Paterson Joseph Says ‘Racism Is A Strange Mental Illness’

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on : 28 Aug 2021 16:48
Paterson Joseph Says 'Racism Is A Strange Mental Illness'PA/Channel 4

Peep Show star Paterson Joseph, who played Mark’s sociopathic boss, has spoken out about how he views racism as a ‘strange mental illness’. 

Joseph, known for his roles both in comedic series Peep Show and American supernatural mystery drama The Leftovers, also spoke about his experiences growing up as a Black actor.


He detailed ‘traumatising’ experiences at school, being warned prior to attending drama school about what roles he would receive, and also how complex it feels to get into the mentality of a racist for a role, suggesting that racism is ‘a strange mental illness’.

Paterson Joseph arriving at the 2014 Arqiva British Academy Television Awards at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. -Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick/Empics EntertainmentPA

Last year, Joseph took on the role of home secretary Kamal Hadley in the BBC series Noughts + Crosses. Based on Malorie Blackman’s young-adult novels, the drama was set in an alternative history, in which Black people rule over white people. In the series, Joseph’s character Hadley is severely racist, going so far as to try and seek even worse treatment of white people.

Speaking of how he approached the role, Joseph told The Independent how ‘extraordinary’ it was to have to treat the character as if he were like any other and subsequently make him ‘human’. He questioned: ‘So how do I play a racist?’


Joseph went on to explain what was so ‘difficult’ about the portrayal, detailing how: ‘People who are racist, they love, they laugh, they are committed to their family and their friends. They’re human beings. […] They’ve got a mental block. They’ve been conditioned.’

Joseph said racism can be linked to power, though it’s not straightforward. He notes how, while CEO’s who don’t hire black people may not use racial slurs, they will have ‘the attitude’.

As for politicians, Joseph said:


It only takes someone who’s never said the N-word going, ‘Well it’s all these foreign people…’ and people go, ‘Yeah, it’s that guy from the corner that’s to blame’. And then you’ll get the spitting and the abuse.

He added that ‘racism is a strange mental illness where you look at somebody and say, ‘I hate you because of the colour of your skin’.’

Since his role in Peep Show, Joseph has appeared in multiple television programmes, such as Law and Order and Timeless. In 2018, he wrote and performed a one-man play, titled Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. 


He wrote the play after becoming frustrated over the lack of Black actors being featured in period dramas. However, the performance soon took on more significance following the Windrush scandal. The play told the story of Charles Ignatius Sancho, born in the 18th century on a slave ship. Sancho became a composer, actor and anti-slavery campaigner.

Joseph also has a book coming out about the figure next year, viewing similarities between himself and the figure due to warnings he received from his sister when he was younger, as to whether he would ever be able to make it as an actor.

Prior to attending drama school, Joseph noted how his sister had warned him that he would only ever play the roles of slaves and servants. While his sister has been proven wrong in light of his career, Joseph suggested she was cynical for a reason.


Joseph went on to reference how only five black people have played lead characters at the Royal Shakespeare Company, however he noted progress being made, such as I May Destroy You‘s Paapa Essiedu being cast as Hamlet.

‘We make it incrementally, but we make it relentless persistence, and by putting ourselves about. So that’s what we’re doing,’ Joseph concluded.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk.

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The Independent
  1. The Independent

    Paterson Joseph: ‘Racism is a strange mental illness’