The toddler wanted to be a doctor for Halloween. I guided him towards the construction worker outfit, the magician’s wand and cape, and tried so hard to convince him of the cuteness that would be him bouncing around as Tigger, but it was no use. He wanted to be a doctor. So doctor he was.
Doctor! Many sweet people handing out candy exclaimed at our two year old holding out his orange Halloween basket. Your parents must be so proud! Since Halloween the little guy wears his doctor outfit daily. He performs check ups and administers vaccines to a host of sick stuffed ducks, turtles, and the occasional parent. It’s really sweet to see him play, to imagine the things he might actually do when he grows up if its the path he wants to take.
This past week I began watching Aziz Ansari’s new show, Master of None. I’ve only seen the first five episodes, but do you know that song by Lauryn Hill Killing Me Softly? Where she describes hearing a stranger who somehow is singing words that feel as if they expose her very soul, as though he found her letters and read each one out loud?
Yeah. That’s been what some of these episodes, particularly #2 and #4 have been for me. Aziz pulls no punches in his writing. He just goes there from documenting microaggressions [and not so micro ones] POC both native and immigrant face. But the show is more than just that. It’s about his thoughts on parenting, love, and a million other things because aren’t we each of us more than just our race and ethnicity? It’s a lot to ask of a 30 minute comedy to cover so many bases and seamlessly weave in diversity like he does, but Aziz does it well. In one episode we see Aziz moaning about his father’s inability to understand his own iPad [a universal gripe, I believe] and then we see his father flashback to his childhood and to his immigration to the US and the way his colleagues denied him acceptance and belonging in their professional community. It was so familiar it ripped my heart out.
But Aziz also goes there with calling out the entertainment industry. Episode four, Indians in America, begins with a montage of clips of how South Asians are reflected in the media. Clips of Apu, Ashton Kutcher with brown face and an accent to sell pop chips, and a discussion on Short Circuit which features a real robot and a fake Indian. Like Aziz, those shows had impacts on my daily life, it wasn’t just something on the television. It translated to normalizing the teasing and the slurs as a child because South Asians never had a chance to show their full humanity on the screen, we were always reduced to one dimensional caricatures, whether evil, bumbling, or the butt of a joke. Episode four said no- just because ‘this is the way it is’ it’s not okay. Just because two white guys on True Detective equals a universal show and because two brown guys would have made it an “Indian show” doesn’t mean that this line of reasoning is okay. I know that. It’s why I’m so passionate about We Need Diverse Books, but damn did it feel good to see it said the way Aziz said it.
Aziz talks about how he had to write this role for himself because no one would have written it for him. He’s not only on the screen, he’s behind the scenes, creating and writing and producing and directing the show. And he’s knocking it out of the park. I marvel at this man from small town South Carolina. A child of immigrants making his way in the entertainment world and pointing out the racism woven so deeply into Hollywood as to be invisible perhaps to all but those who identify. But not only this, he’s telling our stories. Our parents stories. Showing South Asians as being second-generation Americans but also of being Americans.
He might have made a great doctor. A doctor is a great gig. Intellectual stimulation, a steady paycheck, respect [D.R= desi royalty], and job security. I love watching my two-year-old scrutinizing the heartbeat of Donald Duck and informing him the situation is indeed quite dire, and I love imagining what he might be when he’s all grown up. But Aziz reminds me that while job stability and security is important, it’s also important to follow your talents wherever they may lie. Imagine if Aziz had gone the safe route. If he had become a doctor. I’m sure he’d be a fine doctor, but my gosh what a loss that would also be for the talent he brings to the screen and the change he just might make.
Master of None makes me laugh, but it also reminds me that visibility matters. And it reminds me that we need to be the change we want to see in this world. I will support my children in pursuing their dreams however I can. Not just day dreams, but the dreams they are willing to put the blood, sweat, and tears into in order to see take hold and become a reality. I don’t know yet what those dreams may be, but I will support the dreams they may have because they have the seeds of talent and the determination to take it to that next level. And if they dream of board exams and flu shots I will support that too, but if their dreams fall off the beaten path I’m going to be there to encourage them on. Aziz reminds me how sorely we need more like him, movers and shakers, changing our narrative and showing our humanity, one movie, book, show at a time.