Ellen Pompeo isn’t scared to discuss race — and that made for a very candid conversation on Monday’s Red Table Talk. Just weeks after the Grey’s Anatomy star’s call for diversity in Hollywood went viral, she continued to propel the conversation on Jada Pinkett Smith‘s Facebook show. Pompeo, who has three biracial children with her record producer husband Chris Ivery, talked about her quest to combat racism — and how she’s met been with resistance from all sides, but it won’t silence her.
First things first: Pompeo is “not afraid to talk about race,” she told Pinkett Smith and company. “A lot of people get nervous when you bring it up and I understand why they do. But I’m not afraid. … If you’re afraid to talk about it, that’s a problem right there and you need to talk about it more.” Further, “I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with talking about race because they’re not around people of color. They don’t spend time. So they get awkward. And everyone’s awkward.”
Pompeo talked about her personal history with race, growing up in an Italian-Irish neighborhood in Boston (“It doesn’t get more racist than that”) and having black friends all her life. “The racism is what drew me to black people, to brown people,” she said. “I was like: What is it? What is all this anger? This name-calling. It made me so curious.” Raised by her father (her mom died when she was young), she said as a teen, she pushed her dad to addresses his biases. “My father would have liked to think he was racist — tried to be culturally and societally — and I was going to make him examine that every step of the way,” she said. “My favorite thing to do was to have pool parties and invite all my black friends over and swim in the pool, so he when would come home from work there would be a pool full of black boys. You’re a teenager — you have to rebel a little bit.”
Pompeo also talked about Ivery’s upbringing, also in Boston, but as the biracial son of a single white mom. “He had his own experience because he was the only child growing up in the projects with a white mother and no father in his life,” Pompeo said. “So he was embarrassed. He loved his mother dearly and that was his queen, but she was white.” (Pompeo said that her father and Ivery got along very well: “My husband ended up being his favorite person in the entire world who he couldn’t go a day without calling.”)
Pompeo’s Net-a-Porter interview last month wasn’t the first time she got fired up about race issues. She’s long been making race a topic of conversation, whether it was when she called for a boycott of a TV series on the KKK — or upset people by using black emoji when she was successful. She said along the way she’s been criticized by both white people and black people.
Asked what kind of reaction she’s gotten specifically from black women, Pompeo replied, “If black women have a problem with white women, I completely understand why,” she said. “If any black person has a problem with any white person, I understand why. If black people have a problem with things that I’ve said — I used the term ‘reverse racism’ that caused a stir — people of color had a huge problem about that. They get a pass. They get to have a problem with whatever I say. All I can do is explain why I say it and what my experience is and if you want to come at me for that, you get that right. You get that pass. Even if you’re not individually racist, we’re responsible for each other. If you’re not actively standing up and screaming from the rooftops, you are responsible for it.”
Pompeo also addressed the backlash after A&E scrapped the KKK special — and Pompeo used a black fist emoji on Twitter to share the news. “I’m not appropriating culture,” she said of the hullabaloo. “I’m just joining the fight. If you call me a white b**** then isn’t that judging me on the color of my skin? Why can’t I help a victory for black people because I’m white?” She said she still stands “by what I did” because “it’s a win for people of color. I’m here for it. Every day. Just because I use a brown emoji doesn’t mean I think I’m black.”
Pompeo also spoke about the criticism she’s gotten from white people. She said she gets attacked for “celebrating brown people” and made the point, “Me sticking up or celebrating brown people does not mean I am anti-white.” She said that white people “are threatened by my love of people of color or black culture.”
Pompeo said she’s read a lot about the “white identity,” saying that a section of the white population truly feels like opportunities are going to be taken away from them by people over color and other minorities. “There is a real fear of losing their piece of pie,” she said. “Someone is going to come and take my piece of the pie.” She said that, having many black people in her life, she sees why people would be intimated. “People of color are magical and mystical and powerful and beautiful and spiritual and strong and excellent at what they do,” she said. “There’s so much power and talent.”
So what does she think will help people come together? “One thing I do think that would be productive for everybody to do is just try to make different friends,” she said. “I have a lot of black friends and I have a lot of white friends, I don’t see my white girlfriends have black people in their life, from what I can see.” She said to think about who’s coming to your house for dinner. Who you’re going out with after work. “It’s not like you have to form these deep friendships, but you should have different people in your circle.”
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