Are we just not gonna talk about Hasan Minhaj?

Image for post
Image for post

The Ellen debacle has been well documented. And by the Ellen debacle, I mean the bruhaha in which she has pretended to be nice and kind, has built an entire career and brand around “be kind,” only for us to we find out that she has treated her staff in a terrible manner, and that she was not, in fact, kind. At all.

Around the same time that the issues with Ellen were becoming public this year, tweets from women of colour—especially South Asian women—who worked on Patriot Act with Hassan Minhaj, came out. They were sharing their experiences on Minhaj’s lauded show as a gesture of solidarity with other people who worked on shows — shows that have been sold to the public as morally and ethically upright but which treated their staff in a dismal manner.

First, Sheila Vee, a former producer on the show, tweeted about her experience, only to go on to protect her tweets. That is understandable. After all, Minhaj is beloved by the “woke” Desis, and the social justice crowd in general. She was making herself a target by telling the truth.

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.

— Sheila V Kumar (@SheilaVee) June 8, 2020

A longer screenshot of Kumar’s comments that have since been made private.

That Kumar has worked in a lot of places, and has probably seen a lot of terrible workplaces, especially workplaces run by white people, and still consider Patriot Act to be something that she has never experienced before, hints to us just how bad a working environment Patriot Act was.

In response to Sheila Vee’s tweets, other women of colour who worked on Patriot Act also came forward with their stories. These include Pakistani news producer and writer Nur Nasreen.

Nasreen’s point about a progressive ethos in front of the screen versus the hypocrisy of how un-progressively you treat the women of colour who work under you has really stuck with me. It is because, in my experience, this is what most social justice spaces have been like. For women like me, who have neither pretty or thin privilege, or light-skin or class privilege, social justice “activists” shun women like me because I do not have the connections and networks that they want access to in order to further their careers.

Many of these people are being lauded by our communities but if you talk to the most vulnerable amongst us, you will know how these people really treat those they see as having no value to them.

The dissonance between the progressive way these people present themselves and how they actually treat people is THE reason I have stopped going to social justice events or being part of these c̵l̵i̵q̵u̵e̵s̵, oh I mean, communities.

Nasreen’s honest tweets prompted other women who worked on and around Patriot Act to talk about their experiences or what they have heard from others. New York Times writer Iva Dixit tweeted about how her friends on the show were made to feel.

As someone who has worked in toxic workplaces where I was the victim of racism and misogyny, I intimately know the kind of breakdowns this treatment leads to.

I think it is really telling the kind of fear and shame that these women who have been exploited live with, versus the kind of impunity that men like Hassan Minhaj have.

Camille continues by talking about what she felt and how she was made to feel with regards to her concerns.

As with most victims of gaslighting, it is when you have left a toxic relationship or workplace that you realize that you had done nothing wrong, and the anger you feel at being gaslit comes up.

South Asian women were not the only ones treated abysmally while they were working on this show. Other women of colour came forward to corroborate these stories.

What stands out for me here is that the special episodes that Minhaj’s show became known for, like the episode on Indian Elections, was not due to his special brilliance and wonderful politics. Those episodes happened due to smart, Brown women like Kumar and Nasreen, whose work was mined for Minhaj's fame and star while the women themselves were being treated badly.

Their experiences were even corroborated by male writers who had worked there.

Clearly, a number of women who worked on the show as well and even the men who witnessed it felt compelled to speak up. This hints at a truly toxic work environment that clearly implicated Minhaj, in much the same way that Ellen was implicated in how her show treated its workers. Juggernaut writer Sarah Thankam Matthews tweeted in response to these women sharing their pain.

Since these tweets became public, Minhaj has apologized and there has been a reckoning of how he and his staff treated—oh, wait none of that happened.

Matthew’s tweet stood out for me, precisely because of her point about how this stuff catches up with you because guess what: THAT. HAS. NOT. HAPPENED. These women shared their painful, personal experiences of working on a show beloved for its progressive politics and when their tweets came out, nothing happened.

I mean, absolutely nothing happened.

Minhaj was not taken to task. Nothing happened to the show. It was cancelled on its own, and a slew of articles on how sad people were about the cancellation came out instead. Minhaj did not even acknowledge the tweets, let alone apologise or take any responsibility for what had happened.

Where was the outrage? Where was the outcry?

We have to wonder why there has been such a disparity between how Ellen has been held accountable versus Minhaj. For one, it might be because South Asian women, as well as the other women of colour, are just not as important as many of the white people who worked on Ellen.

But I think there are other factors at play. The liberal and left’s love of Minhaj is a large aspect of this. Where are all the progressive Desi organisations that lauded his episode on Modi but had nothing to say about women leaving his show in tears?

Minhaj is seen as the South Asian progressive dreamboat. He is good looking, educated, wealthy, Muslim and progressive. The sense I get is that people don’t want to criticise one of the few Brown men in power and more, a Brown man who is progressive in many ways. During a time when many South Asians in America seem to love fascist Modi, an American who shines the spotlight on oppression in other parts of the world is rare.

But you’re not doing anyone any favours by dismissing what has been done to these women. Minhaj is getting a huge pass, in a way that even Ellen did not get. Identity politics might tell you otherwise, but here is an example of a white woman being held accountable while a Brown man has not been.

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? https://t.co/BPHpmgUJNr

— Sarah Mowaswes (@mawowswiss) June 9, 2020

The real question here: Woke Desis, where are you?

Woke Desis seem to be really selective in the types of Brown people they target. They will attack Tamil women but are silent about light-skinned North Indian men. Minhaj’s power and reach have made it so that he is near-untouchable, so much so that women openly talking about how they were treated did not get even one article in any of the many Desi mags that abound on the internet.

Could it be that despite all their protestations, what many of these “woke” social justice people actually care about is being on his good side, getting on his next show and making use of his connections and power? It’s interesting who they choose to attack (and thereby cut bridges with) versus who they choose to protect with their silence (and thereby keep their bridges and future opportunities open with).

I think a lot about how these women must feel. They come out about something that could potentially hurt them in their careers and they are completely ignored, not just by the mainstream, but by the very people who are usually so loud and vocal about race and gender and social justice issues. Instead, they get to see Minhaj’s show cancelled not because of how toxic the environment is, but due to other reasons. And then to compound their pain and with zero thought to the abuse they endured, they have to read multiple articles on how oh-so-sad this cancellation makes other people.

My experience with a lot of the social justice shtick is daily reinforced by stories similar to what these women have gone through. The people who are celebrated publicly but allowed to behave terribly in private are a microcosm of people like Minhaj, who have never been and in all likelihoods, will never be, held accountable for the untold harm they have done others while acting as if they are morally and ethically superior.

And social justice will continue to push out and alienate the most oppressed amongst us as long as y’all see social justice as a trend you can commodify rather than a way of (re)building the world.

Written by

Activist and writer. Coined the term #chineseprivilege. She/her, Tamil, Curvy, Southeast Asian living in Melbourne.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store