Doctor Who, a racist old codger? That was the last thing excited Whovians expected to witness as they sat with their Tardis T-shirts on the end of their sofas, their Nintendos tucked away for an hour, ready to watch the sixth episode of the eighth season last Saturday, 27 September, 2014. What is usually an hour of weirdness, action, and hope for ultimate justice in a bleak world came to a screeching halt when The Doctor suddenly uttered a seemingly racist line that left many of us questioning.
The Doctor, in “deep cover” and in a particularly cranky Scottish regeneration, was shooing away a curious child*(see end for spoilers/more info re: this “curious child”) from his Tardis, when he said to her:
“Off you go. Haven’t you got shoplifting to do?”
Upon which, a collective GASP came from every single audience member who has any shred of awareness of what it feels like to NOT be white.
Oh, Doctor: Et tu?
Or more accurately: WTF? Racist? YOU?
Is Doctor Who racist?
I’m asking something even deeper:
Do we get to ask?
Ok: we get to ASK, but do we really want to be able to CONTROL what artists like Moffat deliver to us simply by bitching? Because if we do, we might as well forsake quality shows like Sherlock, or Doctor Who, and turn to drivel like the Disney monolith delivers:
The entertainment version of chicken nuggets, all of it the same, focus-grouped and sanitized, and in the end, so homogenized – and Disney such a hegemony – that DISNEY tells YOU what you like. You like what Disney gives you, because it gives it to you right out of the womb, like milk. I see no similar outcry over the dearth of people of color in Disney. Hey: we’ve got our token Mulan, our token Tiana, from the Princess and the Frog.
So WHAT Moffat’s record overwhelms a self-serving, racist, “zip a dee doo dah” outfit like Disney’s?
Doctor Who can actually stand on a long-time, solid record of showing us people of color in fleshed-out characters who are companions, who are put in roles that could be white or black or Asian or anything – but Moffat either chooses the best actor, or makes a point of GETTING people of color onscreen.
Actors of color have complained for decades – among other complaints – that the only roles they are even CONSIDERED for are those written SPECIFICALLY for them. Moffat avoids this, and has since the start. Consistently he chooses actors to play roles that could be filled by ANYONE.
For example, in Fear Her, the eleventh episode of the second season, The Doctor battles an alien trapped in the body of a little girl, played by Abisola Agbaje. Her mother is played by Nina Sosanya. These two actresses both appeared in Love, Actually, and deliver brilliant performances in this terrifying episode, set in the background of the London Olympic games.
Despite the CVs of these actresses, I haven’t seen them in many other series besides Moffats. Have YOU?
So why the outrage over THIS Doctor’s admittedly callous statement?
Because it IS a callous statement? Because he said it to a black child?
The British Are STILL Carrying the Racist White Man’s Burden.
Let us not, readers in America, give Britain the benefit of the doubt. People in Britain are JUST as bigoted as people in the US. In London, you’ll find the place festooned with racist graffiti; there’s a HUGE outspoken section of Brits who still yearn for the old days of the “Empire,” and traces of the attitude of “the white man’s burden” linger.
What it means to be a “proper British subject” doesn’t usually include people of color. This is a country with a national religion, remember – and incestuous overlords.
All this, mind you, coming from a person who LOVES England. Who’s been there, has family there, who KNOWS the place. OK?
So: Moffat is operating NOT in a country aglow with enlightenment; Great Britain is perhaps even MORE virulently racist than America: because THEIR xenophobia extends to ANYONE, basically, who isn’t British.
These pictures, by the way, are from London – you can imagine what it must be like as one heads into LESS metropolitan areas.
Also, Moffat is Scottish. If you don’t know? Being Scottish in a rigidly class-conscious place like England is like being … well?
Grateful you’re not Irish.
Which explains, if you’ve ever met a Scot here in America, why they don’t SMILE if you mistake them for Irish.
So if Moffat’s Doctor Who is doing, overall, a good job under extremely difficult circumstances, why is this ONE LINE so troubling?
Does it matter? Should it matter? Do we, as viewers, have the right to pick on Moffat for his choices?
It does matter.
Still, while every artist makes choices they NEED to make: for instance, it’s up to Moffat to choose which Doctor inspires him to write the best stories, whether that Doctor is black, white, a black ginger-haired zebra, or a mute unicycle from Mars, if Moffat is smart, he’ll ignore any and all whining on the part of fans.
But THIS line? This ONE line?
Matters. It matters, because it matters to two extremely important groups of people Moffat, both as an artist, and as clearly shown by his body of work, as an ethical person, cares about.
Lines like this have the misfortune of being interpreted, twisted, and used by racists, and they also strike fear into the heart of the oppressed – for that very reason.
Racists: “See? Even Doctor Who thinks this.”
Meanwhile, in America – and clearly, in Britain – every single black man, every time they walk outside their door, walks outside with a bullseye on their back, or so it feels.
Every mother of every son these days cannot possibly be asked to keep one hundred percent of her attention on anything, because some part of her heart, some part of her mind, will always be with her son, wherever he is.
“Is he home yet? Is he safe? Is MY son the unlucky one today?”
White mothers who possess ANY awareness, any compassion at all, should not be able to shake the sorrow from their souls for their sisters, who remain devastated by loss, long after the murders fade from the news.
Are we oversensitive, that we cringe over a single line in a body of work that spans almost a decade? That within that decade, has much to offer children, showing faces they can recognize and aspire to be like?
So what? There IS no oversensitive when lives are at stake.
There is no oversensitive when your ears become finely tuned to the sound of car doors locking when you walk by. When you are always alert for the sound of “hands up.” When you know – not simply suspect, but KNOW – that at any day, any moment, like a scratch-off lottery ticket, you might just be the back that takes a bullet.
Not because you committed a crime. Because your APPEARANCE inspired fear.
One line, in one show? Matters.
One line in one show plus one wall of graffiti plus hundreds of years of racism to peel back….
Any step that does NOT pull us forward SHOVES us back.
So yeah. It matters. A LOT.
Doctor Who may not be racist – but after a millennium or two, he REALLY ought to have his shit together better.
 SPOILER ALERT:
This curious child (Ellis George) will be featured in “Kill The Moon,” 4 October, 2014 – yet another black actor to fill a juicy role in Doctor Who.