On our post-election episode of the Code Switch podcast, Shereen Marisol Meraji and I interviewed Negin Farsad, a comedian and filmmaker, and Gustavo Arellano, the editor of the OC Weekly and the author of the satirical ¡Ask A Mexican! column.
Our guests suggested that, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election-night victory, racial animus in America — or at least, Americans’ boundless capacity to countenance it — could be combated if people of color more actively engaged white people, assuaging their anxieties.
Farsad and Arellano presented that idea humorously, but the ask was a serious one. Farsad pointed to her film, The Muslims are Coming!, in which she traveled across the country on a comedy tour with other Muslim-American comedians, as an example of outreach.
“The goal was to meet people where they were, and I feel like if they do that, they will come around,” she said. In other words, people of color need to be “ambassadors” to the larger, skeptical, anxious white world. If respectability politics is predicated on the performance of public uprightness — or at least agreeability— being an ambassador is the strain that concerns itself with the hand-to-hand, interpersonal engagement. Say, explaining why black people can say nigger and white people should not. (It’s a little trickier than that.) Or calmly explaining to a person on Twitter who asks if “nappy” is an offensive word. (Short answer: it depends, but she probably shouldn’t say it.) My inbox has been full of questions like this from strangers since the election.
If you’ll allow me to indulge in a bit of understatement here: listeners had opinions about this idea. To crudely characterize the many responses we got, there was an obvious, vocal split between black folks and other people of color. Many black listeners suggested that having to make the argument for your humanity was itself an indignity.
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