What do Racist Attacks on Black Fantasy Actors Have to Do with Your Work?

A few months ago, Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram faced an outporing of racist attacks following her portrayal of the villainous Inquisitor Reva Sevander – the first Black female villain in the Star Wars franchise. Ingram wasn’t surprised by the abuse – and Lucasfilm even helped to prepare her for them. Attacks on people of color in long-standing fantasy worlds – in particular attacks on Black women – are, unfortunately, common. Actors from Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have faced similar abuse, as have actors and creators from Sandman, House of the Dragon, Doctor Who, and the upcoming live-action remake of Little Mermaid, among others. As Rings of Power actor Lenny Henry says, “purists can accept elves [and mermaids, it seems], but not Black actors.” In almost all of these cases, the attacks have been followed by official statements of support for the actors by the (white) lead actors and/or creators, often leading to vitriol coming their way too.

 Of course, there is considerable overlap between these experiences and the racist attacks targeted at Meghan Markle that led to her and her husband Prince Harry choosing to leave their duties as members of the royal family – the closest thing to a real-life fantasy world. This targeting of Meghan has been evident again this past week – by some members of the media and of the public – following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Again, Harry, in the position of privilege rather than persecution, has stood by her throughout, and openly shares regrets about not standing up for her sooner before seeing the full impact on her mental health. But of course he has been subject to his own attacks as a “betrayer” of the royal family for choosing to be with her and to leave his royal obligations.

So what does this all have to do with your work this week? In all the cases above, the stories in each world (including the royal family) have historically centered whiteness and white narratives. This may not be as explicit in your workplace, but consider that there’s a non-zero chance that whiteness is centered and implicitly valued more than the experiences of people of color. If your organization is large enough to have DEI initiatives and a commitment to living out anti-racism, you are hopefully seeing some change and progress. But perhaps your organization is smaller, or maybe you are simply left wondering what you can personally do beyond systemic change.

This Week’s Tip:

Consider that there’s a non-zero chance that whiteness is centered and implicitly valued more than the experiences of people of color in your organization… And if this were the case, what actions could you take?

  1. Join an identity-based affinity groupMany larger organizations have groups based around issues of identity. If your organization has one that feels like a fit for you (or more than one based on different aspects of your identity), try joining for a session or a fixed period of time. If you identify as white, you may not find a group labeled as such at your company – if that’s the case, look outside your workplace! Affinity groups might be available through your local government, library, or faith organization. Our friends at Seven Stones Leadership also offer an annual online course focused on healing collective trauma around race, with one cohort for people of color and one for white people, for which I serve on the faculty – join us!
  2. Develop practices that embody anti-racism. If you’re reading this post, chances are this concept isn’t new to you. If you’re not sure where to start, though, check out the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s resource page and/or read Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to be an Antiracist.
  3. Audit your own media input and your reactions to it. Take stock of the books you read, the movies and shows you watch, and music and audio you listen to. Be intentional about taking in creative work from different cultures than your own. Be willing to be challenged and to be uncomfortable as you engage.
  4. Pay attention to the narratives that are centered in the workplace. Whose experiences are valued and talked about most in your workplace? How could you hear more from the narratives that aren’t centered? Ask “what perspectives could we be missing here?”
  5. Reflect on what you learn about yourself as you go. If you find yourself challenged, push into that, and have conversations with people you trust. And share what you learn about yourself too! In the workplace, find safe ways for colleagues to share the narratives they’ve taken in recently, and what they’re learning about themselves as a result.

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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