Posted on August 24, 2004

Driving Bentleys and Crying Racism

Jesse Lee Peterson,, Aug. 24

I must admit that I was shocked to see the following words attributed to actor-rapper Will Smith, responding to a question of whether 9-11 had changed anything for him:

No. Absolutely not. When you grow up black in America you have a completely different view of the world than white Americans. We blacks live with a constant feeling of unease. And whether you are wounded in an attack by a racist cop or in a terrorist attack, I’m sorry, it makes no difference.

You cannot get much more hypocritical than that. Smith’s evident contempt for America is baffling. He is apparently thankless for the opportunities America has given him to be free, work hard and succeed. Rather than feel for his country when it is viciously attacked, he seems unaffected and indifferent to the pain so many felt.

Smith’s contempt for white Americans is similarly shocking. Smith has white Americans to thank for his success. White Americans go to his films and buy his compact discs. And yet, Smith speaks of having “a constant feeling of unease.” I am unsure what constant unease must be felt while driving a Bentley, starring in multimillion-dollar blockbuster films, and topping album charts. I could go for some of that unease.

These comments, made in a German newspaper, were shocking to me not only because of their clear hypocrisy, but because I always thought Smith was better than that. Onscreen, he presents a wholesome image, and his music is upbeat and profanity-free. I knew him to be politically left-leaning, but I thought him to be basically sensible and restrained. He seems now to be revealing himself as a Michael Moore-style nut, a hater and blamer of America.

Sadly, Smith’s hypocrisy is commonplace among successful blacks in Hollywood. Take as an example the words of Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington:

I know I’m swimming upstream . . . A whole lot of people in the country won’t go to a movie I’m in because I’m black. Period. So the fact that I can operate and do well—I know they’re not continuing to give me jobs and all this money because they’re nice—I must be bringing home something.

Washington echoes Smith. He is super-successful, yet can’t help but complain about the immense difficulties of life in a racist society. As with Smith, I would love to share in some of Washington’s difficulties, starting with the multimillion-dollar paychecks.

Add actor Danny Glover to this list of hypocrites. Glover has called America a racist country. He has called the United States “one of the main purveyors of violence in this world.” Yet, in this racist and terrorist country, Glover has appeared in dozens of films and is given free rein to say whatever he wants (which ranges from the hateful to the anti-American to the quasi-treasonous). (Would Glover’s career have similarly blossomed in South Africa or Haiti? I wonder . . . )

Director Spike Lee can’t hide his resentment for white America either. His production company is called “40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks,” a slap in the face of whites. Spike Lee is openly contemptuous of whites and what he implies to be a white establishment out to get him. Lee’s films have grossed in the hundreds of millions. Whites have contributed greatly to this sum, though he seemingly cannot stand them. Hypocritical?

The disgraceful hypocrisy of these highly successful black Americans is saddening, as it sends a poor message to black youth who look to these men as role models. Rather than emphasizing keys to success, men like these give black youth a ready excuse for failure—racism—even as this racism seems not to affect their own success.

At the heart of their seemingly inexplicable comments, I believe there are two motives. First, these men understand the power of playing the race card. Smith and others know that many whites are afraid of being accused of racism, and will offer great concessions to avoid that suspicion. Simply put, charges of white racism create fear that keep money, jobs, and power rolling in to these black stars.

Second, being a victim, even to those who are successful, is a difficult temptation to pass up. Being a victim is not only an ego-boosting badge of honor, it also supplies a ready excuse whenever one fails. So these hypocrites hold on to victim status and pass it along to others, because if you can be a victim and cash in because of it, then, hey, why not?