This Is Us actor Lonnie Chavis, who is 12, penned an essay describing a litany of experiences of racism he’s faced in Hollywood and elsewhere as a young black boy in America.
“My life matters, but does it?” Chavis begins the essay, which he reportedly wrote as a letter to his mother but ended up publishing it in People. “America paints a very clear picture of how I should view myself. America shows me that my Blackness is a threat, and I am treated as such. I actually didn’t learn about being Black and what that would mean for me until I was 7 years old.”
At seven years old, Chavis — who plays nine-year-old Randall Pearson on the NBC series — says his parents began educating him “about being black and what that would mean for me” through discussions and watching films such as Malcolm X (1992).
He recalled one experience where he says he was “racially profiled” at a restaurant in San Diego restaurant when he and his friends were accused of stealing tips in front of his parents. “Can you imagine someone thinking you are a thief just because of the color of your skin?” Chavis wrote. “At this point, I knew by experience that this nation will never take it easy on me and that all Blackness could be perceived as a threat in America.”
Chavis also recalled an incident when he and his mother were stopped by a white police officer while driving in a brand new BMW nearby Paramount Studios, where filming for This Is Us takes place. “The white cop approached my mother’s window and asked her, ‘Whose car is this?’ — not about her license and registration, or even why he pulled us over,” he explained. “My mom was guilty of driving while Black.”
The 12-year-old also claimed that despite his young age, he has also experienced racism playing out in Hollywood, repeatedly being mistaken for Stranger Things‘ star Caleb McLoughlin and only allowed past security when with a publicist.
I can recall the time when I realized there are not a lot of people that look like me on these Hollywood sets and asked my mom where all the Black people were. I also remember being invited to events but then being treated very poorly by security or entrance checkers, like I wasn’t supposed to be there, until I had a publicist to announce me.
I think of going to Hollywood events with other actors and actresses where I was constantly asked if I’m the boy from Black-ish or the boy from Stranger Things. I guess we all look alike since we are all Black. Can you imagine being confused for any other Black kid just because you all share the same profession? I can.
The child actor, who has previously spoken out against bullying, concluded by making a rallying cry in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has swept the United States and other parts of the world over the past month following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
“This is my America. Policies need to change, laws need to change, the police need to change, Hollywood needs to change, hearts need to change, America needs to change,” Chavis wrote. “Change has got to happen for unarmed Black citizens to not live in fear of being murdered. Can you imagine being me in 2020 and wondering what the future holds? I can’t.”