Over the weekend, millions of fans settled in to watch the long-awaited second season of the Netflix’s grand slam hit, Stranger Things. While we were reacquainted with our old favorites such as Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Will, and Eleven, we were also introduced to the new kids on the block, including Eleven’s wise but vengeful older sister Kali and stepsiblings Max and Billy.
When we’re first introduced to Billy, we’re immediately led to believe that he’s a dick. He’s the typical high school cool kid, he’s kind of abusive towards his younger stepsister, and he uses his looks and wit to wreak havoc on the entire crew. But the way that Billy specifically targets Lucas in a very violent way out of all the kids in the party has a lot of people wondering if he’s racist:
When Billy first encounters Lucas interacting with Max, he’s watching them going back and forth a couple of feet away in the car. When he asks her what happened, he’s quick to be very aggressive about telling her to stay away from the kid. This is the only time throughout the entire season when Billy even pretends to care about his younger sister. As the episodes go on, Max goes to great lengths to protect Lucas from her brother, making sure Billy never sees them together. When the season finale finally rolls around, there’s a final standoff where Billy charges after Lucas, ignoring the rest of the boys in the crew and grabbing him by the neck in an effort to choke him out.
While Billy never actually said anything that cued he was targeting Lucas on the grounds of his race, racism doesn’t have to be explicit to be real. Much of the racism people of color experience violence on a regular basis comes in the form of microaggressions and silent racism, so it wouldn’t be surprising. The way that Billy behaves towards Lucas and gets away with “maybe he is, maybe he isn’t” is precisely how white supremacy typically prevails from the playground to the court room. So the question isn’t whether or not Billy was portrayed as racist (he is). It’s a matter of whether or not he was intended to be or if it’ll ever be addressed in the seasons to come.
The series hasn’t had a great history with addressing race or inclusion of diversity. No one even addressed the fact that Lucas is a Black kid with a Black family in the middle of bumblefuck Indiana until the second season. In episode two of the Beyond Stranger Things miniseries on Netflix, an interviewer asked the Duffy Brothers about the Ghostbusters Venkman versus Wilson scene and how that came about. This was an opportunity for the Duffy Brothers to talk about how it was about damn time someone acknowledged Lucas’ experience as “The Black Kid” in town, but instead they made a joke in defense of Wilson.
So will we ever get clarity on Billy’s deal with Lucas? Maybe in the seasons to come. But it’s not clear that the Duffy Brothers are willing to go down that road and do it right.