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The "Unprogressive" Labor Practices on a "Progressive" Show – What Really Happened on the Patriot Act

BY: LAMA MOHAMMED

Patriot Act, hosted by comedian Hasan Minhaj, was a show that incorporated "ideas about ethics and morality," and one that aimed to examine cultural and political issues with "depth and sincerity." It was a show that touched on topics that newscasters could not, or would not tackle, with brilliance towards affirmative action, the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the policing system, wealth and taxes, land occupation in Kashmir, and a personal favorite — the protests in Sudan. So of course, reading that the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj was canceled by Netflix on August 18, 2020 spread a wave of shock across both Muslim and South-Asian communities.  

Hasan was unafraid of the political uproar that would follow the release of certain episodes. His talk on Saudi Arabia was removed from the kingdom's Netflix channel, where Hasan criticized Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. There was also an episode on the 2019 Indian general election that had viewers listen to issues related to Hindu nationalism, Kashmir, and mob lynchings against Muslim and Dalit minorities that stirred controversy within Prime Minister Modi's BJP government. 

The unwavering talent to bring such difficult issues to light is what made Hasan special, and ultimately someone who the Time Magazine deemed as one of 100 most influential people in the world in April of 2019. However, outside the humor, the intellect, and the progressive content is a darker side to the show — several of the writers, many of whom are women of color, have revealed the mistreatment, abuse, and neglect they experienced behind the scenes of Patriot Act. An all-knowing "progressive show" failed to practice its "progressiveness" and "woke-ness" to the very women who helped deliver and craft the ingenious episodes that have left fans in mourning since the show's cancellation. 

Nur Naseem, a producer on the show, took to Twitter to open up about her experiences of being "humiliated and gaslit" as well as being "targeted and ignored." She later critiqued that the show should have "practiced the progressive ethos they cultivated on screen," alluding to a similar theme we have seen this summer around so-called "progressive" news spaces failing to treat their BIPOC workers with "progressive" labor practices. 

Nur's experience is similar to Prachi Gupta, who wrote about her time at Cosmopolitan, and the expectation that BIPOC have to be "grateful" for being in white spaces. Unlike Prachi, Nur tweeted she was "grateful" for her time on the Patriot Act, but wonders if her work was worth the mental toll. Here we see women of color purposely being vague about their experience to protect both the public name and fame of the men in their communities. BIWOC do this to not only protect the men but the communities they represent as a whole. As a first-generation, Indian-American Muslim, Hasan Minhaj could see the public shift the blame on his inaction and/or ignorance of the situation into the false stereotypes about who he is, and therefore, people with negative preconceived notions of the Muslim and South-Asian communities will only confirm the mistreatment of women. 

Amy Zhang, another producer and woman of color on the show retweeted Nur, and added that she witnessed Nur and other women of color be "silenced," "treated unfairly," and left doubting "their skills in a toxic newsroom." What Amy highlights is something that many women of color experience — "imposter syndrome." The syndrome is a process of thought where an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents, and therefore, internalize a consistent fear of being discovered as a "fraud." Women of color, especially, suffer from this because they have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts to get into white-majority spaces such as journalism, and can still be left unacknowledged. The neglect and silence leave women of color skeptical of their abilities, regardless of their qualifications.   

Sheila Kumar also tweeted, "I've never been more unhappy than when I was working at the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj." What these women are displaying is that there is an undeniable amount of racism that exists within the news world — progressive or not. And Hasan allowed such a dangerous environment to perpetuate itself through his actions, or lack thereof. It does not matter that the Patriot Act was a show celebrated for its representation, or that Hasan as an individual was one who many people in the Muslim and South-Asian communities looked up to. 

The very performance of "woke-ness" on the show was dismissed from its work environment. The cancellation of the show also left behind the opportunity for the women of color to speak up and hold the men who treated them with disrespect accountable. Hasan has yet to take responsibility or write a statement acknowledging the pain women endured behind the scenes of the show. 

Iva Dixit, a friend of Nur tweeted that it is okay to "mourn a good thing," but we cannot move forward without questioning Hasan and the persistent racism that exists in these self-proclaimed "progressive" spaces. Hasan is an icon to many, but we should normalize discussions where we critique our heroes once they "acquire power and authority." In a world of "stan culture" and "icon worship," we often turn a blind eye when our idols disappoint us. What we do with this disappointment matters because we owe it to ourselves and our communities to treat the women in them with respect.  


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