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This week I got a phone call from my mother. That’s not the weird part of the story. My mother calls me frequently. She had to tell me a story and usually this is something about family drama or something strange a suburbanite at work did. But this phone call took a twist when my mother told me about blatant racism she faced from a customer.
He was dressed in a sweater and khakis and was in wheelchair. This guys cursed at my mother and asked as an Indian woman how would she feel if he killed a cow, turned into steak and ate it. My mother responded that his order was $12 and how he’d like to play.
It would’ve been amazing if she responded with “How does it make you feel that my Socialist immigrant son is more educated about American History and is probably a bigger patriot than you’ll ever be?” I mean I’m glad she didn’t because who knows what kind of outburst this guy might have had.
He paid for his shit and left, cursing (why break the trend). I’m glad my mother is safe and her managers are going to make sure she doesn’t have to deal with people like that. At the end of the conversation she sent me a little warning that these kinds of folks are out there. I giggled and said “I know ma. I’ve been dealing with people like him for a long time!” It reminded me of some of the many times I’ve had racism thrown at me.
Way back in 2012 (roughly 6000 years ago), one of the earliest road gigs I took was in Conneaut, PA. It was a biker bar and I was in a sweater. I was opening with about 30-40 minutes of material and then the headliner (a comedian from Pittsburgh) would follow. I stood on stage to total silence. My material wasn’t even highly political at the time (see below for example).
After I bombed super hard on stage, the headliner went to berate me for about 15 minutes. Usually this is a major faux paux in the business. Most comedians are pretty friendly to each other about bad sets. At the end of the show when I went to shake his hand, he replied “You need to cut that race shit from your act. Racism doesn’t exist in America! We took care of that shit in the 60s!” I laughed, said goodbye and left. There’s more that story (check out the video below).
This is the mentality of some people. They think on December 31, 1969, racism left America. Maybe it moved to Canada. Racism does have a passport and crosses borders with ease. Racism gets through customs way easier than anyone that’s gotten a recent tan.
It’s a statement of pure ignorance. It’s a statement that pretends to champion diversity but pretends there’s no struggle. It pretends like America wasn’t built on the backs of slaves or the fact that corporations don’t hire undocumented workers to save money and then sell those folks down the river when ICE shows up.
A break from that ignorance would mean they’d loose the rosy glow of the greatest nation on the planet. A racist thought. To think that there’s no country better than America is not just exceptionalism, but racist as well. It assumes all other nations are lesser and therefore need a country like America with its primarily white populace to save them! And they’re not doing out of malice, but out of love. It’s a pretty warped way of thinking. It’s what abusers do to gaslight people.
I’ve had some liberals do similar things to me as well. After the recording of my album “How Not To Fit In” in 2016, a woman came up to me said my show would’ve been funnier if I done the accent and stay away from touchy subjects like race. Liberals tend be comfortable with me when I can be their token brown friend and nothing more. Something they can show off and claim they are racist.
In 2018, I was working on my show “Empathy On Sale”, which is a 90 minute show I wrote to address the political divides. Part of the show is addressing the follies of both sides; liberals and conservatives. When started the story about Conservatism, I noticed one of the elderly white men get upset. To understand what he was upset, here’s the bit below.
I goofed with him for a minute or two and told him he’d like the end of the story. He didn’t. At the end of the show, I went to set up the merch table and in the commotion of meeting people after the show, I didn’t catch the events that were happening around me.
Apparently this elderly white man leaned over to his friend and said “I wish someone would just deport his ass. If someone won’t, I damn well will!” This was said in front of the venue manager and few fans of mine who ensured that these men won’t take action on their threats. They made sure they got in their cars and left. Not by force or anything, just by keeping an eye on them
I spoke with this guy’s wife and she was pleased with the show. I gave her CD and she gave $20 (I didn’t ask her to pay, I felt bad that she’d have an awkward ride home because of me). She told me that her husband needed to hear this stuff and be open to more perspectives. I thanked her and she went on her way.
The manager then told me they know who these folks were and they had no excuse for their behavior. He also told me that these were rich Republican retirees and they were VIP members. After that I went to grab a drink and one of the board members asked me what gave me the right to talk about the topics I talk about on stage. His rationale was that there were plenty of famous talking politics but they don’t talk about deeper issues like I do. So if famous people don’t then why should a schlub like me get the right to talk about that on stage. I laughed and continued to enjoy my drink.
People this like Rich Republican look at equality as a limited resource. If a minority group gets equality there’s less for them. And those same Rich Republicans wind up being in power and preach the same ideas to their base and run on this fear to lead.
The people like the man that insulted my mother are duped into this thinking. They’re jobless, stuck in poverty, sickly all because the black & brown are responsible for that. This myth is something they’ve built their entire life around. It’s wildly inaccurate but it’s what’s been preached them. That’s why they believe they’ve been robbed and hence the hostility.
And this fear can go all the way up to the eradication of an entire of group of people. I’m not sure what the cure for that extreme of a reaction. But one of the things I’ve tried, with even most violent of people, is try to talk to them. Usually in the heat of the moment when emotions are running high (and yes I’ve tried and it’s led to a threat of decapitation. See the video below), there’s a high likelihood they’ll continue to threaten my life, but after the shows the one on one conversations have had some effects.
But it’s not a one way street. If they’re unwilling to see your point of view or still enraged then neither party is likely to see each other point of view. The reality is that if we are to create a truly just and equal world that’s driven by logic, critical thinking and compassion, then these kinds of people have to come along with us.
The unfortunate reality of this is that they themselves are victims of a system that enriches itself on the division between political, racial and gender spectrums. Part of the issue these folks have either never dealt with someone of a different race or ideological thinking and humans fear the unknown.
If both parties can drop their guard and try to have an honest conversation that involves self reflection there’s a chance that the establishment propaganda can be undone. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s worth a try. And again this is likely to fail if it’s only a few of us trying this.
This thought is something I get criticized about from all ends. Even when I see the violence on the Capitol, I see a swarm of scared people who have been convinced by their leaders (rich old white men), that they’ll become irrelevent if more diversity is added to our society.
Look America is nation that is built on racism. To undo it just because one comedian or a journalist here and there is willing to figure out what these people are truly scared won’t help. The ideals of compassion get outweighed by the paranoid propaganda. We need more people just ask “How are you” and “Why”.
Krish Mohan is a socially conscious, Indian standup comedian and writer who regularly tours the country. He performs at small theaters, bars, comedy clubs, colleges, DIY and house venues. With his quirky attitude, charming personality, and intelligent humor, Krish captivates and engages audiences of all backgrounds, tackling hot button topics like race, religion, war, immigration, while adding an optimistic, philosophical & sociological twist!