Ugh, I Think Hasan Minhaj Just Become My Problematic Fave

logo

Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 06 2021

8 mins read

0

Caption

Back in June, I saw this tweet and felt my heart sink.

Caption
Sheila V Kumar
@SheilaVee
I’ve been thinking all day about @prachigu and @amalykinz’s tweets on their former workplaces, and how much courage it must have taken to speak out. So I’d like to join them and say, I’ve never been more unhappy than when I was working at Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.

June 8, 2020, 5:43 p.m.


Sheila Kumar, a former Patriot Act producer, tweeted that her experiences at the show mirrored those of Prachi Gupta (who later wrote about her time at Cosmopolitan, and especially the fucked-up expectation that she was supposed to feel grateful to exist in white spaces) and Amal Ahmed (who tweeted about the racism she experienced as a fellow at The Atlantic).

Soon other women were speaking up, too.

Caption
Emily Galati
@emilygalati
Same. Working at Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj was awful.


twitter.com/SheilaVee/stat…

June 12, 2020, 6:24 p.m.


Caption
Sarah Mowaswes
@mawowswiss
I urge you to take @SheilaVee words seriously. @patriotact created a toxic culture for women of color. To be “woke” is to take an introspective look inside and recognize when you have messed up. @hasanminhaj and @patriotact are you willing to do that?


twitter.com/SheilaVee/stat…

June 9, 2020, 1:59 a.m.


There was no question of whether I believed the women who were speaking out or not—I’ve worked in media my entire career; I know what it’s like here. Plus, it was the same week that I wrote about the editors of Refinery29 and Bon Appétit stepping down and my own experience as a woman of colour in Canadian media, so progressive media outlets with not-so-progressive labour practices were already top of mind.

And I thought I knew what would happen next: a news outlet would pick the story up, delivering more details that would make me angry and sad all at once. In fact, I was waiting for it, because while I believed these women faced a toxic work environment, it wasn’t clear to me exactly what happened. The situation seemed ripe for an investigation of some sort.

But then… nothing. For whatever reason, this story didn’t get much traction back in June. But now, it’s August. Patriot Act has been cancelled and finally, we’re paying attention.

We still don’t know exactly what happened at Patriot Act, but we have some hints. Nur Nasreen Ibrahim, a former producer on the show, tweeted last week that she had been “humiliated and gaslit, targeted and ignored” during her time there. Wil Kauffman, a former writer on the show, backed her up, tweeting, “While Patriot Act should be celebrated for the underrepresented voice it brought to a blizzard white genre, it should also be condemned. Nur is my brilliant friend who, among other WOC, faced mistreatment while employed by the show. Absolutely no workplace is immune to prejudice.” So did Amy Zhang, another former Patriot Act producer, who tweeted that it was “traumatizing to witness Sheila + Nur, intrepid producers who led some of our top episodes—Amazon, Saudi Arabia, Indian Elections—be silenced, treated unfairly + made to later doubt their own skills in a toxic newsroom.” Zhang also asserted that Ibrahim and Kumar were not the only women of colour who were treated this way. And Emily Galati, another former writer on the show, said back in June that when she worked on the show, she “sat in meetings where only the male writers were addressed.”

First in June, then over the past week or so, I found myself scrolling through the replies to these tweets trying to dig up more information. It’s not that I wanted salacious details. Rather, I wanted confirmation that Minhaj hadn’t been the one ignoring Galati, that he wasn’t gaslighting Ibrahim. If I’m being honest, I wanted to know that someone else was at fault here. But that impulse, though I think understandable, is part of the problem. Like Ellen DeGeneres, Minhaj allowed a toxic work environment to flourish. It doesn’t matter if he did so through his actions or his inaction. It doesn’t matter that he’s incisive and funny and charming and there are no rumours (so far) about people not being allowed to look him in the eye. It doesn’t even matter that Patriot Act was an important win for representation, but didn’t play into stereotypes or descend into tokenism—as Mano Sundaresan wrote in Vulture last week, “The show achieved a sort of deep, fulfilling representation that, paired with its populist, information-driven format and cross-platform engagement on YouTube, helped it reach a wide audience of South Asians. These episodes were for the South Asian diaspora in a nuanced, prescriptive way, from their tiniest textual details to wide-angle themes and messaging.” But… we still need to hold its host and figurehead accountable.

And, we need to think about racism in progressive spaces in general.

As Sarah Thankam Mathews pointed out on Twitter, “labor matters, labor is political, if you treat your workers badly but preach progressiveness otherwise it’ll catch up to ya.” How many BIPOC folks, and people from other marginalized groups for that matter, have first-hand experience with that dynamic? I definitely do. Working at media outlets with outwardly progressive ideals hasn’t protect me from gaslighting, wage theft or racist and sexist microaggressions. It definitely didn’t protect Toronto journalist Pacinthe Mattar from having her professionalism and judgment questioned when she pitched or produced stories that centred on race or religion, or from being, as she puts it, The Only One in the Room. It definitely didn’t change her bosses’ perception that she wasn’t qualified for a leadership role, despite working at the organization for a decade. “For many of us, that kind of coded language—about needing more training, about biding our time—is proof that we will never be deemed qualified enough to lead the news that is often not made with us in mind, as audiences or as creators,” she recently wrote last week in The Walrus. (This is something I feel deeply.)

And there’s a good reason for that: progressive spaces created by people with good intentions aren’t magically immune to injustice. Inequality is like smog, as I learned in a recent anti-oppression training, so even as we’re fighting them, we’re breathing them in. That means we can believe in anti-racism and behave in ways that uphold white supremacy. We can say we want to empower marginalized folks and still actively keep them out of positions of real power. We can preach the importance of diversity and still not understand that BIPOC folks are no longer satisfied with a seat at someone else’s table. And we can create spaces that are meant to be safe for everyone, and still buy into patriarchal ideas about who is funny, and whose ideas are good.

That’s why we shouldn’t be asking why Minhaj replicated the same dynamics as the white spaces his show was meant to be an antidote to. The answer to that is actually really simple: even as women, BIPOC folks, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities, we’re not immune to the impacts of white supremacy and patriarchy, so if we don’t actively work to avoid it, we’ll absolutely behave in the ways we’ve been told to, explicitly and implicitly, for our whole lives.

The real question is, what can we do to make sure the spaces we create are actually safe?

Introducing… Friday Picks

Caption

Friday fam, I think we should hang out. Next month, I’m teaming up with freelance writer and body positivity advocate Lora Grady and entertainment and lifestyle journalist Ishani Nath to launch Friday Picks, a new conversation series about books, movies and other media. We’re having our first virtual event on Sept. 28, where we’ll be discussing Eternity Martis’ bestselling memoir, They Said This Would Be Fun. Eternity will be there—and I hope you will, too.

Get more info at fridaythings.com/fridaypicks and grab your (free) ticket on Eventbrite. Come through!

And Did You Hear About…

Clinton Yates’ brilliant column on the NBA, wildcat strikes and the importance of using the right words.

This accidental arms dealer. (Also, this is my forever pitch to read Texas Monthly, because its features are ~chef’s kiss~.)

Bustle’s really smart analysis of cheerleading movies and Bring It On’s lasting appeal.

The fitness journey trope.

The young straight dudes who are falling in love with romance novels. (Relatedly, here’s another Texas Monthly gem about the Black woman who turned romance into a billion-dollar industry—then got pushed out.)

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter