“This Is Us” actor Lonnie Chavis has written a powerful and emotional essay detailing what it’s like to be black in America in 2020.
Chavis plays young Randall Pearson, an African American boy adopted by a white family who struggles with understanding himself on the NBC series.
In an essay for People magazine, the 12-year-old touched upon racist behavior that he’s encountered in his daily life, especially being a young actor in Hollywood.
"My life matters, but does it?" he boldly asks in the opening statement.
"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,” he continued.
Around that age, he remembers his parents having “long talks” with him and showing him movies like “Malcolm X” to further the conversation.
He noted the lack of diversity in Hollywood and on film sets, and recalled “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.”
He pointed out that he’s even mistaken by fans who ask if he’s the actor from "Black-ish" or "Stranger Things."
"I guess we all look alike since we are all Black," he wrote. "Can you imagine being confused for any other Black kid just because you all share the same profession? I can."
Chavis said his real-life experience led to an authentic reaction while filming a scene where a racist grandmother was mean to his character. Tears streamed down his face despite being told he didn’t have to cry for the scene.
"I was crying for me. Can you imagine having to explain to a room full of white people why I couldn’t hold back my real tears while experiencing the pain of racism? I can,” he added.
One time, he recalled being profiled at a San Diego restaurant and accused of trying to steal tips by a young white girl. He said the only reason police weren’t called was because a fan recognized him and told the manager that he was a professional actor.
“My mother never played the “he’s an actor” card. She definitely knew and argued that we were being targeted merely because we were a group of young Black children. Can you imagine someone thinking you are a thief just because of the color of your skin? I can,” he wrote.
Chavis described two other instances in which “all Blackness could be perceived as a threat in America.”
In one situation, his mother was pulled over leaving the Paramount lot in a brand new BMW. Chavis noted the cop asked “whose car is this” and held a gun pointed at his mother while she retrieved proof of ownership.
On his 10th birthday, he watched as “a Long Beach police officer twisted my dad’s arm behind his back and pulled him from our doorstep with the door opened, claiming he was being detained for a traffic ticket.”
He recalled hiding with his brother after his mother warned them not to come to the door no matter what they heard.
"I thought my parents were for sure going to die going up against the police," he wrote. "By the grace of God, they are both still with me, and that racially motivated harassment against my father was dismissed. Can you imagine holding on to your three little brothers while thinking that you are all going to be orphans? I can,” he wrote.
He wrapped up his poignant piece directly addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that stemmed from the tragic death of George Floyd while in police custody.
“If you don’t understand what’s going on in the world, then understand this: This is what the world looks like for me. A 12-year-old Black boy. 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. 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,” Chavis concluded.
The Emmy-winning actor is an outspoken activist who started the anti-bullying campaign #FixYourHeart after being bullied for having a gap in his teeth.