Here’s a serious question: If you had 15.4 million Instagram followers and were a main character on a wildly popular TV show, would you consider yourself a victim of racism? (Or of anything, really?).
If you wouldn’t, you’re probably a normal person. But Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas Sinclair in the Netflix hit drama show “Stranger Things,” doesn’t see it that way.
McLaughlin spoke at the Heroes Comic Con in Belgium this past weekend, where he tried to convince the audience that he’s purposely been shunned by fans of the show because he is black. He recounted times where he had meet and greet tables at events, but that those people would avoid him for how his character acted in the show.
here's caleb talking about how he had to deal with racism just because he was "the black kid who was mean to eleven in season 1" and felt like it was important to share his thoughts on that :) #StrangerThings #TUDUM #CalebMcLaughlin @HComicConBE pic.twitter.com/JZoXS9aaBW— L ☾ met timothée (@spideychaIamet) September 25, 2022
“My very first Comic Con, some people didn’t stand in my line because I was Black. Some people told me, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t wanna be in line because you were mean to Eleven (the show’s protagonist),’” McLaughlin said. “Even now, some people don’t follow me or don’t support me because I’m Black.”
McLaughlin also said that his parents were the ones that suggested the absurd theory that his Instagram following is a sign of racism (15.4 million followers is less than some other castmates have. But it's still a few million more people than the population of greater Los Angeles.)
So there’s a lot wrong here. McLaughlin said he could “feel” people being racist towards him, but he admitted that some people said they wouldn’t choose to be around him because of how his character in the show treated Eleven, the show’s protagonist. While it's incredibly stupid to judge a real person for how his character acted in a fictional show, that doesn’t automatically mean race is involved (by the way, he never mentioned a time when someone explicitly told him they wouldn’t come in his line because of his skin color).
Furthermore, McLaughlin’s smaller following on social media also does not mean that Stranger Things fans are inherently being prejudiced towards him. One of the many possible explanations for the disparity in followers is that he plays a character that might not be as popular as the show’s other major players (Eleven, Dustin, Nancy, etc.). Once again, unless you’re purposefully looking for this to be a surefire sign of racism, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
The problem with such claims is that each time a “story” like this emerges, it continues to cheapen the meaning and validity of the word “racism.” In today’s world, racism has come to predominantly describe any disparate outcomes between between black and white people, whether it's with a celebrity having a certain amount of Instagram followers, or how many black coaches are hired in the NFL, or whether or not black and white people receive the same amount of criticism for their wrongdoings. It no longer carries the seriousness it once did, thus creating a world where anyone who doesn’t get what they want - or have what others have - is automatically a victim of prejudice.
That’s a pretty upside-down way for McLaughlin, or anyone else, to view the world.