems like more than just a few bad apples. The police, the courts, the press, the hospitals, the schools, the housing market, all of it, seem to be based on the idea that black life is not all that important. Everything is second-rate or kind of broken. This is the institutional racism that no longer seems to affect Smith and which McWhorter thinks is too subtle to matter.
- The Daily Express interview with Will Smith of January 13th 2009
- Other blog reactions:
- Is America post-racial?
- not-so-post-racial America:
- Obama wins!!!
- acceptable blackness