Disgruntled Australian Muslims are accusing Nazeem Hussain of “fuelling racism” in his new comedy television show, Legally Brown. Jennine Abdul Khalik writes that these unsubstantiated attacks are reductive and feed into the tired and standard hegemonic white/brown status quo.
Move in closely, folks. I’m about to share something with you. A revelation so damning that it may shake you right out of your seat. See, the reality is, nobody – and I mean nobody – is under any obligation to represent you or your community simply because they share the same ethnicity or cultural heritage, or identify similarly to you religiously.
But some minorities – in the most self-entitled fashion – unduly demand it.
A number of Australian Muslims/brown people (Middle Easterners and South Asians – I will conflate here) are upset that Nazeem Hussain’s comedy show Legally Brown, which premiered this Monday, does not a) represent them, and b) patch up so-called cultural divides.
Patching up divides? Leading a struggle? Are people seriously in search for their Martin Luther King on SBS at 9.30pm on a Monday night?
I suppose, due to the lack of representation in public spaces and the media, marginalised minority groups – in this case Australian Muslims and brown people – often latch onto more prominent people who identify similarly culturally or religiously, and thrust upon them the pressure and the burden to ‘represent their community’ to ‘mainstream audiences’.
This can be seen in the bitter and hostile reaction to Legally Brown. A number of Australian Muslims are unfairly taking ownership of Hussain’s body of work simply because he is Muslim. They outrageously claim that Hussain’s comedy gives some sort of green light for others to be racist.
It’s frustrating, because it goes a little something like this: generic run-of-the-mill Australian TV presenter and comedian ‘John Smith’ doesn’t speak for white Australians, only himself, so why doesn’t the same go for Hussain?
These demands and absurd expectations that Muslims/brown people are somehow obliged to speak for each other is eerily similar to the endless demands of “please explain yourself” placed on brown people by the white mainstream whenever someone with lots of melanin does so much as breathe.
Given that SBS is a non-mainstream TV channel with a particular niche, and I’d garner, more informed audience, it is clear that this isn’t for the ‘mainstream audiences’ some people are so fanatical about.
It would be helpful if Australian Muslims/brown people stopped perpetually viewing content through the White Lens.
This expectation by brown people that a white audience needs to be able to understand the content, that it must be palatable for the Australian white mainstream – this constant craving for white approval – only serves to reaffirm the hegemonic status quo.
It is beyond patronising. The brown people attacking Legally Brown will vehemently deny this, but the fact of the matter is that this obsession is the symptom of a colonised mind. They have pigeonholed themselves as Orientals with no agency.
Seriously – who cares if John Smith doesn’t understand Uncle Sam? Or Muslim Shore? Or Spirit Time? Why do we assume that the racist heteronomative white man is the default viewer? That content needs to be made that appeases this type of person?
This tired obsession among brown people with giving white people the ‘right’ image – whatever that may be – denies the agency of brown viewers and Muslim viewers of the show.
Why isn’t it enough that brown people ‘get’ the jokes? That the content is for more than just ‘mainstream Australia’? The purpose of Legally Brown, like all comedy, is to entertain.
Racists will continue to be racist with or without Legally Brown on our screens. It is entertainment – not an evangelical preach-fest about why racism is bad. And anyway, the mere presence of Hussain, a religious and ethnic minority, occupying the public sphere as a result of his hard work and talent can do this subversively.
So what exactly is it that these riled up buzzkill reactionaries want? What do they offer as an alternative? No comedy? No tongue-in-cheek humour? Censorship? To take away the already limited positive space Muslims and minorities occupy in the media? Legally Brown is five hours of television. A half-hour time slot each week over ten weeks. Minorities need to stop pinning their causes, their struggles, and the revolutions they want to see, on a comedy show that brings joy to viewers who will tune in to watch it week after week.
If you want to be represented, represent yourself by putting yourself out there. But first, quit projecting your representational fantasies onto other people’s work, particularly in comedy and the arts, where self-expression often underpins the content.
Jennine Abdul Khalik
Jennine is on Twitter at @jennineak