It’s 2018, but blackface-esque performance is still alive and well in the entertainment biz. In this case, a white star from Netflix’s new Spy Kids: Mission Critical is saying it’s totally cool that he voices a black character because he’s “urban.”
TMZ caught the 30-year-old actor Travis Turner on Tuesday night and asked him if he’s afraid of any backlash related to the fact that he voices a black boy named PSI in the show, which debuts its first season on Friday. “If they want they can say whatever,” he responded. “I actually come from an urban background. I lived in motels. What I’m trying to say, I relate to the urban community.”
He went on to explain that he “sponsors black kids” and has rapped alongside black artists like Snoop Dogg. That clearly makes it okay for him to portray a black kid on a tv show right? Wrong. There are no credentials that a white person can have that will make them qualified to inhabit a black character. His comments not only are totally non sequitur but also imply that in order to be black, you need to be poor and able to rap. Neither of those things define or are exclusive to the black community.
He goes on to blame social media for the current division in the country, saying that comedians joking about race can’t even perform at college campuses anymore, but this also completely fails to acknowledge the dark history of race-related “comedy” coming from the white stars of yesteryear. Perhaps he doesn’t know this, as a Canadian, but blackface has a long and dehumanizing history in American entertainment of creating and promoting negative stereotypes of the black community, often portraying black people as lazy or aggressive and stripping them of any complexities. In fact, much of America's early minstrelsy came in the form of cartoons.
Turner's comments harken to the sneaky type of digital blackface that is pervasive on so many internet platforms today. Just because the character is not painted in a negative light doesn’t make it okay. Even though Turner isn’t slapping black paint on his face and eating watermelon, voicing a black character is simply not his lane to occupy.