M. Usama Khawar |
Brown comedians in the United States are no longer conforming to the traditional white-comedian style of performance. Instead, they are wearing their cultural origins proudly and have become symbols in popular culture for the brown immigrants present there by bringing to light the issues they face. This move, in my opinion, is part of America’s wider trend of rejecting cultural oneness in recent decades.
The cultural foundation of the American dream was once thought to be its support of homogeneity, or, the insistence on creating one shared culture. The metaphor used in the case is The Melting Pot hypothesis, which means that all the various immigrant cultures integrated and created one shared way of living and being. A more extreme example of this sort of behavior is visible in France, where homogeneity is idolized to the extent that formal laws have come into place such as the Hijab ban. Similarly, it is also noticeable that the French minimize their use of other languages such as English with foreigners even if they are sufficiently able to speak them.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have multiculturalism which promotes the coexistence of various cultures in common geographic locations. This sort of heterogeneity calls for the various cultural identities to be preserved, rather than assimilate into the dominant ideology. These ethnic and religious groups require some sort of cultural similarities to hold them together and among other things, popular culture figures such as Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minhaj, and Kumail Nanjiani are serving just that purpose along with an added benefit of promoting their heritage to other identity groups.
The funny brown guys:
On the popular web series released on Netflix, Master of None explores the endeavors of Dev Shah (played by Aziz Ansari) in the United States as a second generation immigrant. The show portrays the nuances of life including the experiences of specifically brown immigrants. The show has been especially important because it shows the identity crises brown individuals go through when trying to make a living especially in a field like acting where one’s race can act as a major impediment to their prospects.
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“If I do a show with two Indian guys on the poster, everyone’s gonna think it’s an Indian show. It wouldn’t be as relatable to a large, mainstream audience” Dev Shah (Aziz) is told by a T.V executive in Master of None
Similarly, Kumail Nanjiani is a Karachi based comedian and actor who has made it quite big in showbiz in the States especially with his role as Dinesh in the HBO sit-com Silicon Valley. Since so many brown individuals are moving towards the tech industry, he has connected with many issues brown men may face in start-ups. He also has talked widely in various interviews about the struggles and sentiments of being a first generation immigrant trying to be understood and making it big in the West. His latest movie, The Big Sick, is based on a story slightly based on his own experience getting married to a white woman.
Another such example would be the standup comedian Hasan Minhaj, who recently published a stand-up comedy film Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King. The film, which aired on Netflix, truly portrays the struggles of an immigrant Muslim family trying to live in post-9/11 America. Other issues dealt by the film were about the sort of racism he had to endure in getting a date to the prom.
“But for me, i was born here. so,i actually have the audacity of equality” Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King
What links them together:
The essential similarity between all three artists mentioned above is that all of them appeal to brown immigrants (whether first, or second generation). Their motivation is the fact that the United States, despite its boasting of a love for diversity continues to impose systematic and individual acts of racism. In recent years these sorts of problems have become more difficult to endure because of the added complexities of increased nationalism and Islamophobia.
The effect of these artists has not only been an accurate portrayal of these issues but more importantly, they have become cultural icons for the brown immigrant community present there. By watching these individuals perform, the community can relate to the problems shown and feel less alone about them.
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Secondly, there has also been a positive effect on the non-brown viewers of these shows and interviews because they are being subjected to more diversity. Racism tends to be garnered by xenophobia, or the fear of the other. By showing that brown immigrants, are, just like them, humans trying to find a better life, it increases their awareness of the issues immigrants face. Most importantly, it starts a conversation about these issues. When Dev Shah is given roles that are meant to fit the color of his skin in auditions in Master of None, it brings to light the difficulty minority ethnicity-members face in getting good roles in Hollywood.
The reason why multiculturalism is important for this sort of conversation is because, issues of systematic racism operate in such a manner that it is difficult to put a finger on them when everyone is living as a homogeneous community. Homogeneity is a good ideal, but it blocks out the fact that on an individual level racism persists, and it transparently acts as a system of oppression. Creating a separate identity group creates the possibility of them coming to the understanding of the collective issues faced by them.
Aziz Ansari, Hasan Minhaj, and Kumail Nanjiani are just some of the cultural icons promoting this sort of discourse and bringing the brown community in America together – all while being hilarious.
M. Usama Khawar is an undergraduate student currently pursuing a degree in the Social Sciences from The Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. His writing interests are vast, ranging from culture to philosophy to psychology.