Oprah: You're making me want to cry into a towel, Jamie. This is so sad! And to think this happened to someone born in 1967.
Jamie: So now you understand why, when I came to L.A., my friends were so important to me. I had no point of reference for what whites in L.A., New York, and San Francisco were like. My friends had to teach me the truth. They'd say things like "Nobody's calling you a nigger in Harlem."
When I look at the suffering we just endured in New Orleans, here's what I understand: Even if a cavalry had shown up, some blacks wouldn't have taken the help. When I visited there after the hurricane, some blacks said to me, "We'd rather swim than go anywhere with them." That's the mistrust that still exists. That's the sickness we carry with us as a country. I'm working on a stand-up piece now about what I call slave residue.
Oprah: When I was on trial in Texas, the black men who were with me had a completely different experience from the one I had. My hairstylist said, "I couldn't stay here, even for the weekend."
Jamie: Most men want the admiration of women—their smiles, their attention, their interest. That's why we beat our chests; that's why we play basketball and football. We want to know how you feel about us. Black men seem to do all the things that women are enamored of effortlessly. So in order for white men to maintain the upper hand, they feel they have to clip our wings. Here's what scares some white people: We are survivors. Blacks just never go away.
Oprah: I get it. Did all the racism you endured make you bitter?
Jamie: Definitely. But it wasn't until I got to California that I had other blacks tell me, "Man, you've gotta let that go." In one sense, I'm glad I had the experiences that I did in Texas, because now I can spot racism in a way that those who grew up in California cannot.
Oprah: You're glad about that blatant racism?
Jamie: It allowed me to understand the years and years of slave residue that is still with us. In this country, blacks have been treated like second-class citizens. So when New Orleans fell apart after Katrina, it didn't surprise me.
Oprah: Are you still angry?
Jamie: More puzzled than angry. I look at the ocean and how big the world is, and I still can't understand why being black makes some people hate me.
Oprah: It's smallness on the part of the hater. Every culture around the world has its way of putting certain people down. You must be one bad mamma jamma to overcome all that and accomplish what you have. What were you feeling on the night of the Oscars?
Jamie: I knew this could be a time when we'd feel proud collectively. People from my hometown had low self-esteem until they'd meet the New York or L.A. cats who knew so many different things, like how to tip. For black folks, this victory was that kind of self-esteem boost.
Oprah: You represented possibility. How did your life change the next day?
Jamie: I was floating! Suddenly, there was respect for my craft. I had to go into humble mode. It was like winning the Super Bowl, the NBA championship, and the Stanley Cup all at once—and with my daughter there beside me.
We Hear You!