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Casual Racism in Media

Kav Lakshmi, Reporter

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When people think of India, a very stereotypical portrayal of the country comes to mind. Often, people think of a third world country where everyone is a poor villager and the land is filthy and filled with litter.

This comes to people’s minds because it’s how media portrays India. Media portrayal of minorities has a huge impact on society’s perceptions and treatment of those people.

Now, not only is India as a country portrayed inaccurately and offensively, Indian characters are as well.

Three well-known “Indian” characters are Apu (voiced by Hank Azaria) from The Simpsons, Rajesh Koothrappali (played by Kunal Nayyar) from The Big Bang Theory, and Ravi Ross (played by Karan Brar) from Jessie.

The character of Apu, voiced by a white man, has an over-exaggerated “Indian” accent that you will never find an actual Indian person use because it’s not a real Indian accent.

Although Hank Azaria has come out and said he’s willing to step away from what is essentially a modern case of brownface, Simpsons creator Matt Groening puts blame on the Indian viewers who were offended by this racist portrayal of a character. Furthermore, we must also consider why a white man was hired to voice an Indian character in the first place.

Raj’s character on The Big Bang Theory is yet another racist portrayal of an Indian man, as he is not just awkward and unattractive, but unable to talk to women and booksmart while lacking common sense. With an inaccurate last name, as Raj’s name would imply he is South Indian but his character is North Indian, Rajesh Koothrappali furthers many existing stereotypes about Indian men in modern society.

A main character of a children’s show, Jessie, which ran from 2011-2015, and its spin-off Bunk’d, Ravi falls into a combination of the stereotypes of Apu and Raj’s character. Though this time the character is portrayed by an Indian actor, the accent is once again fake. In real life, Karan Brar speaks with an American accent, while his character speaks with an over-exaggerated fake “Indian” accent that doesn’t even make sense with his storyline as he was raised in New York.

Furthermore, his character also imitates Raj’s in the sense that he, too, is a booksmart math nerd portrayed as awkward and unattractive, especially compared to his non-Indian brother Luke, and he has trouble fitting in, or assimilating to modern American culture.

It would be easy to write these racist portrayals off as something on a show and acknowledge that while they may be unfortunate, they’re not real life. The fact of the matter is that these racist portrayals affect our real lives, too.

Everyday micro-aggressive racism is a real thing that Indian people face. The model minority pressure where all Indians are expected to be smart and good at math are reflected in two of the three characters mentioned in this article. The belief that Indian men are unattractive and that Indian people are awkward and can’t relate to American culture comes from these racist portrayals.

The media we consume affects our perceptions of the people in our lives and not only do these so-called “Indian” characters offend Indian viewers, they leave us vulnerable to even more racism in our daily lives.

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