Some terms simply don’t communicate well from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
This is the unfortunate case for British actor Benedict Cumberbatch who used the term ‘colored’ (or ‘coloured,’ technically) to refer to black actors. In the United Kingdom, it remains more acceptable to refer to darker-skinned peoples as colored whereas in the United States the term holds a deeply-rooted and hateful connotation.
Cumberbatch, who is a fairly eloquent man, clearly wasn’t aware of the rift in English dialects when he appeared on PBS’ The Tavis Smiley Show and made the following statement (to a black host, nonetheless),
I think as far as coloured actors go, it gets really difficult in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the US] than in the UK, and that’s something that needs to change.
Clearly, Cumberbatch was not trying to be offensive while making his statement, which shows that he stands in solidarity with minority actors who may have a harder time getting meaningful roles. Still, Ben took a beating from critics and those who were quick to point out his ‘racist’ remark.
But just as most Americans would be confused about, say, the lift in their flat, or the correct usage of fanny and pants, so Cumberbatch was unaware of the harmful nuance of colored. Shortly after the event, he issued the following apology,
Im devastated to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done.
Now that’s a good chap! In 2013, Cumberbatch received recognition for his performance in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Historically, Cumberbatch’s family were slave owners, yet we think it’s pretty safe to say that the actor, who is rapidly turning into Hollywood’s darling, holds none of the social or racist beliefs of his ancestors.
Soon everyone on TV will either be on a Shonda Rhimes show or be Benedict Cumberbatch.
Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) January 27, 2015
Did the British actor know he was using a hateful term? Read his apology statement here…