Aamer Rahman Discusses White People, Racism, and…Magneto? [INTERVIEW]
I got a chance to sit down and talk with Aamer Rahman last week. He is one half of the Australian comedy crew “Fear of a Brown Planet.” And, he recently hit major viral status with his video about “reverse racism.”
We got to talk about racism and white people. But, like the true nerds we both are, we ended up in a very relevant conversation about X-Men, Magneto, and the ever prescient Asteroid M.
Let me just start by saying that Aamer Rahman is a cool dude. Thank you to the technology gods at Google who made it possible for me to meet with him at 3pm on a Thursday my time and 10am in Australia on Friday for him.
When I asked Aamer about taking on tough topics that many see as ‘taboo.’ He answered honestly.
RAHMAN: “It’s not taboo for me…the things are not hard things to talk about. It’s normal for us...I am saying it because I know exactly how the crowd is going to react. My audience is different…when white people see it, they’re like ‘this stuff is so edgy and so controversial’.”
I asked him “How does it feel when your normal is so abnormal for a majority of white people?”
RAHMAN: “But that’s kind of your day to day experience, right? Permanent abnormality? That’s kind of what you adjust to.”
He went on.
RAHMAN: “I write for a particular audience; I write to say a certain thing. If it’s seen as something strange or whatever then the assumption is ‘oh, you’re trying to educate people, you’re trying to show the mainstream how wrong they are, or you’re trying to change people’s views.’ And, I’m like ‘are you crazy?’ Like, if a racist person watches my video, are they going to be less racist? Definitely not. The YouTube channel is a testament to that.”
RAHMAN: “Someone who doesn’t like what I have to say, they just sit through it. There’s this assumption that if you do something political, you’re trying to convert people or make them think differently. I hate to disappoint people. I’m just preaching to the choir and I am happy with that.”
I asked Rahman if folks see the humor in what he has to say even when they disagree with him. But he made it pretty clear that the folks who disagree with him have no issue expressing it. He has been told “Stop stereotyping white people or [he’s] being divisive.”
ME: “I was hoping you’d say there were some swaths of people in the middle”
RAHMAN: “I haven’t really found them.”
Rahman recoiled when I insinuated that he was a social change-maker.
RAHMAN: “I’m very skeptical about that. Because, I just feel very weird about overplaying the role of entertainment. When I get the question in interviews ‘When did you decide to fight racism with comedy?’ I just think that if you understand what racism is then you must know that you can’t break racism with jokes, right? For me, it’s just a form of relief I guess. The same way in high school I used to listen to Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine or whatever. It’s the same thing. It’s kind of the soundtrack to what people are feeling. But, personally, for me to say I am moving and changing things…it’s just comedy.”
I let him know that he was pretty humble. He then acquiesced that social media has made people like him possible. He called his work a “reflection” of the feelings many people feel around the world. And, while I agree, I still think he has a lot more power than he would like to claim.
We digressed into a conversation about black, brown, and white people and what those terms mean around the world. His nephew lauded him for starting a “race war” on World Star Hip Hop.
RAHMAN: “People’s idea about my ethnicity is bizarre. Everything from black to South Asian to Arab. Positive and negative. Latinos will be like ‘it’s so good to see this Arab guy who understands us.’ Whites will be like ‘I hope this n-word dies tomorrow.'”
Race confusion aside, I wanted to know more about what motivated Rahman to be so blunt in his comedy.
RAHMAN: “I’m blunt in the right forum. Comedy is a way where I can just say whatever I want. But, I don’t have those conversations with people day-to-day. Not outside of my circle. I used to. I was an activist for a long time before I started comedy. I used to argue with people politically all the time. And with white people a lot. And it was just exhausting. It was clear to me at one point that you can’t argue people out of racism…it’s a total waste of time to argue with racists. I would rather we strengthen ourselves and talk about how it affects us and how to fight and how to constitute ourselves rather than try to get concessions from people who don’t understand us.”
I took the opportunity to get Rahman’s perspective on the term “post-racial.” His answer wasn’t surprising.
RAHMAN: “Post-racial is as real as reverse racism...ironically, the idea of post-racism is extremely racist…any time someone is racist it’s just because they haven’t gotten the memo yet that we’re post-race.”
I ended the interview by asking Rahman what one thing he would change about race relations. I asked him what he thought would do the most good.
RAHMAN: “A space colony for brown people. Cause we can’t go back in time. We just need to depart. Like a futuristic brown civilization… You know how in X-men, how Magneto sets up a mutant island? He just stops trying to kill humans. He goes and lives on an asteroid for a while then he sets up his own island colony. It’s just time to separate, inter-gallactic exodus.”
Now, isn’t that something to think about? Rahman’s honest, clear-headed perspectives on race add yet another dimension to the complex structures of institutional racism we continue to struggle with in America. I’m glad he took a moment to ‘preach to the choir.’
See the full video below:
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