by Jahlani Smothers-Pugh
Dear Aziz Ansari,
I heard what you said on Master of None. When I first saw you get dragged on Tumblr for being anti-Black, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I watched the Indians on TV episode for myself, hoping to see if your character’s harmful words had been taken out of context. They weren’t.
Frustrated by the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood, your character Dev lashed out at Black and gay people. He said, “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.” Not only was this ignorant, but specifically I want to call attention to how it was anti-Black (and homophobic, but that’s for another article).
That entire scene you wrote between Denise, Dev, and Brian Cheng was really telling of how out of touch you are with Blackness, and the ways you perpetuate anti-Blackness as a non-Black person of color. After the brouhaha moment, Dev continued to defend his anti-Black position, “I mean, 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.”
While the struggles of Black folks are front and center, it doesn’t mean anything is actually getting better. Look at the types of representation Black people have in Hollywood. Think about why the media is still writing and casting dehumanizing anti-Black stereotypes. Think about why the media still uses colorblind language that perpetuates white supremacy.
Just because news stations are flashing our dead Black bodies across TV and computer screens around the nation, and Paula Deen fakes an apology to keep her brand, does not mean we’re achieving justice – it just means we are visible. But hypervisibility means nothing when Black folks continue to be persecuted and slaughtered in the streets without justice.
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When Denise pointed out that Paula Deen’s apology was insincere, your character shut her down and made it about your own community’s lack of visibility, as if it is Black people’s fault or responsibility. Dev continued, “We don’t have a person like that (Al Sharpton). Like, who are you supposed to meet with? Deepak Chopra? The Indian dude from No Doubt?”
Framing the conversation as if Black representation is in opposition to South Asian representation stifled what could have been a valuable discussion. You shut down an opportunity for dialogue. You could have scripted a nuanced response. Instead, you scripted Denise to reply, “Who’s my girl? Like, Oprah? Or Beyoncé? Oh, shit, I got the heavy hitters. Nevermind.” That final “nevermind” took space away from Denise, who could have offered a rebuttal to your character’s anti-Black racism.
Ultimately, this episode showed audiences that you think that it is acceptable to be anti-Black. In your script writing process, you failed to consider the potential impacts this scene could have on PoC audiences, especially for Black queer woman like Denise, when this happens in real life.
The whole time I was watching, I was reminded of last December when I, a queer Black Muslim woman, got shut down by non-Black POC after of a #BlackLivesMatter protest. For 45 minutes, protestors at my school managed to shut down an entire traffic intersection. After the protest, I went to eat with some friends to discuss how to further effect change our campus and in the world. One of my South Asian friends, who wasn’t even at the protest, questioned the format of our protest, suggesting that it was the wrong approach. Another non-Black Arab friend, while wearing a Palestinian resistance shirt, said it was wrong of us to disturb people by blocking traffic. When I told them how wrong they were, they just spoke over me until I was silenced.
Imagine, I was just in the middle of an intersection asking for the world to see Black lives as human and, in response, I was interrogated by so-called allies. I left feeling unheard, ignored, and ostracized. Ever since that day, I have noticed how quickly non-Black people of color shut down Black people and avoid taking responsibility for upholding white supremacy through their anti-Blackness.
I am used to the media’s constant barrage against Black people, but for some reason Aziz, I expected better from you and Alan Yang (the other writer of this episode). I assumed you were growing more aware of the impacts of white supremacy, especially after you commented on Rupert Murdoch’s Islamophobia and the murder of Sandra Bland.
But maybe, Aziz, you aren’t aware of how white supremacy—the same white supremacy that makes your people invisible—relies specifically upon anti-Blackness to function. Scot Nakagawa’s Blackness is the Fulcrum notes that anti-Black racism is at the fulcrum, or center, of white supremacy.
The idea is that white supremacy stays in power by resting upon anti-Black racism. So when you, and other anti-Black people of color, throw Black folks under the bus, you are upholding anti-Blackness which then contributes to white supremacy. Maybe you don’t see it, but fighting anti-Blackness is central to breaking down white supremacy to the benefit of all people of color.
People of color can be anti-Black in many ways, both consciously and unconsciously, through tools such as the Model Minority Myth and respectability politics. Even though they can never become white, some people of color think that by alienating and dehumanizing Black folks they can get closer to whiteness and privilege. This is not only detrimental to Black folks but, by the fulcrum model, detrimental to non-Black people of color as well.
Do better, Aziz. Instead of contributing to anti-Blackness, you could be doing something to change it. Especially with the visible platform that you have. Aziz, you have an opportunity to make a large-scale impact in the way PoC treat each other. Continuing to be anti-Black will just boost white supremacy as it continues to oppress you and your community.
But go ‘head. Laugh. Tell your jokes. Speak in my language (who says ‘holla’ anymore bruh?) while you profit from my people’s struggles.
If you are really invested in changing systems of oppression for people of color, I invite you to stand in true solidarity with Black folks. I would like to see you try to do something about the anti-Blackness in this world and the media industry. You can start by checking yourself.
Jahlani is a struggling fat bisexual Black AfroLatinx Muslim student. Yeah, she knows it’s a mouthful but it’s her identity so she cherishes it and snuggles with it at night. In her free time when she’s not working hard, she enjoys binge-watching her shows on Netflix, twerking, and you know, just chillin fam. You can find her @jahstme over on twitter and @jahstmequeen on IG.
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Black Girl Dangerous On Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie.