Updated on 2/14/2023 at 1:20p.m. ET: As expected, Idris Elba’s admission that he no longer refers to himself as a Black actor because it limited him in his career didn’t land with folks the way he intended.
While there’s of course a nuanced conversation to be had, Elba made sure to further clarify his points in a tweet over the weekend saying:
“There isn’t a soul on this earth that can question whether I consider myself a BLACK MAN or not. Being an ‘actor’ is a profession, like being an ‘architect’ ,they are not defined by race. However, If YOU define your work by your race, that is your Perogative. Ah lie?”
Whether or not this was a general response to the online criticism or a direct response to fellow British actor John Boyega’s reaction, we’ll never know. But one thing is abundantly clear: Idris said what he said and isn’t backing down.
See the original article below.
Let me first start by saying: I am an Idris Elba fan. Always have been, always will be.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ve got to admit that I’m a bit puzzled at a recent admission he made during an interview with Esquire UK in which he explained why he no longer calls himself a “Black actor.” Citing the fact that it was more harmful than helpful throughout the course of his career, Elba said:
“Of course, I’m a member of the Black community. You say a prominent one. But when I go to America, I’m a prominent member of the British community. ‘Oh, U.K.’s in the house!’ If we spent half the time not talking about the differences but the similarities between us, the entire planet would have a shift in the way we deal with each other.”
OK, I can get with that somewhat.
“As humans, we are obsessed with race. And that obsession can really hinder people’s aspirations, hinder people’s growth. Racism should be a topic for discussion, sure. Racism is very real. But from my perspective, it’s only as powerful as you allow it to be. I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realized it put me in a box. We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to. Our skin is no more than that: it’s just skin. Rant over.”
“I did it[acting] because I thought that’s a great profession and I could do a good job at it. As you get up the ladder, you get asked what it’s like to be the first Black to do this or that. Well, it’s the same as it would be if I were white. It’s the first time for me. I don’t want to be the first Black. I’m the first Idris.”
Wow, umm, OK Big ‘Dris.
While I understand his intentions and that he’s speaking from his personal experience and what he feels is true in his life, I can’t help but point out a few flaws in his latter statements.
For starters, racism isn’t as powerful as we allow it to be. My determination to not succumb to racism will do nothing to stop the effects of it from affecting me in some way, shape or form. Why? Because America was founded on racist and anti-Black ideals that continue to systematically oppress Black people, people of color, and other marginalized communities to this day. If all it took was for individuals to say, “I no longer give power to racism,” then this problem should’ve been eradicated centuries ago.
Secondly, I can understand why you would think our skin is just skin, but it’s not. Our skin should be just skin, but because of systemic racism and global anti-Blackness, what should be looked at as something simple has long been politicized, criminalized, and demonized. But instead of using that fact to minimize the beauty, strength and power that comes with being a more melanated individual or try to distance ourselves from that, our energy would be better used to interrogate why the majority and powers that be have decided to view it as limiting instead of limitless in the first place.
Excuse my bad grammar here but ain’t nothing wrong with being called Black. Where the problem comes into play is when people use that to justify maltreatment, prejudice, and discrimination. This, again, lends credence to the need to question what others are doing by trying to box us in with that label and figure out ways to stop them instead of trying to jump through mental hoops to shift how we see ourselves. We as Black people know by now that Blackness is not a monolith, and with that should come the vast expansion of knowledge of our history, our stories and our creativity.
We ought to take that knowledge and use it to our advantage to create productive conversations and opportunities that will continue to celebrate our nuances and stress the importance and beauty of embracing our differences instead of trying to negate them altogether.
“I think we should fixate on who is typecasting and putting actors in boxes because of this. Not on making weird adjustments for them. We continuously focus on what we have to do so they don’t do this or that. Very worrying. We BLACK and that’s that,” said Star Wars and fellow Black UK actor John Boyega on Twitter in response to Elba’s comments.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.