John Legend, one of the performers in A&E’s concert special about race in America, recently spoke about the racist encounters he experienced during his time at the University of Pennsylvania.

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In an interview with USA Today, my boyfriend explained why he chose to participate in the special, which features both performances and discussions (and a Nicki Minaj poem reading). In the wrong hands, this could be a disaster.

But Legend says he “wanted to make sure that if we were going to talk about race in America, It wasn’t enough for us singers to just come together and sing, because we do that all the time.”

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Among the musicians featured, Legend is one of the few who’s sociopolitically aware in a visible way, with constant tweets, Op-Eds and appearances on panel discussions like Real Time with Bill Maher.

And like many black men in America, he says he’s been racially profiled countless times, which includes having to flash his I.D. to get into his car while he was in college—a relevant topic given the current racial climate at universities. Via USA Today:

Q: You’ve spoken about how racism is codified on an institutional level, but was there a point where you experienced discrimination on an individual level?

A: (In college) I used to get asked to show my ID to get in my car because they suspected I might be trying to steal my own car. And to me, in the story of my life, that’s a minor thing, but for some people that interaction goes wrong and you read about them on the news. And the fact that black men have to deal with that level of suspicion at all times, no matter if they’re Ivy League or what — you know I’m an Ivy League student going to school in West Philadelphia and they treat me like a criminal. That level of suspicion that’s attached to all of us because of our skin color is a heavy burden to carry all the time. And because of that, there’s often a lot of mistrust and there’s a lot of resentment that we see boil over sometimes into these uprisings.

Here’s a preview of Legend singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for the special, which airs tonight.


Contact the author at clover@jezebel.com.

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