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What The Conversation Between Will Smith & Janet Hubert Didn't Tell You

Together we are a force to be reckoned with, and separated, we are left vulnerable and unable to protect one another.

Culture & Entertainment

For many 80's and 90's babies/kids, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was extremely admirable, relatable, and showed the realistic lens of blending the lower and upper-class Black experience in America. The show brought light to such intense realities that are still very relevant to today's society, like the struggles of single parenting, Will's daddy issues, Black wealthy families' struggles, classism, over-policing Black people, 90's influential fashion, etc. And after six phenomenal seasons, it's safe to say Fresh Prince of Bel-Air became the anchor for Black youth and many generations to come.

Recently, the popular '90s sitcom, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air made headlines as the cast celebrated their 30th anniversary of the show on a HBO Max reunion special. All my years of watching this show repetitively, I thought it was perfection in every way possible–but the special revealed its flaws. Specifically, the conflict between Janet Hubert and Will Smith. Back then, it was believed that a difficult working relationship between Will and Janet is what ultimately got her fired and caused her exit before the series' fourth season.

Fresh Prince of Bel Air reunion - Will Smith and Janet Hubert make amends www.youtube.com

During the special however, after 27 years of not speaking to each other and bashing each other in countless interviews–Janet and Will were finally able to overcome their feud. The growth between them was easily seen and a reminder of necessary healing conversations. The industry was too small in the '90s to have such a public dispute, and it's still too small in 2020 with limited acting jobs for Black actors. It's not worth dragging a workmate in Hollywood or anywhere else to gain justice for themselves.

Will spoke to Janet separately on the special about where each of their headspace were during that time and why it was so hard to forgive one another for so long. Janet mentioned:

"When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one. Family disowned me. Hollywood disowned me. My family said, 'You've ruined our name.' And I wasn't unprofessional on the set. I just stopped talking to everybody because I didn't know who to trust because I had been banished."

HBO Max

Will stated that as a 21-year-old, he felt like "everything was a threat" to him.

"I was so driven by fear. I have children. I've been divorced, and I have a second marriage, and I can see now the level of pain and the level of struggle that it was just for you to show up every day."

The perspective Will provided shows that there needs to be more healthy dialogue and listening to one another, especially in instances where misunderstandings may live. If something seems unusual, ask questions instead of assuming things or having tunnel vision, only focusing on yourself.

Everyone is going through something; extend the grace you want to receive from others.

Janet replied to Will:

"But you took all of that away from me — with your words. Words can kill. I lost everything. Reputation. Everything. And I understand you were able to move forward, but you know those words, calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood, is the kiss of death. And it's hard enough being a dark-skinned Black woman in this business. But I felt that it was necessary for us to finally move forward. And I'm sorry that I have blasted you to pieces."

It only hurt Janet the most to earn fewer opportunities, and as a dark skin Black woman, her roles were already scarce. Will never lost anything; instead, his career heightened dramatically, and now he is one of the highest-paid and accomplished Black actors in the world. It was the complete opposite experience for Janet; it was a lot harder for her to get jobs based on her intersectional experience of being Black and a woman actress in Hollywood. Along with the added complaints that Will thrown out about her in countless interviews.

It all comes down to accountability and healing.

Will Smith/Instagram

Black actors must acknowledge their privilege; society is more forgiving to Black men versus Black women; history has shown us that countless times. And Black women are less likely to be believed than any other racial group of women.

As a community, Black people need to be open to intentional healthy discussion rather than defensive commentary back and forth. Talking things through brings forth restorative healing and gives others a chance to process their emotions and reactions. It's essential that they were both accountable for their end because it doesn't benefit either party in playing the victim and not moving forward.

The goal isn't to have perfect relationships, but progressive relationships should be attainable. We already have the world against us; we can't afford to be against each other too. Together we are a force to be reckoned with, and separated, we are left vulnerable and unable to protect one another.

As Will mentioned to Janet, "The person I want to be is someone who protects you, not someone who unleashed dogs on you."

There is so much strength in vulnerability. This is the love and support we ALWAYS need to have for one another.

Are you a member of our insiders squad? Join us in the xoTribe Members Community today!

Featured image by HBO Max

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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