I went to bed on Monday night fully prepared to write about Will, Jada and the Smiths history of radicalism and protest in Hollywood. I was going to talk about the Smiths being the first and only Black celebrities to call for a protest of the Oscars and how it’s carried their tradition of bucking the establishment when they’ve deemed necessary. I was going to champion their cause. But then I peeped Twitter and was reminded of a few things that call all of this into question.
Let’s backtrack for a minute, though, because people seem to have dismissed Will and Jada (and their kids’) roles in pushing back against what they feel are racial injustices in their chosen fields. Let’s not forget that Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff led a boycott of the Grammys in 1989 over the misrepresentation of rap acts during the awards. The rap categories were never televised, so Smith and Jazzy Jeff organized LL Cool J and Salt-n-Pepa to boycott as well.
Smith went on to be the driving force behind the Fresh Prince show which still has iconic moments addressing Black fatherhood and gun violence. Compared to The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince was Black radicalism on camera every week. Over the last few years, Will and Jada have put money behind having a Black Annie and are putting together an Emmett Till documentary. In 2015, it was revealed that the Smiths donated $150,000 to Farrakhan’s march in October. So the Smiths have a tangible history of importance in the Black community. But, as tends to be the case, America has neutered Will Smith’s legacy to the point where we remember him for “Getting Jiggy With It” and smiling his way to blockbuster success.
So when I saw that Jada Pinkett-Smith was calling for a boycott of the Oscars, I was ready to stand and applaud it as a next chapter to the Smiths measured radicalism. Because we should absolutely ignore the Oscars and their Whitewashing and refusal to acknowledge Black excellence. However, should Jada and other celebrities be the people who call for us to boycott an awards ceremony?
Despite the Smiths history of raging against the Hollywood establishment, there’s still a desire for them (and other celebrities) to do something radical when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter. Will and Jada have yet to utter #BlackLivesMatter or use their power to publicly call for justice or boycotts. They’re part of the mass of silent celebrities who have seemingly left the rest of us to fend for ourselves (though we aren’t sure what they’ve done, if anything, behind the scenes). In fact, just a few months ago, Will Smith had this to say about racism in the very same Hollywood his wife is trying to boycott:
“Everybody is prejudiced,” he said. “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,” he said, 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 — someone who thinks their race is superior,” Smith continued.
So what is it? Is racism rare or systemic and are we boycotting because of Hollywood’s race problem or because Will didn’t get nominated? To add fuel to the skepticism, Janet Hubert – the former Aunt Viv – hopped on her comic sans filter video to bash the Smiths for their boycott.
Hubert’s video is full of histrionics and clearly comes from a place of personal disdain, but there is a point buried beneath the anger somewhere: don’t ask us to care about your problems if you won’t put your neck on the line for ours. I’m pretty sure that most of us were already going to boycott the Oscars anyway, because f*ck them (yours truly is trying to get #LiveTweetADifferentWorldDuringTheOscars going).
But celebrities trying to get us to rally behind their cause that, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t as important as Tamir Rice’s life or toxic water in Flint is insulting to people who are fighting to stay alive in America. The same thing happened to Jay Z when he positioned Tidal as a means to fight against streaming systems that oppress other millionaires. These celebrities with power, money and pull can’t ask us to fight for their causes if we’re not seeing them sticking their necks out to use their influence to save our lives.
Basically, we want receipts. If Will and Jada want us to feel bad for them not being acknowledged by old White guys, then we want to see something that says they’re willing to fight beside us when one of our own gets murdered by a cop. Otherwise, I feel like I’m being used by more one percenters in a fight for acceptance from people who won’t ever acknowledge my Black a$$ anyway.
As I’ve said before, the movement will happen with or without celebrities. Any help is obviously appreciated but nobody is begging them to ensure that we get free. However, they better start putting up some numbers on our behalf if they expect us to fight their battles when they’re wronged by the same establishment that’s trying to destroy all of us.