The media uses stereotypes to degrade South Asians

February 4, 2021

South Asian racism in the media has influenced real-life encounters (Melissa Vital (’23))

For years, degrading stereotypes in the television media has precipitated internalized racism against South Asians. Television shows typically provide people with entertainment, but even if discriminating against South Asian actors is intended for comedic purposes, those prejudices and ideas easily translate into real life experiences and encounters.

Comparatively, this dilemma presents itself in Disney’s sitcom “Jessie,” a show about a nanny’s experiences with three adopted children. As children watch these television shows, the characters and their actions greatly influence their views on a certain race. In the sitcom, actor Karan Brar plays a young Indian boy named Ravi. However, as much as the South Asian audience must have appreciated their racial representation at first, they quickly realized that the show disparages Indian culture by relentlessly using Ravi for comedic relief instead of honoring his Indian heritage.

For example, when the sitcom persistently satirizes Ravi’s thick Indian accent, this belittles South Asians in the media because the tormentor receives laughter and approbation for scorning South Asian culture. Also this representation condones these actions in society. Not only did the show ridicule Ravi’s accent, they also mocked his clothing, for example his traditional clothing of a ‘kurta,’ which is worn all throughout South Asia, not just India. Also, the sitcom created another joke when they cast Ravi with a pet lizard named Mrs. Kipling. Even though the television show is meant for entertainment, the name Mrs. Kipling markedly refers to Rudyard Kipling, author of “The Jungle Book,” and known as a staunch imperialist. Was the name choice truly for comedic purposes if a South Asian character owned a lizard named after the man who wrote “The White Man’s Burden”? This does not seem like a coincidence, and instead exactly like internalized racism.

Another prime example is how the television show “The Simpsons” propelled internalized racism for South Asians when non-Indian voice actor Hank Azaria played a demeaning Indian-American immigrant stereotype. Azaria plays Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who runs a convenience store, and his artificial Indian accent along with his notably long last name specifically mocks South Asians who have names that Americans may have trouble pronouncing.

To make it worse, the sitcom characterizes Apu as stingy and penny-pinching, as the show exhibits him conserving the food by altering the expiration dates or brushing off food that fell on the ground so he can make profit off of the item. Also, according to NPR, the audience observes Apu manipulates and coerces his customers to buy items on various occasions. Some people may not have known about this stereotype, but this media brings light to it through satire.

Similar to Ravi’s character acting as an example of internalized racism for a younger audience, Apu’s character contributes to the degrading stereotypes for South Asians for an adult audience.

After voice actor Hank Azaria realized how negatively impactful this stereotype could be, he stopped voicing the character. In an interview on the “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Azaria acknowledges the problem with Apu’s character, saying “The character had unintended consequences for people – kids growing up in this country, Indian and South Asian kids growing up in this country had to live with that character and be called Apu in ways they didn’t appreciate.”

He listened to criticism of the racist character and he realized why the American South Asian population condemned his character as offensive. Noticing this, he decided to step down from his role. Although this is a positive aspect of the situation, the fact still remains that he did not even notice the harmful impact the character may have had on judgements and stereotypes in society. This proves that racism towards South Asians needs to be carefully taken into account in the media.

Essentially, producers as well as audience members must recognize this persistent degradation against South Asians in the media and work to honor culture instead of devaluing it.

Without a doubt, internalized racism for South Asians in the media urgently needs more attention.

Personally, I connect with this persistent internalized racism and people must know: ridiculing South Asians should not be used for comedy in the entertainment industry.

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