McLaughlin, 20, appeared at Heroes Comic Con in Brussels on Sunday and shared that he felt like he was being treated differently than his white costars — including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Sadie Sink and Noah Schnapp — going back to first-ever Comic-Con after the show's debut season.
"It definitely took a toll on me as a younger kid. My very first Comic-Con, some people wouldn't stand in my line because I was Black," McLaughlin said at the event, according to video of his appearance shared on Twitter by an audience member. "Some people told me 'Oh, I didn't want to be in your line because you were mean to Eleven.'"
"Even now, some people don't follow me or don't support me because I'm Black, you know," he added.
Though McLaughlin does have 15.4 million followers on Instagram, he is the least-followed on that platform of Stranger Things' six younger main cast members. (With 18.7 million followers, Matarazzo is McLaughlin's only immediate peer from the series whose following clocks in below 20 million.)
Speaking in Belgium on Sunday, McLaughlin said that "you feel the racism, you feel the bigotry" when he travels overseas as well.
"It's hard to talk about and for people to understand, but when I was younger it definitely affected me a lot," he acknowledged.
He continued, "You see, you're like, 'What? Like, this is a deep conversation right now — why am I the least favorite? Why [do I have] the least amount of followers? I'm on the same show as everyone else from season 1.'"
McLaughlin recalled, "My parents had to be like, 'It's a sad truth, but it's because you're the Black child on the show,' and I was like 'Wow, that's crazy.'"
Rather than let negative interactions dominate his experience on the show, McLaughlin chooses to "spread positivity and love."
"Because I was born with this beautiful chocolate skin, I'm not loved," he told the audience. "But that's why with my platform I want to spread positivity and love because I do not give hate back to people that give hate to me."
In August, Stranger Things' casting director Carmen Cuba called McLaughlin "fantastic" in a video interview for Vanity Fair as she recalled details about the series' casting and audition process.
"[Caleb is] somebody who'd been on Broadway, we knew he had experience, and he brought an energy that the other kids fed into," Cuba said in the video interview. "All of them together have a very distinct energy and personality that create this friend group, and we saw that immediately from his very first audition."
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Seasons 1–4 of Stranger Things can be streamed in full on Netflix.