A couple of think-pieces have emerged in the wake of Kumail Nanjani’s hit comedy “The Big Sick.” Tying it to Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” the thesis is that brown men idolize white women, all the while erasing brown women. Conservative websites like The Daily Caller have already jumped on these, asking, “oh who is against race-mixing now?”
As a man of Colombian and Indian descent, I immediately feel empathy for my brown comedian brothers. (These guys don’t know me nor will they ever know me I am a nobody). The pieces ask why there is a pattern of brown men writing about white women, and while they answer this question themselves, I'd like to offer a different perspective.
In my personal life I don't see much interracial marriage. My family in America is all Colombian, and by and large they married Colombians. No they didn’t marry Latinos - they married actual Colombians. And yes, they met here.
Growing up I went to a diverse high school in Queens, but it was pretty much the same. Black kids dated black kids, Indian kids dated Indian kids. Even among white people, the Italian kids stuck with their Italian clique and grew up to make beautiful families off their modest cop salaries.
However, when I started doing theater, I met a whole new group of people - and they were white. In high school, I was the only brown kid in the entire group. In college, it was the same. As the son of an interracial couple, it didn’t seem weird to me to date white people with whom I did theater or comedy. However, my family would often ask me when I was going to marry a Colombian woman. They’d ask me when I was going to start a business and leave the comedy stuff behind. It’s very difficult for immigrants who came to America and immediately moved up a few classes watch their progeny sorta meander around. It was me against what my family fantasized about me and all the while I’m surrounded by the whites. So when I watch Kumail and Aziz go through similar stuff, I empathize.
But something is still missing from the equation, isn't there? Even though I am a brown person who AGAINST THE ODDS became a featured extra on The President Show, I was still a man who got that opportunity through the freedom that comes with being a dude. In the Big Sick, Kumail is offered women, and I mean offered, who are seemingly trapped by their parents. It’s actually a little bit of a nightmare and probably the biggest part of the movie that needed a little bit more unpacking. How tough does Kumail have it living up to his parents' standards? Well at least he’s allowed to wear a t-shirt.
Now we got a couple brown guys with their own shit and they're writing about white women. I actually don't think this is a problem in and of itself, but I think you can make a case that it's endemic of the need to help brown and black women who are grossly underrepresented in the media into these comedy and theater spaces. This shit doesn’t happen overnight. You need rigorous training and years of experience before you can functionally tell your own story, and these women are not getting that. This is a cultural issue and that's plural: a culture that won’t let go of women, and on the other end, a culture that doesn’t embrace them.
Why do Kumail and Aziz write about white people? Because that's probably the only people they really hung out with during their formative years. Mindy Kaling did sketch comedy in Boston. She's not secretly battling Indian patriarchy by only casting white dudes - white dudes are just the only dudes she knows.
But at the end of the day these are brown people with their own shows and movies, and I feel like that is a step in the right direction. We can use them as allies and ask them to help better represent diversity. Labeling them as white idolizers is not only extreme but really doesn't offer a solution.
There's gotta be a solution, or else you too will be the Master...
(Please email all hate-mail to Kumail and Aziz's assistants, thank you.)