Over the weekend, comedian Kumail Nanjiani, star of the hit HBO comedy Silicon Valley, co-hosted the Film Independent Spirit Awards with Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon. Not bad for a nerd kid from Karachi. Except for the part where a photographer kept making racist remarks to Nanjiani on the red carpet.
Nanjiani, who moved to the United States from Pakistan in 2001, says that an unidentified member of the press repeatedly told him, "Smile, you're in America now," while taking photos of him on the red carpet.
When Nanjiani confronted him with an "Excuse me?" (this is the polite, red carpet, tuxedo-clad version of "What the fuck did you just say?") the photographer kept telling him "Welcome to America." Like five times.
"This is why I may not be smiling in some of the pics," says Nanjiani.
Highlight of hosting the Spirit Awards: Working with Kate McKinnon. Lowlight: Photog on red carpet saying "Smile you're in America now."— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) February 28, 2016
And then I was like "Excuse me?" And he said "Welcome to America." Like 5 times. This is why I may not be smiling in some of the pics.— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) February 28, 2016
And that has nothing to do with the Spirit Awards. Not their fault at all. Actually, they were absolutely wonderful.— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) February 28, 2016
And I know when someone is racist, the fault is theirs and not yours. But, in the moment, it makes you feel flattened, reduced & bullied.— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) February 28, 2016
Nanjiani says the incident made him feel "flattened, reduced and bullied." Isn't that the thing about shitty moments like this? It's easy to say, "Oh, hell no. If it were me, I would have done this..." But racism has a way of dehumanizing the hell out of you in an instant.
That last tweet pretty much nails it. When you are the target of someone's racism, it is absolutely not your fault. But the moment makes you feel like you are somehow in the wrong. Like your existence is not justified, and an incredible, talented guy like Kumail Nanjiani, in the middle of an awesome career moment, is reduced to just another brown guy who doesn't belong on the red carpet, this awards ceremony, or America.