Oprah: Even though I was raised poor and black in Mississippi, I can remember only one time when I was called the N word.
Jamie: You're lucky. I was called a nigger almost every day in Texas. It got to the point that when I'd hear the word, I'd think, Okay, but I'm here to play for your Christmas party. Where do I set up? So when I arrived in L.A., I called my friends and said, "We's free! Black people here are makin' their own money, holdin' their heads up."
Oprah: Being called that name had to change the way you saw yourself.
Jamie: I'll tell you how it changed me. When I was 15, I went to play the piano for this white guy's Christmas party. He lived in a mansion. When my friend Chris and I showed up, the guy opened the door and said, "What's goin' on here?" I said, "We're here to play for your party." He said, "But why are there two of you here at the same time?" I explained that my friend had driven me there because I didn't have a license yet. "Is there a problem?" I asked. "The problem," he said, "is that I can't have two niggers in my house at one time." So I asked my friend to wait outside in the truck. "He can't wait on this street," the man protested. I told Chris to drive off, then return at 9:30 to pick me up. When he left, the man said, "Where's your tuxedo?" No one had told me I needed a tux. So he took me into this walk-in closet that blew my mind—there were rows and rows of jackets—and he grabbed a jacket with patches on it and gave it to me to wear. I said to myself, Maybe this isn't so bad.
Oprah: And you're there playing because this is how your grandmother had ensured you would earn a living. Did you play at Bar Mitzvahs and such?
Jamie: No, I had never even heard the word Jew until I got to college. I played for country folk with money—the people who ran the schools and factories.
Oprah: Got it.
Jamie: So as I was playing at the Christmas party that evening, the man and his friends were off to my right telling nigger jokes, one right after another. As I played, I felt like I was in slavery. The guy says, "Come on, man, we're just funnin' witcha." I'll never forget the lady who later said to me, "I want to apologize for them. They're just crazy." Afterward the man hands me $100, which was big money for a 15-year-old. When I took off his jacket and handed it to him, he said, "I can't wear that jacket now. Keep it." Since my friend hadn't yet arrived to pick me up—it was 9:15—he said, "You're gonna have to wait up the street."
Oprah: That does sound like slavery.
Jamie: For a long time after I got to L.A.—when I got my paycheck and my swagger—I had a rule: No more than one white dude in my house. Until my friends said, "Foxx, you've got to realize not all whites are like that. Don't fall into that trap." But from what I experienced growing up, I just couldn't trust whites. I'll never forget this one white cat I used to hang with in Texas. When there was just the two of us, he was cool. Then another boy showed up and said, "What you doin' hangin' with that nigger?" I was smarter than both of them. I said, "What is it about me being born that bothers you so much?"