Will Smith Recalls Being Called the N-Word by Cops on 'More Than 10 Occasions'

Will Smith
Jemal Countess/FilmMagic

The actor opened up about the modern civil rights movement in a passionate interview with Angela Rye.

Will Smith is addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and getting candid about his own experiences facing prejudice and racism. The movie megastar sat down for a conversation about the current culture revolution and explained how, despite his fame and wealth, he has never been insulated from systemic hate.

"I grew up in Philadelphia," Smith recalled while speaking with political commentator and activist Angela Rye as part of her podcast, On One With Angela Rye. "I grew up under Mayor Rizzo. He went from the chief of police to becoming the mayor, and he had an iron hand."

Smith was born in West Philadelphia in 1968, four years before Frank Rizzo became mayor and began to push his anti-desegregation platform. Rizzo's time as police commissioner and mayor was documented in a Pulitzer Prize–winning exposé chronicling the marked rise in racially motivated incidents of police brutality that occurred under his watch.

"I've been called n**ger by the cops in Philly on more than 10 occasions," Smith recalled. "I got stopped frequently. So I understand what it's like to be in those circumstances with the police."

Smith explained that he attended a Catholic school in the suburbs, which showed him "what the disparities are" in the relationships white people have with police and the interactions experienced by people of color.

Which is why he's been excited to see the universality of the Black Lives Matter protests and how they've garnered the attention and consideration of the entire world.

"We are in a circumstance that we've never been in before," Smith said of the protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black men and women killed by police in recent years. "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."

The actor went on to explain that he understands the anger and rage that so many people feel toward systemically racist institutions and individuals.

"Rage is justified under oppression. But it also can be really dangerous," he said. "You got to be careful not to be consumed by your own rage, and that's something that I've worked really hard on."

In Smith's opinion, the greatest demonstrations against oppression are peaceful protests that serve as a contrast to the actions of racists and bigots.

"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," Smith said. "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."

The actor went on to say that he doesn't think racism and prejudice will ever be eradicated from the hearts of some people, explaining, "You are going to come across people that have made poisonous conclusions and have false beliefs, and they've got insane narratives running through their minds."

However, Smith said he hopes that part of what people learn from being confronted with the realities of racism is how destructive "loveless, godless leadership" can be on the world.

That's why he wants the next generation -- who are poised to take the reins of the country and the culture -- to use their vote and lead with love and compassion.

"Don't succumb to lovelessness no matter how much evil you face, because [then] you poison yourself and you poison your own community," Smith said, as his takeaway message for the politically active youth who have been fighting to have their voices heard and enact change.

"I am pledging my unending devotion to the evolution of my community and the evolution of my country, and ultimately the world, towards the greatest harmony that we'll be able to create," Smith concluded. "I am happy to be alive during this time, and to serve."