Indian-American comic uses humor to discuss equity, justice

By Alexander Best
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Hasan Minhaj prods as he entertains. Photo by Alexander Best

Hasan Minhaj prods as he entertains. Photo by Alexander Best

Less than 24 hours after Indian-American comedian and actor Hasan Minhaj joked and laughed through discussions of equity and justice at the SECU Arena, Towson University students gathered Wednesday to reflect on the meanings of the satire-filled monologue.

“Being able to have this discussion after hearing Hasan speak was really powerful,” said Abigail Braithwaite, who joined other students as they engaged in a thought-provoking discussion about immigration and the Trump administration’s plans to discontinue DACA.

“Even though our struggles are different, we’re really not that much different from each other,” said Braithwaite.

The gathering was called “AfterShow.”

Minhaj told an audience of about 300 students, staff and local residents Tuesday night that the path to navigating equity and justice begins with not being afraid to take risks.

“Speaking on social issues, especially in comedy, is really like walking on a tight rope with people in real time,” Minhaj said. “You’re making mistakes with people in real time.”

The comic gained notoriety following a recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where he took aim at President Donald Trump and his policies. He reiterated how pleased he is with the increased representation the Muslim and Indian community is getting within the media, but said there is room for improvement.

A first generation American, Minhaj comes from a Muslim family with origins from Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. His parents immigrated to Davis, California, where he was later born and raised. He described to the audience his experiences growing up as a Muslim in America, as well as the prejudices he faced because of his race and ethnicity. He also shared his observations of the current social climate in relation to islamophobia, xenophobia, and racial bias.

Minhaj described one specific situation where he was afraid to speak to his mother on an airline flight. He said he did not want to draw negative attention to his complexion.

“I couldn’t really say goodbye to her in my language, with everyone staring at me,” he said. “So I yelled ‘goodbye mother!’ and hung up and I felt so bad. It’s sad it has to be that way.”

Minhaj went a step further and drew comparisons between the marginalization of the Muslim and African-American communities, while discussing the intersectionality present between them.

“Muslim is the new Black in America, unless you’re Black and Muslim, if that’s you…oh boy, I’m so sorry,” Minhaj said, later adding. “I want to hear the voices of queer Muslims, or Black Muslims. There’re so many different voices [in the community] that need to be heard more often.”

The comic’s appearance was organized by Towson University’s Center for Student Diversity in collaboration with the Division of Student Affairs as a part of a Fall Diversity Speaker Series.
This fall marks the first year that a comedian has been included in the speaker series.

“During the speaker selection process, we look for personalities to present high profile issues of equity and justice,” said Brian Jara, associate director for Cultural Competency Education. “We felt this year it would be appropriate to invite a comedian because occasionally, it’s okay to use humor to educate.”

Jara noted Minhaj’s unique intersections of race, religion, and culture, as well as his current content in his previous work.

“Our hope is that people will be able to leave [the event] having learned something,” Jara said. “There will be something new for everybody.”

While a question and answer session followed Minhaj’s monologue Tuesday, for the first time, the Center of Student Diversity held its “After Show.” The series will provide a space for the TU community to come together and discuss what’s next after events, said Jara.

“It’s really exciting that our first After Show is following a speaker such as Minhaj,” Jara said. “We’ll be able to discuss how we can put the topics we heard into practice and brainstorm ways to apply that to the surrounding communities.”

1 Comment on Indian-American comic uses humor to discuss equity, justice

  1. Loved the story and perspective, Alex Best Well written!

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