If you’re going to paint everyone from the southern United States with a broad, red brush, don’t do it around Aziz Ansari.
The comedian, who grew up in South Carolina, recently sat down with New York magazine‘s Jada Yuan to promote the second season of his critically acclaimed Netflix series “Master of None.”
The interview went well — except, Yuan admitted, for one moment: when she made an off-the-cuff remark suggesting Ansari’s series — which follows Dev Shah, a son of Indian immigrants, and his diverse set of friends living in liberal New York City — is a love letter to the “blue states.”
Her comment didn’t sit well with Ansari.
Ansari doesn’t like when the term “red state” is used to mean people who are backward or ignorant.
It’s been his experiences as an Indian-American who grew up in South Carolina — one of the very “red states” often cited that way — that shaped his viewpoint.
As he explained to Yuan (emphasis added):
“Look, don’t say ‘red-staters,’ because when you say ‘red-staters,’ you’re saying, like, ‘dumb, racist people,’ and there are plenty of white people there who are not dumb, racist people. Maybe I’m just very quick to react when, as a culture, we try to paint this whole large group of people as one specific thing. Because that’s what, as a minority, you deal with all the time. It’s just people looking at you and being like, ‘You’re this. I know exactly what you are.’ And you’re like, ‘Shut up! That’s not me. You don’t know me.’”
Ansari’s point may be obvious, but it’s one we often forget in this politically charged time: simply living in a red (or blue) state says nothing more about your values than your shirt size does. Just because a state swings red or blue in an election doesn’t mean that everyone living in that state or district automatically adopts the majority viewpoint.
Don’t mistake the comedian’s soft spot for red America as excusing harmful, dangerous rhetoric though — Ansari’s been among President Trump’s toughest critics in Hollywood for months.
Ansari never wanted his comedy to get political. But in the era of Trump, he couldn’t stay silent.
With every anti-Muslim speech or policy proposal from the president, Ansari’s own Muslim family is personally affected.
The day after Trump’s inauguration, Ansari hosted “Saturday Night Live,” hilariously slamming white supremacy and providing the comic relief so many of us desperately needed in that moment. Last summer, he penned a blistering takedown of then-candidate Trump’s harmful immigration policies in the New York Times, in which he’s quoted as discouraging his mother from going to a mosque for her own safety.
Ansari is not afraid to go on the offensive and address racism, sexism, and Islamophobia in his comedy. However, the butt of Ansari’s jokes are, specifically, dangerous people and ideas that are helping to keep xenophobia afloat — not every single person who happened to live in a state that went red for Trump in November.
To assume or imply that every person living in a red state embodies the stereotype of being backward or ignorant erases the work of people like Scott Shaffer, in deep-red Texas, who’s been laser-focused on stopping harmful bills from passing through Congress. It ignores the people who turned out in droves in Wyoming last week wearing colorful tutus to support LGBTQ equality. It forgets the thousands of women who marched in places like Cincinnati and Tucson the day after Trump’s inauguration in defiance of misogyny and discrimination of any kind.
These people of the resistance are red-staters, too — just like Ansari. That’s a crucial and often overlooked point to remember.