In the midst of all of the controversy over race coming from various police shootings of unarmed black men (and various grand juries' failures to indict any of them), I decided to read Aasif Mandvi's book No Land's Man. What the heck does the memoir of a funny Daily Show correspondent have to do with racism? Sadly, a lot.
Mandvi, born to an Indian and Muslim family, grew up in the UK as a young boy and moved with his family to Florida as a teen. He encountered no end of racism on both sides of the Atlantic. It's sadly one of the overarching themes of the book, along with his feeling that he belongs nowhere - not in India, nor in England, nor the US.
Mandvi sees himself as an actor, not a comedian. Still, he is funny. The book is funny. I grew tired of his repeated use of beginning a chapter in the middle of a story, sharing a shocking scene, and then backtracking to say how he got there and what happened next.
What I like about the book is that you get to see the world from an Indian Muslim's point of view. Obviously, Mandvi and his family are a lot like anyone and any family. They are human. They are nice, normal people. And yet they are repeatedly judged by their skin color, their faith, and their accents.
Until he was hired by the Daily Show, Mandvi was rarely asked to play roles for "every man" characters that all Americans could relate to. Instead, he was asked to play a snake charmer, a terrorist, and any number of other ethnic characters. He still uses his ethnicity and religion in his role on the Daily Show as the Senior Muslim Correspondent, but at least now he is empowered to highlight hypocrisy in the U.S. via satire.
We need more books like this - or rather, we need to read more books like this - in order to understand the fundamental humanity that we all share, regardless of skin color. The recent protests and the backlash against it by some whites show that people with different skin colors experience different realities in America today. We need to all get on the same page in order to have a productive conversation. It may be impossible to walk a mile in another man's shoes, but at least you can read his memoir.