Oprah: Because you feel this way, isn't it frustrating when others define you in terms of color?
Sidney: It doesn't aggravate me anymore, but it did. I was fortunate enough to have been raised to a certain point before I got into the race thing. I had other views of what a human is, so I was never able to see racism as the big question. Racism was horrendous, but there were other aspects to life. There are those who allow their lives to be defined only by race. I correct anyone who comes at me only in terms of race. For instance, I have friends who don't know many blacks. And sometimes, a friend will say how well he or she knows a black person.
Oprah: I grew up in an environment where I was often the only black child, and people would ask me if I knew you!
Sidney: You ready for this? I've been told, "You look like Sammy Davis Jr."
Oprah: Could the person who said this see? Or was it Stevie Wonder?
Sidney: That joke brings to the fore the fact that others' knowledge of blacks is far from multidimensional. And our difficulties should teach us to see the big picture. The big picture is that racism has been an awful experience—but there are other experiences. We need to keep an eye on the other human experiences to give ourselves the fullness and the breadth of our own humanity. Our humanity is served back to us through the eyes of those who have diminished us. And they serve back to us a view of ourselves that is incomplete. If we don't look to the bigger picture, our view will narrow to that which is constantly fed to us.
Oprah: You're saying everything that I believe! We define our own lives, and we become what we believe. That's why there were people who were enslaved who could say inside themselves, "This is not who I am. I'm gonna go north, though I'm not sure which way that is."
Sidney: Absolutely. And what troubles me is that so many people don't know how to get ahold of their sense of self, that sense that says, "I am—and I need to strengthen this me."
Oprah: In Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, it felt as if you wrote that speech your character says to his father, who objects to your character marrying a white woman. Do you remember the speech?
Sidney: Of course.
Oprah: Some people forget their parts.
Sidney: No, no, no. That speech meant so much to me. It was how I felt. My character says to his father, "I love you, Dad. You're my father. But there's this difference: I think of myself as a man, and you think of yourself as a colored man."
Oprah: So back to a question I wanted to get to: How did you feel when your own people labeled you an Uncle Tom and a "millionaire shoeshine boy" in the sixties?