Actor Wendell Pierce Tells the Beast Why He Shared ‘Vile’ Racist Incident

Bennett Raglin
Bennett Raglin

Tony-nominee Wendell Pierce shocked just about everyone when he tweeted on Tuesday night that he was discriminated against by a white landlord while trying to rent a Harlem apartment last year.

The star of hit shows including The Wire and Elsbeth, who earned a 2023 Tony nomination for his leading role in Broadway’s Death of a Salesman, shared the story to show that racism affects people of color no matter what their status is.

“For those of you who don’t understand my righteous anger… Even with my proof of employment, bank statements and real estate holdings, a white apartment owner DENIED my application to rent the apartment… in Harlem, of all places,” Pierce wrote. “Racism and bigots are real. There are those who will do anything to destroy life’s journey for Black folks. When you deny our personal experiences, you are as vile and despicable.”

His followers were overwhelmingly shocked that a man as successful as Pierce was still subject to Jim Crow-era treatment.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Pierce said that he was moved to share the deeply personal story after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s decision and sided with the American Alliance for Equal Rights against the Fearless Fund. The ruling essentially blocked the fund from awarding grants to Black women-owned businesses in the Atlanta-area, saying it would “inflict irreparable injury.”

Affirmative Action Is Gutted. Now’s the Time for Reparations

Pierce said he shared his story to show a “personal example of how destructive and insidious bigotry and racism are, and how it is memorialized into what institutionalized racism is.”

He said the whole move to block the investment firm reminded him of a phrase from the Civil Rights Movement.

“When evil people plot, good people plan,” Pierce told The Daily Beast. “It was a call to action for me. It infuriated me, but I realized that that meant nothing if I didn’t try to shed light on it, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

“The law was put in place to protect former slaves from discrimination. Edward Blum, an opponent of affirmative action, has argued its text means that race can’t be considered at all in contractual relationships,” Pierce wrote on X. “Private funding blocked by the courts. NOT TAX DOLLARS.

“Private investment into Black businesses being blocked with laws in place to prevent discrimination against Black businesses. The racist irony,” Pierce added. “Racist, bigoted, fascist Americans who burned down Black Wall Street in Tulsa 100 years ago are still alive and well.”

“It makes me sick motherfucker how far you will go to destroy our ability to live our lives in peace and prosperity,” he said. “Attacked in schools, attacked by police, attacked for expecting to live the stated values of this country, and attacked when successful in business. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. For generations we have embraced that lie as the violence against our community proves otherwise. It’s getting harder to stay in denial, America.”

Republicans Actually Love Affirmative Action (for Themselves)

Pierce told the Beast he’d understand if the decision was concerning public funds, but denying private funds would end up hurting many other organizations.

“That means every Black church that wants to give to a kid in that congregation—that is illegal. If a women engineers group wants to help young women get scholarships for school to go into sciences—that is illegal,” Pierce explained. “If a business sees the benefit of going to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and hiring some of the students that are coming out of that talent—they are saying that that is illegal. It sets a precedent that I felt as though it was going under the radar, very stealth by folks who do not have our best interests at heart.”

Pierce called the ruling one of the most “devastating” in history and said that if this is the policy for firms providing grants for Black women-owned businesses, then the same should apply for companies like J.P. Morgan, which privately runs a food and welfare program, and ExxonMobil, which gets tax breaks for its association in the oil industry.

“In my industry, 33% tax credits are given to Hollywood studios to bring production to Louisiana, Georgia, and many other states. Oil companies are given subsidies to develop and drill for oil. TAX DOLLARS GIVEN AS CORPORATE WELFARE,” he said in his Twitter comments. “Yet a private investor wants to invest in Black women investors with private equity and the racist agenda of the right wing seeks to destroy any economic development in the Black community. As a businessman, that’s a violent personal attack. Venture capital denied by the court.”

According to its website, the American Alliance for Equal Rights believes “that the ancient faith that gave birth to our nation’s civil rights laws is the principle that an individual’s race should not be used to help them, or harm them, in their life’s endeavors.”

However, nowhere on the site does it mention how systemic racism has been put in place to prevent specific groups of people from achieving equality and how equity is a tool to help reverse those discriminatory policies.

“Programs that exclude certain individuals because of their race such as the ones the Fearless Fund has designed and implemented are unjust and polarizing,” American Alliance for Equal Rights President and anti-affirmative action advocate Edward Blum said after the ruling, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Significant majorities of all Americans believe that an individual’s race should not be a factor in our nation’s public policies.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.