By Israel Rojas-Moreno '16
Last weekend I saw one of the best TV show episodes I can remember. The episode was from Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show, Master of None, and it was about the different experiences of immigrant parents and the children they raised in America. I won’t spoil it for you. But if you have parents – go watch it. Now.
Critics are raving about Ansari's show. Hopefully, commercial success will follow. It is critical that shows like this exist. Watching TV is not typically a social activity. Sure, there are events like Game of Thrones that are best enjoyed in the company of friends. But otherwise, watching TV tends to be something we do to retreat from others and sometimes zone out a little. Though we may not be aware of it, TV also informs our understanding of the world. Quick – imagine life in Pawnee, Indiana? Or on the Jersey Shore? Unless you’ve spent time in either place, you likely imagined the adventures of a local parks department or the misadventures of young drunk socialites.
Growing up, I watched a lot of Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Saved by the Bell... basically, a lot of white people on TV. I've also seen tons of movies about being white or growing up white - the genre is very well represented. As a result, I like to think I am familiar with the experience of being white: it is tremendously varied, richly complex, and cannot be reduced to a singular experience. Comparatively, I’ve seen very little content about what it’s like to be black. Or Asian. Or Muslim. Or any other minority group I can think of.
True, minorities are not absent from TV. Shows like Fresh Prince of Bel Air depicted one dimension (a highly uncommon one) of being a minority. Other minority shows do exist, but they are few and far between, and certainly insufficient to capture the diversity of experiences within a given cultural group. It is rare that someone will ask me what it was like to grow up as a minority; it is an awkward and sometimes difficult (but not unwelcome) conversation to have, after all. Having shows that can realistically convey the minority experience is sometimes the only way we get exposed to different perspectives. When the minority characters are fully formed, well-rounded individuals, and not simply background cab drivers, cooks, or help staff, so much the better.
I'm heartened to see a resurgence of minorities on TV. Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, for example, are two hilarious shows that infuse jokes and different perspectives that have been absent from the traditional network lineup. The shows don't focus exclusively on race or ethnic issues, but they do shed some light on how everyday situations might be experienced differently by a minority. For a long time, claims of discrimination by minorities have been discounted, whether they occurred in the justice, the workplace, or the education system. Given the latest situations in Missouri or Yale, it doesn’t seem we’ve made much progress. Hopefully seeing more minorities on TV will help us all understand each other's perspectives better, and in turn, help us become more empathetic toward one another.
Israel can’t wait for season two of Master of None.