Caleb McLaughlin Opens Up About Racism From Stranger Things Fans: 'It Took A Toll'

Nobody deserves to be harassed, bullied, or intimidated by others for any reason, least of all for their skin color. This is especially true for younger people, as these experiences can potentially take a serious toll on their mental health and sense of safety. It is also, unfortunately, a problem for many prominent Black and brown actors, as their positioning in the public eye can open them up as targets for hate.

Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas on the hit Netflix series "Stranger Things," is sadly no stranger to experiences like these. He recently spoke about this at the Heroes Comic Con in Brussels, Belgium to spread awareness of just how demoralizing they can be. He reflected on his first experience at such a convention, and it sadly isn't a fond one.

"It definitely took a toll on me as a younger kid," he said. "Some people didn't stand in my line because I was Black. Some people told me, 'Oh I didn't want to be in your line but because you were mean to Eleven.'"

This anecdote is infuriating not only because of the blatant racism but the flimsy excuses for the behavior. While Lucas in the first season of the show did show apprehension towards Eleven, it is a very normal reaction to have when you meet a girl that's telekinetic and knows about interdimensional portals. Besides, McLaughlin is not Lucas, so using that to excuse racist behavior is uncalled for.

Setting a positive example

The good news is that McLaughlin has a strong support system on his side in the form of his parents. He recalled having to be sat down by them to discuss what he called a "sad truth," that he will be treated differently and "not loved" by some people because he is Black. However, the people that do matter love him no matter what, and it's important to focus on that love rather than the hate.

"That's why with my platform I want to spread positivity and love," McLaughlin explained to the crowd, "because I do not give hate back to people who give hate to me."

This is a really positive example to set, and it shows the power of perspective. Sure, some people might not like you, but do they matter when you've got friends and family that do unconditionally? At the same time, however, to be a kid and to establish that mindset at such a young age just to survive is heartbreaking. That pressure to protect yourself from racist hatred shouldn't be felt by anyone, much less an actor that is only 20 years old and still reeling from its effects.

"Even now some people don't follow me or don't support me because I'm Black," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to talk about and for people to understand, but when I was younger it definitely affected me a lot."

No space for bigotry

It's a shame that this still needs to be said because all humans deserve to be treated as such, with dignity and respect. McLaughlin's experiences are sadly far too common nowadays, where Black actors and characters are the targets of racist attacks. In the recent cases of "Star Wars" or "The Little Mermaid," the mere existence of Black people is enough to label something as "going woke," a phrase that has rapidly become a dog whistle for racists.

However, it is perhaps more disturbing that many of these actors seem not to be publicly supported by their peers in any concrete way. Unlike "Star Wars," which released a public statement in support of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" actress Moses Ingram after she became the target of racist bullying, neither Netflix nor the "Stranger Things" cast or crew have commented on McLaughlin's remarks. While such statements may seem like they're just words on a screen, a public condemnation shows that they are at least cognizant of these abuses and support the victim rather than tolerating or ignoring the racism being thrown at them.

It really is a shame that efforts to do this have not been made, especially since the "Stranger Things" writers' room have public social media accounts that get used regularly and have decent traffic. It shouldn't seem like too much to expect this type of public support, but alas. Here's hoping that McLaughlin is getting the support he needs and deserves behind the scenes.