When Are Negative Stereotypes About My Community Justified?

Are negative stereotypes acceptable if one of mine is doing the stereotyping? 

April 18, 2018

I’m generally not a big stand-up comedy fan, but I liked Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King so much I watched it twice. His painful/funny stories of going to school “with a bunch of Ryan Lochte’s,” and wanting to be white so badly that he distanced himself from his own sister at school, rang deeply true for me.

But there was one part of Minhaj’s Netflix special that didn’t go down so easily. He’s talking about misbehaving as a kid at the grocery store, and he says: “And then my dad would do what most brown parents do to this day. He’d check to see if the coast is clear, and then slap the shit out of me.”

He went on to assure the audience that brown immigrants beat their children differently than white Americans do – they hit you across the face with the purpose of bruising your soul.

Hasan Minhaj is an Indian American Muslim progressive storyteller. He and I have a lot in common. But I don’t know why he said the thing about brown immigrants hitting their kids, and why he said it in a way that suggested it should be acceptable, that it was part of "brown immigrant" culture (think about how many different ethnicities and religions that encompasses) and that you should laugh at it rather than report it as child abuse.

I don’t hit my kids. My parents, with rare rare exception, did not hit me – certainly not across the face in the aisle of a grocery store. My wife, also an Indian Muslim American child of immigrants, was not hit growing up. Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian and one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, preached nonviolence in everything from personal relationships to social movements. How is it somehow part of Indian culture to beat your kids?

I would be livid if a white public figure said that brown immigrants hit their kids with the purpose of bruising their souls. Should I be any less livid about Hasan Minhaj (whose work I generally find hilarious and insightful) saying that simply because he shares my skin color, country of origin, religion and politics? Does the stage of comedy make it more acceptable? What if it was a white comic making that joke on that stage? 

Why was the audience, so many of them the children of ‘brown immigrants’, clapping?


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