**These views are solely opinion and do not reflect the views of Sensibly Loud Media**
Most people don’t know who Hari Knodabolu is.
That statement is inaccurate. Most white Americans don’t know who Hari Knodabolu is. It would not be sufficient to describe him as simply a comedian. Nor would it be adequate to say he is an activist. Or a writer. Or the host of a podcast.
Bear in mind, as individuals, we are a equal parts a collection of our own experiences (and the choices we make based on/in spite of them) as well as how those choices are viewed by others. Someone else’s perception tends to make up a large portion of their reality.
Now for me, a straight, white, male born (and mostly raised) in middle class portions of Texas, I have a my own set of life experiences. While I am not here to talk about privilege, I do feel it is important to at least recognize that my identity (as well as experiences) land me straight in a large target demographic in the USA.
So, when I say that I was not familiar with the name Hari Kondabolu until April of 2018, it is not an indictment of him, or I. He likely has very little idea of who I am (which is fine). However, I feel that I am in his target demographic. A cynical left leaning person in a place of privilege looking to try and leave the world a better place. This is not a crusade, nor is it a calling. But Mr. Knodabolu’s trajectory crossed with mine this month as I ponder racial caricatures in today’s society.
Hari is best known (at least according to Wikipedia) for his comedy, specifically on subjects like race.* In November of 2017, he released a documentary called The Problem with Apu. Apu is the Quick-E-Mart owner and operator on The Simpsons, an animated comedy on the Fox network. This film works to “contextualize Apu within minstrelsy and other tropes in American pop culture history that have historically stereotyped minorities.” A younger and more naive version of myself would argue “at least Apu was an Asian-American on television, and that representation is key.” However, this “representation” would be better described as bastardization. When I force myself to break down my layers of feelings on Apu (and other characters within pop culture) I begin to unpack that the same way I feel about other negative stereotypes. These stereotypes (especially when viewed as acceptable by a wider audience) lead to racial micro-aggressions. This is a slippery slope that leads to convenience store workers being shot in their place of business by self-proclaimed patriots in a post-9/11 world. The idea shines through that THIS IS NOT RIGHT. The same way I cringe at Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and feel the need to talk to my children about the bullshit that pop culture “used to” get away with is just as naïve, considering shows are still getting millions of views each week by exploiting other groups.
I am not a Social Justice Warrior on a rampage against pop culture. I do not claim to represent a new wave of political correctness overtaking a snowflake generation. But I am a guy who feels the need to stand up and say that we do not live in a post racial world. The jokes I grew up on (and saw on TV every week) do not come from a place where “nothing is sacred” or “It’s funny because they make fun of everyone.” Those sentences have now become Pavlov-ian bells for people trying to justify their right to criticize others (or to profit off of stereotypes and continue to use them and reinforce societal norms).
So, why is this a conversation?
Not everyone feels the same way. Well, I am not the thought police. Nor could I force my opinions on others. I do however want to work to ensure that we are at least having a conversation around these practices that were once “acceptable.”
Even racist Bugs Bunny cartoons carry a warning within syndication that they are “a product of their time” and that they depict “racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society”. That is certainly a step in the right direction. However, the question we need to ask ourselves is “Why is this type of caricature still going on?” Even as recently as this past weekend, The Simpsons tried (and arguable failed) to address this controversy head on. Here is the thing though. It is not good enough. We need to do more to continue to strive and make these changes. Otherwise, not only do we not learn from our mistakes, we further the notion that a world of racism is a world we are comfortable living in. And it shouldn’t be.
So, what does this have to do with baseball? Well, if someone with the overall anxiety level of cornered small dog can second guess his actions from a podcast all week (spoiler alert, I can)- he too can wrestle with the love of a game that excluded generations of racial minorities and continues to potentially exploit the labor markets of poorer regions of Central and South America. The same game where an oligarchy of the rich can collude and break the unions of employees every 30 years is currently being taught to my children in my own back yard.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Nor am I a perfect version of myself. But, I am trying. I would like to see The Simpsons try to get it right too. It wont be perfect, but progress is important. While I would love one, I am not expecting a home run. Just get on base.
TL:DR – Apu from The Simpsons is a racist charicature.
***The opinions of any blog posted on this website do not reflect the views of Sensibly Loud Media.***