The New Racism

Idris Elba as HeimdalFor starters, racism is real in today’s America. It exists. I’ve seen it.

Now I’ll go on to point out something I’m finding endlessly amusing.

Background is required. Several months ago, centering around the release of Avatar: The Last Air Bender, there was a great deal of discussion concerning the whitewashing of that film and whitewashing in general. Folks were angry that the producers of Avatar had cast white actors to play characters that most people would imagine as asian from the TV show and story. Great anger and acid accusations of racism were leveled at said producers. Much of the attention, I suspect, was paid because of M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement with the film.

I only heard about the uproar over Avatar because a friend of mine jumped in with both feet and shrieked in outrage with the best of them. Personally, I thought it was a molehill, but my apathy doesn’t, or shouldn’t, take away from the feelings of others on the matter.

Now enter the Thor film from Marvel Studios, and Idris Elba cast as Heimdall, a Norse deity. Again we have some folks getting a little upset over the casting. You see, Idris Elba is black, and most people would assume that Heimdall would be white, being Norse and all.

So, in one case we have whites being cast in roles that people imagine, reasonably, as asian and in the other we have a black man being cast in a role that people imagine, reasonably, as white. Same exact disconnect in both cases. The studios are clearly GETTING THE RACE WRONG when they’re choosing the actors to play these imaginary characters.

Cue the same uproar. The same bitter sarcasm. The same rage. … The crickets.

No one seems to care that a black man is playing the part of a norse god. I certainly don’t and I think the few people that do are racist, a bit nuts, and perhaps dangerously so.

Yet now we see, a little uncomfortably, that those who objected so loudly to the casting of Avatar share a slice of their root philosophy on race with these people.

You’re both racist. Deal with that and let’s all move on.

Bonus link: My friend Dan Wells has posted on this same topic over on his blog. As always he is erudite and fascinating.