Alfonso Ribeiro opens up about feeling rejected by the Black community

·4 min read

“I’m never going to be fully supported in the Black house,” said the television star

Alfonso Ribeiro cemented his place in sitcom history with his portrayal of the preppy, sweater vest-wearing, Tom Jones-loving character Carlton Banks on the hit 90s series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starring Will Smith as himself.

A central element of the show was the on-screen tension between Smith, a cool, fun-loving Philadelphia transplant and Carlton, a nerdy, privileged Black conservative from Bel-Air. Carlton’s Blackness is frequently called into question by other characters, such as a Black fraternity leader who tells Carlton he isn’t “enough of a brother” to join, prompting a speech from Carlton about how there is no single correct way to be Black.

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 31st: In this image released on December 31, Alfonso Ribeiro arrives at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021 broadcast on December 31, 2020 and January 1, 2021. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for dick clark productions)
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 31st: In this image released on December 31, Alfonso Ribeiro arrives at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021 broadcast on December 31, 2020 and January 1, 2021. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for dick clark productions)

While Ribeiro has always expressed gratitude for the show’s success, the 49-year-old has also been vocal about how being typecast as a character like Carlton has made him feel ostracized from the Black community at large.

“It still happens almost every day, unfortunately,” Ribeiro told the Atlanta Black Star about having his Blackness challenged. “I am in a mixed relationship. And I get things and looks and comments constantly. And I find it very interesting because you see a lot of things on social media where people say things and people have positions and perspectives. And it’s not easy to make that choice, because you’re not at home in any home. I’m never going to be white and I’m never going to be fully supported in the Black house.”

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Ribeiro married writer Angela Unkrich — who is white — in 2012, which he said has contributed to his feeling like the Black community doesn’t accept him.

“I’m in my own little world with support from almost no one, to be in love with someone I’ve fallen in love with. How does that make sense? It doesn’t,” he said. “We all want to live in a world where everyone is accepted for being and loving and living the way they choose to live. I will support any person that wants to live in a world that they want to live in.”

“I live in a mixed world. I love in a mixed world. I live in a Black world, and I love in that world. I feel everyone should be supported,” he continued.

He implied that these perceptions have led to the BET Awards neglecting to invite him, despite being so well known for The Fresh Prince as well as serving as the current host of ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos.

“I laugh at the fact that I am a mainstream television host, been in the game forever and I could purchase tickets to go to the BET Awards. So it is what it is. I’m not going to purchase the ticket…But at the end of the day, if that’s the view they take, then that’s the view they take. I can’t change their mind. All I can do is live my life and be me and be the best version of me. And continue to love everybody equally, and let it fall where it falls.”

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Ribeiro said despite these experiences, his friendship with Smith has not wavered in the years since the show ended in 1996.

“Well, we were friends before. So that helped a lot,” Ribeiro said. “We were able to…play on set. We were able to not take things so seriously that our egos would never get in the way of creating funny. The things that we learned very early on was, if I’m his straight man and he gets the big laugh, we both win. If he’s my straight man and I get the big laugh, we both win….I believe our success on the show was so great because we never stopped each other from winning.”

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