Once again, I made myself into a gullible dupe for the American press. I watched the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last night when I had so many other choices. I could’ve watched the Pittsburgh Penguins dismantle the playoff adverse Washington Capitals 6-2. Or slept through an NBA playoff game or rerun. Or watched the last four episodes of season one of This Is Us, or the season-ender to The Expanse. Instead, I chose to watch those smug, not-so-objective elites with pens, notepads, microphones, cameras, laptops, and press passes gaze longingly at each other. I sat and watched them talk about the freedom of the press as if it was still 1974 and the nation could still believe it was a just one.
The narcissistic navel-gazing continued even as Hasan Minhaj took the stage and began to roast the press for its ineptitude, and 45 for his voluminous idiocies. It was a pretty good roasting, but compared to Stephen Colbert in ’06 and Larry Wilmore last year, Minhaj was underwhelming. Then, Minhaj said something at the end of his speech that momentary kept me from REM sleep.
And it’s the same position a lot of minority kids feel in this country. You know—do I come up here and just try to fit in, and not ruffle any feathers? Or do I say how I really feel?
Because this event is about celebrating the First Amendment and free speech. Free speech is the foundation of an open and liberal democracy. From college campuses to the White House, only in America can a first-generation, Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.
Really? “Only in America?” An Indian American Muslim couldn’t do what Minhaj did in, say, Canada, or in the UK, where Sadiq Khan, a British Pakistani, is London’s mayor, or even, say, in India? This statement alone answered Minhaj’s question for me. Sir, wasn’t this an attempt to “just try to fit in, and not ruffle any features?” You just told every America elite to the left of the Islamophobic set exactly what they wanted to hear!
There are two other problems with the refrain, “Only in America,” especially in the context of Minhaj and free speech, free expression, and freedom of the press. One is that none of the First Amendment is free. Sure, if one narrowly means free from government coercion and persecution, then what Minhaj highlighted is mostly true. But given the platform Minhaj had last night, his truth was a lie for most of us. Because for most of us, the connections and money isn’t readily available to have such a lofty platform to proclaim America as uniquely free.
“Only in America” also assumes that anyone who couldn’t be Hasan Minhaj is a loser. Millions of Americans of color and tens of millions of poor and low-income Whites, you simply have worked hard enough, been extroverted enough, or told enough off-color jokes. Apparently, that’s what it takes to make “Only in America” true for us all. Despite his calling 45 the “orange man behind the Muslim ban,” in this one fundamental area of belief, Minhaj is no different from 45. For “Only in America” may be the most narcissistic, hypocritical, and fact-denying thing anyone can say about themselves and the US.