AAPI Heritage Month #16

May 16, 2023

Have you ever been disappointed in an AAPI celebrity?

I have been disappointed in every single AAPI celebrity just as much as I have been excited about every AAPI celebrity. It could be argued that disappointment is a foundation element in the social conception of “celebrity.” Given the excitement I build at the sight of any AAPI celebrity, it is inevitable that these humans will… human. They will falter or hesitate. There is no patience or grace for our rare representatives in celebrity culture.

In this context, I want to talk about Aziz Ansari. Yet, I am not sure if I have the emotional capacity to do so tonight. I am currently acutely tender about disappointing men of color who don’t understand respectful sexual behavior. Maybe this is a bookmark for another time. A time when I can intentionally explore the explosive intersections of call-out culture, rape culture, and white supremacist de-sexualization of Asian men.

Right now, though, it feels really important to acknowledge that for about a decade, I was a big fan of Aziz Ansari. I saw him live in San Francisco in 2008. It was at a small lounge show I made many friends attend with me because I wanted more people to love this random desi comedian as much as I did. This was a year before Parks and Rec premiered, mind you. I supported every show and comedy special he took part in creating. Then I cut him out of my life for almost five years because he was accused of sexual assault.

Honestly it was only moments ago as I began writing this piece that I looked into what he’s been up to since the Babe.net expose came out in January 2018. I knew that a year later he returned to stand-up comedy and had a Netflix special. I promptly ignored said special. It felt like awarding him a platform again was the standard media treatment of all men called out for sexual misconduct, and I refused to participate in this game.

Aziz Ansari in a dim hallway trying to look remorseful maybe?

What I just learned is that, in this July 2019 comedy special, Aziz acknowledged and demonstrated remorse for his sexually harmful behavior. I had no idea. The call-out worked when it came to me. This is not to say that I regret ignoring him for several years or that I accept his attempts for accountability. Of note, the survivor “Grace” has not publicly forgiven him. I have not decided if I will watch this special or any other new work he creates. It remains a complex situation, as this 2019 Vox article illustrates.

Amidst the many articles surrounding the accusations in 2018 and the Netflix special in 2019, journalists have remained pretty silent on (and possibly ignorant about the implications of) his racial identity as a South Asian American. While I am deeply disappointed in Aziz Ansari, I feel obligated to write more about this–so I will stop here to remind myself that I remain tender. I will explore the public analyses of this story with the critical lens of race and gender, but no further tonight.

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