Hasan Minhaj’s comedy special on Netflix, Homecoming King, is simply amazing. His honesty, talent for telling stories and jokes, and integrity to himself create an important space for dialogue and action. I felt inspired by Homecoming King to do the following 10 things in my own life and hope that all of us will participate and allow this piece of art and culture to have a larger impact than just an hour’s worth of entertainment.
*Short disclaimer: The comedy show includes many profanities and some vulgarities. This is also not a family-friendly show due to the abundance of profanity and some sexual innuendo.
1. Explore our own identity development and create our own stories about it.
All the laughs aside, the stories that Hasan Minhaj narrates about growing up and becoming the person he is today are deeply vulnerable and painfully honest. He invites the audience into some of the most intimate moments of his existence, letting us relive his confusion, joy, anger, and hurt. It may be hard to notice, but the story that Hasan Minhaj tells is rooted in his socio-cultural autobiography. He’s not just talking about funny or strange things that happened to him as a kid, he’s talking about critical incidents in his life related to his understanding of race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic class, and religion.
Here are a few examples of that.
- The first time Minhaj realized that his skin was not white was when his elementary school crush yelled at him, “‘your skin is the color of poop!’”
- He discusses who his parents were and what values he grew up with from childhood to adolescence, like his dad’s common sayings of “‘no fun, no friends, no girlfriends’” and “‘log kya kehenge?’”
- A moment of ridicule from culturally ignorant “Ryan Lochtes” at school making fun of his sister calling him “‘Hasan Bhai.’”
- Falling in love with his “white princess,” the traumatizing rejection from her family, and his long road towards healing from that and better understanding race politics and good versus bad people.
While watching this, I felt as if this story was mine in so many ways and that I could relate to it on so many levels. But that’s where Homecoming King might make fools of us all—this is not my story, this is not your story. Let’s not force the burden of representation on Hasan Minhaj and make him carry all of our stories on his back. Let’s explore our own identity developments and create our own socio-cultural autobiographies. The gist of doing this is to find critical moments from your childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood that shaped who you are today in relation to one of your identities (black, second-generation Pakistani, poor, etc.) Here’s a resource that explains how to do this.
You’re probably thinking, this is going to take a lot of time, and you’re right. You’re also probably thinking, some of the stuff that Hasan Minhaj talked about was brutal to recall, and you’re right. But what he also invites us to do is to laugh at ourselves, to cry with our past selves, and to truly relive our emotions. I actually had to write a socio-cultural autobiography for an educational psychology class I took last semester and although I already knew many of the bits and pieces of how my identity formed as a kid, the assignment helped me understand all of the pieces together. I also discovered a new identity (that I started identifying with other racial minorities as “brown” in college).
My suggestion is to definitely include these markers in your life:
- When did you first realize your skin was a certain color?
- What was your earliest birthday memory?
- What are your early memories of what Islam is? (Going to the masjid, Ramadan, Eid, etc.)
- What are the “cards” that you played with your parents?
2. Explore our parents’ histories and appreciate their life trajectories.
Part of the socio-cultural autobiography is to also explore the impacts of immediate family members in our lives. But Hasan Minhaj goes beyond that and actually discusses his parents’ histories. In a charmingly critical “arranged marriage” versus Tinder example, Minhaj manages to contextualize his parents’ marriage to examples of dating in mainstream American culture. Exploring our parents’ histories will give us much needed context as well as appreciation for their sacrifices to us and friendship founded on knowing a person.
I actually started a recording project of my eldest aunt telling me the history of her grandparents (my great-grandparents) earlier this summer and I hope to continue the project over the next few years.
Talk to your parents and find out who they are. Hear their stories.
3. Challenge our paradigms and viewpoints with those of our parents’.
One of the things that knowing and understanding our parents’ histories allows us to do is to challenge our paradigms with their paradigms. Hasan Minhaj admits to not knowing who is right about an issue, his “zen brown Mr. Miagi” father or himself. Should Minhaj put his head down and become a doctor and live in the suburbs and let racism slide off his back, or should he have the “audacity of equality?” Should he forgive an old friend from high school, or should he hold on to that grudge? When we get to know our parents, we can understand how to contextualize their paradigms and values. When we humble ourselves and admit that we are not always right, we are able to see that our parents have been alive for 20 to 30 years longer than we have, and if they’ve made it that far they must have survived somehow.
Check your paradigm and values. Be open to others’ viewpoints, especially your parents, who may have not gotten a fair chance from you in the past.
4. Accept wisdoms/advice from our parents.
It’s only when we have humbled ourselves enough to challenge our own perspectives that we will have the ability to be open to accepting the wisdom and advice our parents have. Minhaj tells us how he internalized a piece of advice that his father gave him and how that changed his life.
What advice have your parents given you in the past that you ignored? In your life right now, what do you need advice on?
5. Talk about identity development and share our stories with others.
When Hasan Minhaj talks about “us,” it feels like a hit of dopamine each time to me. That’s right, us, born-and-raised in California to Muslim immigrant parents from the Indian Subcontinent. That’s me! That’s us! I felt as if I belonged to a community as I watched the comedy special, and can only imagine how desis in the audience must have felt a special camaraderie with Minhaj and each other. What Homecoming King invites us to do is to share our stories with others, especially others who come from a similar background. Although Minhaj did translate most of the Hindi/Urdu he used, some of the things he said simply rang more true to people from a similar background. “Isn’t life like biryani, where you move the good [stuff] towards you and push the weird [stuff] to the side?” That saying probably makes a lot more sense to me than it would the average American, simply because I grew up eating biryani.
I think it is incredibly important to share with people from different backgrounds from ourselves to build cultural humility, but perhaps unseasoned story-tellers have to work their way there. In my class last semester, I managed to not cry for the first time when I told the story of how my white best friend told me she couldn’t be my friend anymore on September 12th, 2001. I admitted to my professor and classmates that this was the first time I was able to get through the story without becoming emotionally overwhelmed, and my professor remarked that sharing the story about a traumatic experience can be a powerful way to heal and that each time a person tells the same story it gets easier to tell. I guess it took the twentieth time to finally master my emotions enough to get through the story with dry eyes.
Let’s make this more tangible! Eid ul Fitr may be over but Eid ul Adha is just around the corner, inshaAllah. Send this article to a friend you know you will see during Eid. Encourage that person to start thinking about their own socio-cultural autobriography. At an Eid get-together, pull that close friend or family member to the side and invite them to listen to your stories and share their stories with you.
6. Appreciate the unsung heroes in our lives.
The only moment when it looks like Minhaj can’t keep it together is after telling us about his relationship with his sister, Ayesha. He tracks their relationship from the moment a “fob in a frock” showed up in his home to the moment when she laid down “one of her cards” for him so that he could get married to a Hindu woman. Minhaj finally turns his back to the camera and pauses for a few moments after admitting he would never have got married to his wife if it weren’t for his sister’s intervention. I don’t know if he’s just taking a break at that point, but to me it appeared as if he was overcome with very raw emotions and was unable to speak. Although he goes after his sister, and even his father, in parts of his show, Minhaj does appreciate them for being heroes in their own ways in his life.
Who are the heroes in our lives? Who are the people that we never appreciated but owe so much to? In so many ways, this comedy show is a huge message of apology, thanks, and love to his sister and father. Who do we owe a sorry, a thank you, and some overdue love to?
7. Question how much we’ve stuck to “following our dreams” or “promises to ourselves.”
Minhaj takes us through the gruelling journey he experienced in following his dream of being a comedian. From exposing himself to ridicule over his Pizza Hut sliders commercial to admitting that he nearly ruined his “Daily Show” audition, we got a taste of what it was like for Minhaj to reject a traditional career and follow his dreams. Towards the end of the show, he says, “This is new brown America, the dream is for you to take—so take [it]! Stop blaming it on other people.” Although I think this statement could do with a little bit of nuance, like systemic racism perhaps, Minhaj himself is probably justified in saying this because he’s made it as far as he has in one of the most anti-diverse fields.
What promises did we make ourselves as kids and throughout high school? Have we managed to follow our dreams in some way? Did we give up on our dreams?
8. Come face to face with the demons in our past in a self-critical way.
Minhaj speaks of his father’s disappointment when he hears the prom story from him. But his disappointment is for the lack of forgiveness that Minhaj has exhibited towards Bethany Reed, which Minhaj also equates with realizing that love is greater than fear. Minhaj meets up with Bethany Reed to talk about prom and is humbled to hear her side of the story. Minhaj admits that he just wanted the white “co-sign,” and that it wasn’t really about Bethany Reed and prom after all.
What demons do we have in our past that we need to tackle? Is it limited to the experience or person, or does that experience or person represent something greater that we need to overcome?
9. Look past the differences of “tribes.”
Homecoming King also invites us to look past the differences in race, class, color, and creed that divide us into “tribes.” Hasan challenges us to not just talk about overcoming these differences “behind closed doors,” but to truly take action whenever life presents us with an opportunity to prove ourselves. “For every Treyvon Martin or Ahmed the Clock Kid, there’s shades of bigotry that happen every day between all of us because we’re too afraid of letting go of this idea of ‘the other’.”
Another great benefit of undertaking the socio-cultural autobiography project is that in knowing ourselves, we are equipped to understand others. Once we are self-aware of our own identities and how they were shaped, we can detect biases and prejudices that we may have and need to tackle.
How far do I have to go before I can be a member of my own “tribe” and still be open, tolerant, and accepting of people from other “tribes?
10. Look for the greater context of race problems in this country, and globally.
Lastly, Minhaj invites us to grapple with the race problems in this country, and globally by extension. Although Minhaj does speak about his hardships and the idea of the “immigrant tax,” he does admit that it takes the loss of life for us to wake up the reality of a race problem existing in the United States. One of the statements that personally touched me the most was when he talked about consoling himself and contextualizing paying his own taxes to Uncle Sam. “At least your spine isn’t getting shattered in the back of a police wagon,” Minhaj is telling himself, “the way that it’s happening to my African American brothers and sisters in this country to this day, so if this is the tax you have to pay for being here…Uncle Sam—take it!”
After re-watching Homecoming King for the third time, my husband got pulled over by a cop while I was on the phone with him. He had to hang up, and I was overcome with fear and anxiety for his safety. My feelings in that moment really tied together for me what it means to explore our stories while placing them in the context of the race problem in this country. Although our stories make us all different from each other, we are tied together by the fact that we come from minority and marginalized groups. The minority-on-minority prejudice and racism needs to end.
What are you doing in your life now that help combat racism and other forms of discrimination against others? What are we doing as a community?