Over the years, many Black British actors and actresses have spoken about the discrimination and racism they’ve felt in their own country, and many of them have used those conversations to explain why they eventually move to America to work. Actors like David Oyelowo, David Harewood, Daniel Kaluuya, Thandie Newton and Cynthia Erivo have all had to talk about the lack of options and opportunities they’ve had in the British film/TV industry, and they’ve had to talk – in the American press – about the perception that they’ve been “taking parts away” from African-American actors.
Idris Elba was one of the first actors to have those kinds of conversations. For years, I’m not even sure most Americans even realized that he was British, just because his American accent was so good and he worked so steadily in American films and TV. In recent years, Idris has been using his platform to talk a lot about all of this – the lack of opportunities in Britain AND how the American film and TV industry isn’t perfect either, and he’s still experienced racism, typecasting and stereotyping wherever he goes. Idris took part in a livestream discussion several weeks ago about the same thing:
Idris Elba says success has not prevented him from experiencing racism.
“Success has not negated racism for me. Asking me about racism is like asking me about how long I have been breathing,” the “Luther” actor said during a panel discussion as part of “The Reckoning: The Arts and Black Lives Matter” livestreamed event on Friday.
The British-born actor, 47, explained that the first time black people have “any consciousness” about their skin color, it is “usually about racism.”
“That stays with you regardless of whether you become successful or you beat the system,” he continued.
Elba also said his parents imbued him with a sturdy work ethic, warning him, “If you want to make it in this world, you have to be twice as good as the white man.”
I guess this is just something for all of those people who believe that racism can be solved if we ignore race and make everything about “class.” Idris Elba is rich, successful and famous. And he still deals with racism all the time, on a daily level. Just think of the recent conversations about Idris’s career, for goodness sake. “Can there be a black Gunslinger” or “can James Bond be cast with a black actor” or “why didn’t Idris get an Oscar nomination for Beasts of No Nation.” It’s baked in. It’s seeped into everything he does. And if anyone is going to try to get offended by “you have to be twice as good as the white man” take a minute and recognize the kind of appalling mediocrity which is “allowed” among white people versus the kind of excellence needed for black people to achieve even a modicum of success.
Photos courtesy of WENN.
Most black kids are told that, especially those of us born in the 20th century. Mine kids are still young, but when they get in the workforce, I will probably give them that talk also.
I was coming to say the exact same thing. “You have to be twice as good, to get half as much”. This was mentioned on Scandal, too.
Same and same!
I was told that as a mantra growing up. Work twice as hard, be twice as good. I never took it as something unfair. It was just reality. What it did for me was make me pursue excellence, take pride in hard work, and feel pride in my ability. I suppose I thought that if I did show my abilities and my talents, my efforts would be welcomed and appreciated. That has not always been the case. I grew up upper middle class. I had all of the “class” advantages that many white people have. Most people assume I’m white just by hearing my voice. So the idea that “it’s not race, it’s class” is complete bunk. When white people realize that I’m intelligent and talented, they sometimes feel threatened in response. Then, I would be labled as “bossy,” “intimidating,” “arrogant,” because I speak with confidence. I teach at a school with a large population of wealthy BIPOC students, and we are experiencing white flight in our school. I have seen mediocre white people promoted over talented POCs. It’s ridiculous that so many white people assume black=unqualified when so many white people never have to rise above mediocrity.
MIBound, I hope you give your kids that talk way before they get to the workplace. They’ll need it for school, for sports, for activities. Present it as an opportunity for them to learn well, take pride in hard work, and earn their accomplishments. Pay attention to how teachers treat your children. I was initially placed in the lowest reading group in 1st grade because my teacher thought I couldn’t read. I learned to read at age 4. My parents marched me up to the school to read for the principal to make sure I was placed in the correct group. Many people will make assumptions about black children that can follow them their entire academic careers. Even at my college prep school, I’m shocked at how many black students who languish in the lower class levels when they should be placed higher. I advocate for them as much as possible, and I still get pushback from other teachers about whether certain kids can take Honors or AP classes. It’s tough.
We talk to our kids of excellence, our expectations of them, to walk with confidence, self value and worth. Keep you head up and look anyone straight in the eye. My husband is a professor and I am a programmer, I think sometimes we push to hard. I was thinking specifically of the workforce, and the talk I had with my father. He was an engineer, always arrived early and worked late, he made good money, but never got the opportunities that would have put in the fast track for upper management.
I was going to say the same thing. It’s what I was told. And when I got older, I realized it was true.
The interesting thing is that as racist as the United States is, there are still more opportunities for Black actors to work than there are in the UK. So there might not be Black people hanging from trees in the UK but the racism is still pretty harsh. See: Sussex, Duchess of.
Yup, I’m an adopted Black person into a White family. I got ‘the talk’ that none of my sibs required. It’d a sad truth for POC (all POC). Even being smarter or working harder, or anything that puts one in that ‘better’ category, is no guarantee that we will achieve to our potential. Or not be shot.
I am a retired cop BTW.
It’s amazing that your parents were aware enough to give you that talk, though sad that it’s necessary.
I got the “you’re brown and we’re all smarter than those stupid white people so make sure they know it” talk. A bit bonkers, my folks 😂
I love your folks!!! Amazing!
I just got flashbacks. Twice as good to get half.
My mom always said that if I saw a successful black person to keep in mind that they had to be twice as good as the white people around them and that they represented 20 other black people who could also have been there if we were actually a merit based country
I applaud your mom for recognizing that and saying that to you. I wish this were more common outside of the black community, but every little bit helps. Thanks for sharing!
I don’t know a single black person or child that hasn’t been told this growing up. I was. And so was my brother.
Well look at your current president (for ANYONE thinking that what Idris is saying isn’t true) compared to how Obama had to behave. One has to wonder, had the roles been reversed, would Obama have gotten as many passes as Trump? For some reason, I don’t think so…….
We are beginning to have these conversations with our kids. It’s been an education watching my British POC partner have to prove himself six times as much professionally and jump through several more hoops compared to his white colleagues. This is after going to private school, then a prestigious medical school, then a specialisation in an even more prestigious medical school and several years working exceptionally hard in Pharma. He was of the four scientists that ran trials on a major drug that turned out to be very profitable. He has finally after 20+ years managed to get to the point where he is one of a handful of experts in the world that deal with a specialised area of risk assessment in pharma. Only now has he felt like he’s finally getting his due. It has been a very long journey for him. Even after all that he knows that he’s lucky because there were several POC kids smarter than him that did not access the same opportunity or possess the same grit and audacity to ‘assume the position’ that he did.
Stated a different way, I’ve observed that black peoples also are not allowed to be human or make mistakes. Every ordinary thing is magnified and somehow wrong even when they do things white people do. And even when they have not made any mistakes, they are blamed for the mistakes of others.
Interesting thought exercise is to think of any high profile black person who is what is typically seen as a white space. It’s amazing and depressing how that holds up. It’s why you have Trump to blame Obama for the pandemic or white liberals mad the Obamas are rich.