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As hate crimes against South Asians continue to rise, we need to dispel stereotypes and wear our voices.

By Rachna Shah On Sept. 4, 1907, a mob of around 400 white men attacked the homes of South Asian Indians in Bellingham, Washington. They threw them into the streets, beat them, and drove them out of town. Similar riots happened in Vancouver, in California, and elsewhere in the state of Washington during the rest of the decade. It was only a century later that the horror of these events was recognized by Bellingham’s government. Yet while race riots and Asian exclusion efforts are a part of American and Asian history, they are largely ignored in textbooks and the media. India is associated with the caste system and third-world diseases. In film and on television, South Asian Indians are portrayed as extremes rather than as spectrums — as either too willing to assimilate or not willing to assimilate. In moving forward, the coverage of South Asia must be more accurate and comprehensive. Mainstream media not only mirrors, but shapes our culture. It produces and reinforces stereotypes of certain cultural groups. Having one’s history and experiences recognized and appreciated in mainstream media allows young South Asians to embrace their culture, not be ashamed of it. South Asians have long been portrayed as separate and different than white people. They have heavy accents, eat spicy foods, and are generally nerds or geeks, until the very recent past, according to Dr. Bhoomi Thakore, Assistant Professor and Director of the Sociology Program at Elmhurst College. “Today, actors such as Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, and Priyanka Chopra are players in a larger Hollywood elite circle that inform the ability to move ahead in that industry,” Dr. Thakore explains. “For example, Kaling originally started as a writer for “The Office”, and essentially wrote her character for the show. Over the years, Kaling’s character existed as someone who just happened to be Indian, who was ‘just like everyone else.’”
Related: NO THANK YOU, APU — DON’T COME AGAIN.

No matter how “beloved” Apu may be, it’s time for him to go.

While I appreciate The Simpsons’ place as iconic in the canons of American pop culture, I have never been a fan. My long list of complaints about The Simpsons includes its sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, extreme violence, child abuse and more. But one of my biggest reasons is and always will be Kwik-E-Mart clerk Apu. Over the years when I mention the racist stereotyping inherent in the character, most people have dismissed my concerns, telling me I’m being overly sensitive and asking why can’t I take a joke. Yet, every so often I’d watch a person’s eyes widen with the realization that they had never stopped to think about how an actual South Asian person would perceive Apu’s doofery, which has created widespread distortion of the Desi community that transcended its screen time into real life. Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s calling out of this racist caricature first in his stand-up routines and now in-depth in his TruTV documentary The Problem With Apu is what made me an instant fan of Kondabolu’s work. And also vindication for what I’ve been saying for decades. It wasn’t just that I was so grateful to see a South Asian comedian representing, but it was also hearing many of my own thoughts about the damage Apu has done to the Desi community echoed through Kondabolu’s own experiences as well as his interviewees. The Problem With Apu gives Kondabolu the opportunity to deepen his analysis as well as bring in some rather shocking back story of the character’s creation to light. Like, did you know that the ubiquitous line “Thank you, come again” was only said 8 times in the show? And did you know that Apu was never meant to be Indian at all? He was listed in the original script as “Clerk” and it was only during the first table reading that Hank Azaria decided to cobble together one of the most offensive Indian accents to have ever graced a TV screen. Since Azaria made his joke to a room of white dudes, of course everyone laughed and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon was born from a gaggle of assholes to haunt South Asian Americans for the rest of our lives.
Related: WHITE PEOPLE: STOP WEAPONIZING OUR EMOTIONS TO AVOID YOUR RACISM

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