The World According to Sam Jackson

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Oh, who’s that nigga?’”

Perhaps that is why Jackson speaks his mind so freely and could give an ish what you think. Like many Black males conditioned by the harshness of American racism and poverty, there was nothing, except for his vivid imagination, that told Jackson who he has become was remotely possible. Or that a Barack Obama could be president.

Yes, like much of Hollywood’s A-list, Jackson supported Obama for president in 2008, but don’t expect any over-intellectualized rationale about his decision:

“I voted for Barack because he was Black. ’Cuz that’s why other folks vote for other people—because they look like them. That’s American politics, pure and simple. His message didn’t mean shit to me. In the end, he’s a politician. I just hoped he would do some of what he said he was gonna do. I know politicians say shit; they lie. ’Cuz they want to get elected.”

But what does Samuel L. Jackson think about the president now? Jackson blinks off into space, to the photos on his dressing room wall of different periods of his acting journey. Yup, he is just getting warmed up—and very clear about what he wants to say on the record:

“When it comes down to it, they wouldn’t have elected a nigga. Because, what’s a nigga? A nigga is scary. Obama ain’t scary at all. Niggas don’t have beers at the White House. Niggas don’t let some White dude, while you in the middle of a speech, call [him] a liar. A nigga would have stopped the meeting right there and said, ‘Who the f*#! said that?’ I hope Obama gets scary in the next four years, ’cuz he ain’t gotta worry about getting re-elected.”  

*Although EBONY does not condone use of the “N-word,” we’ve left the word intact in the interest of maintaining the integrity of the story. ... That, and the fact that it’s m$&*#!f%@+ing  Sam Jackson!

In many ways, Samuel L. Jackson is in Hollywood but not of Hollywood. He is really of the older Black men who sit on milk crates on America’s street corners, unfiltered observers and commentators of their world, their anger muted by a natural-born comedic timing that frames a history of pain and suffering.

“I’ve said to White Hollywood folks, ‘First thing you need to understand is, I am a nigga. I’m a nice guy, but there are certain things that go ‘click,’ and I become that guy y’all really worry about at night. ’Cuz that’s really who I am.’ I learned how to live in two worlds. That’s my whole life. That’s why y’all hire me. I am genuine. I bring something genuine about that type of guy who scares White people they can safely watch on-screen.”

Those two worlds, for Jackson, mean we know him as a bad dude, but he acknowledges he was a bookworm as a kid, one who played trumpet and flute in his high school band, was an A student and, by his college years, equally digested the sounds of Motown and the rock ’n’ roll rumblings of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Jackson has been everything from a nerd to a hippie to a radical to a beloved pop-culture icon who everyone wants to get next to.

It was that kind of cultural diversity and real Black man poise that won him the role of Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s now-classic 1994 film Pulp Fiction. It is Sam’s signature role on-screen, and it redefined what a bad Black man was in the tradition of Stagger Lee and Bad Leroy Brown. In the Jules character, Jackson was swashbuckler, hero, villain and all the personas he pretended to be as that only child in love with motion pictures in Tennessee. And he hasn’t slowed since.

But I do need him to slow enough to explain his excessive use of the word “nigga”:

“Nigga became a part of my vocabulary when I was born. How so? Because it was used on me in my house, often, ‘Nigga, you crazy?’ My mom, my grandmom, my granddad, my relatives, my neighbors. I know the word nigga as an admonishment, an endearment, a criticism and an invective. So I use it; I don’t run from it. I don’t have an issue with it or who says it. I always put it in the context of how it was used on me.”

An aside: I was hesitant to bring up his father because, when mentioned at the beginning of the interview, Jackson looked a bit uncomfortable. Like far too many Black boys, Sam had no real relationship with his dad. Saw him once, briefly, as a child, then not again until he was a grown man and a father himself while with his little girl, Zoe, in the early 1980s. He was on the road doing a theater piece and happened to be in the