It’s high time we give BIPOC artists a chance and cut comedians some slack.
In a now-infamous Sept. 15 New Yorker article—filled with the publication’s hallmark style of rhetorical questions and engaging narratives—Muslim American comedian Hasan Minhaj’s personal anecdotes over a multi-year period were “fact checked” and analyzed. The magazine alleged Minhaj, who was the long-time host of the Netflix series Patriot Act, fabricated personal stories in his performances.
These stories involved FBI surveillance, being mailed anthrax, and him being rejected by a white girl due to his race. On Oct. 26, Minhaj clapped back in a 21-minute YouTube video filled with additional information.
I’ll be the first to admit factual accuracy matters in every facet of storytelling. Though the truth is a vital component to trust and credibility, what happened to Minhaj isn’t a quest for truth. It’s holding BIPOC creatives to standards their white peers would never be held to.
While fabricating stories about surveillance is indeed problematic, as it invalidates the very real experiences of people who have experienced it, it’s also important to recognize that Minhaj is an important cultural figure for many Muslims—young and old—in the West.
By staging a public takedown of Minhaj’s work, a clear line is drawn in the sand around who is allowed to embellish and who isn’t.
There are likely many white comedians who use similar practices in their comedy, but they never have a major publication invest valuable Benjamins and time into running an investigative piece with multiple sources.
Unlike their white peers, BIPOC creatives often find themselves compelled to discuss their racial identity on stage. While the lives and familial anecdotes of white artists are considered the social norm, BIPOC creatives are expected to meet unattainable standards.
They must be perfect, they can’t be too loud, they mustn’t ruffle too many feathers, they shouldn’t complain under any circumstances, and—most of all—they need to be grateful for every opportunity they’ve been given.
In the West, we don’t have multiple big-name Muslim comedians, which is at the root of why Minhaj’s attempted cancellation is disgusting. Criticism of art is always valid, but the motive behind such criticism warrants scrutiny.
In Patriot Act, Minhaj covers a lot of news with a comedic flair, engaging the audience and leaving them with clear takeaways. Minhaj is one of, if not the, best at this style of comedy. By questioning the factual accuracy of his personal anecdotes, the New Yorker article is casting dispersions on all his fact-based storytelling.
The Minhaj “saga” is a painful reminder BIPOC and Muslim artists will always be pushed to prove their worth. Comedic sketches aren’t always supposed to be true, and whenever audience members bought tickets to Minhaj’s specials—the source of all the offending anecdotes—they subscribed to this fact.
The stories shared were less about events, and more about making a diverse audience feel the ramifications and impact of the violence marginalized and racialized communities feel on the daily.
I’m scared the public takedown of a prominent Muslim comedian will scare others who wish to come up in the field. We already lack nuanced representation of Brown women and other marginalized folks in comedy—I hope this saga doesn’t stem the tide of progress we’ve seen in the past few years.
The naysayers and so-called truth seekers will make arguments invalidating Minhaj all while propagating falsehoods about his character. They will actively deny how comedy works and the double standard Minhaj faces in comparison to his white peers.
All I can say to these people is to first work on their own families and make sure they aren’t racist and are willing to accept a potential partner from the BIPOC community.
After all, they’re perfectly comfortable accepting the fact that Minhaj shouldn’t take a social stance against racism in romantic relationships.
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