As a lover of comedy and a sometime dabbler, the past few years have given me a new hero: Aziz Ansari. In addition to emerging as an influential feminist, Mr. Ansari has made a name for himself one of the country most prolific comedians- having produced four stand-up specials, co-authored the book Modern Romance with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, starred in the majorly successful Parks and Recreation while accepting roles in other television shows and films, and created and starred in the Netflix Original Series Master of None in just the past few years.
Master of None is my focus here. In this post, I would like to discuss my strong disagreement with an article written in response to a raced-based episode of the show. In the episode, Aziz Ansari’s character Dev, struggling actor, is not given a role he deserves based on his race. We as viewers know that he deserved the role and that race is the reason he did not get it because an email chain from the casting officials was accidentally sent to him. The conversation in the emails included acknowledgement that he and another Indian actor had given the best auditions by far for their respective characters, but that they could not both be cast because two Indians was too many. The email chain went on to make several racial jokes about Dev and his peer.
Dev’s friends urge him to make this public, saying it will destroy the producer’s reputation. Dev feels that this plan is hopeless, saying, “People don’t get that fired up about racist Asian or Indian stuff. I feel like you only risk starting a brouhaha if you say something bad about black people or gay people.” The conversation, a joke-filled one, goes on to include his assertion that “If Paula Deen had said, ‘I don’t want to serve Indian people,’ no one would really care. They’d just go back to eating the biscuits.”
The response article I read about this scene, posted on Black Girl Dangerous, calls Ansari an “anti-black person of color.” Dev “lashed out at black and gay people” according to the writer. The scene is wholly anti-black, in this writer’s opinion.
I don’t quite understand where the article’s hostility towards Ansari comes from. It’s not even that I want to defend him by saying “it’s just a joke.” I actually just think that Ansari is right. Do Indian-Americans receive the same amount of representation when they are victimized by discrimination as black Americans do? I don’t think so. I can’t think of a single instance in which a media “brouhaha” in Dev’s words, was made over prejudice against Indian Americans. “That’s just the availability heuristic talking” I hear someone saying. I actually said the same thing to myself, until I realized that that actually proves my point, and Ansari’s. Uproars over anti-black prejudice do in fact seem to be far more available.
Ansari isn’t trying to say that black Americans are getting too much attention. He isn’t even trying to make a big point about the lack of attention paid to Indian Americans. The rest of the episode doesn’t focus on this comparison. The topic chalks up to one comedic conversation set in a bar. So I think this article is too intense about a handful of lines that take up very little space. But more to the point of whether the article’s claim holds water: is expressing a belief that among people of color, victimized black Americans receive more spotlight than victimized Indian Americans an “anti-black” thing to do?
3 thoughts on “Is Acknowledging Differential Media Treatment of Black Americans and Other Minorities “Anti-Black”?”
Part of the reason I think people that are Black and/or gay have louder voices when it comes to racial clashes in America is that what they have been fight for has stretched much longer than that of different races have experienced. Our country has perpetuated the violent dehumanization of Black people, and gays have also had their own forms of violent, systemic bigotry (e.g. conversion therapy). This is not to say that Asian Americans and Indian Americans have not also experienced racism, and I am not in any way trying to belittle their experiences of such instances, however the struggle for equal rights for those two groups is one that has been going on for the past 50 years with little progress made in comparison to the progress that is still to come. Yes, I agree that the problem of racism and prejudice of this nature is all encompassing and what we should all be fighting for, and no, I don’t see what he said as anti-Black, yet I can also see how the author of the article felt Ansari crossed a line.
I think that representation and lack thereof is really interesting here. Whether Ansari wanted to make a big deal out of the lack of attention paid to Indian Americans, the result is the same. I definitely disagree with the article stating that Ansari is “anti-Black”. I do think that Ansari purposefully tried to call out lack of representation of other marginalized identities that aren’t Black or gay. The comments made in the show were probably more of a direct comment on the media’s selection of what to talk about and what not to. I’m not sure whether I think his comment could be taken as a joke but I also have not seen the show and so I can’t necessarily speak to the effectiveness of the comedic aspect.
This conversation also reminds me of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the reactive All Lives Matter “movement”. We (hopefully) all agree that all lives matter but the Black Lives Matter movement is getting at something very specific. They are trying to call attention to the oppression that Black people face. Other people of color may face similar or disparaging oppression that of course deserves attention, but possibly in their own light. Interestingly, I wonder if the author of that article would claim that people who support All Lives Matter would also be anti-Black for trying to support all identities. I think the big point here is that egalitarian views are not anti-Black. There are ways to support all oppressed groups of people without diminishing the movements that are getting the most representation.
What an interesting story! I think that the key here has to do with justification of the individuals experience. For example, to deny the cries of Black people today would be completely wrong and ignorant. There has been attention at the forefront of a lot of news about explicit and implicit racism intersecting with the lives of Black individuals in our country. They are a group that are being particularly ostracized and it is finally being noticed by more than just the Black people who’s voices are being silences. However, to that same comment, who are we to un-justify the experiences of any other oppressed groups? If we are commenting that their experience is lower or has less value than Black peoples’ then we are just perpetuating the system of oppression and ignoring inter-sectionality all together.
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