In a predominately white America, cultural differences can sometimes be difficult to grasp. For Iranian Muslim comedian woman Negin Farsad, grasping her own cultural difference proved to be the most difficult of all. Farsad came to the University Wednesday night, attempting to tackle what she calls “Islamophobia,” or the fear of Muslims.
Farsad claims this exists because we live in a world where, unlike the Taco Bell Chihuahua or a ballerina in the dancing world, Iranian Americans do not have too many icons that stray far from a terrorist.
For the next hour, through hilarity and borderline racist jokes, Farsad attempted to tell us how we can create these icons and push through these incorrect stereotypes.
Farsad grew up in Palm Springs, Fla. In a community with mostly, as she recalled, “old white people and gay people,” she felt out of place as an Iranian-American woman. Farsad claims she always found herself wanting to be a part of a group, and to relate with their icons and their culture since she felt that she did not have any.
To fulfill that need, she attached herself to the Mexican-American students at school. She found herself pushing for “workers’ rights” to fit in with her Mexican friends.
She felt that need again when she was pursuing her masters’ degree in African American studies at Columbia University. By doing this, she found herself again relating to a minority where there were set cultures and icons.
She pushed for the rights that African Americans still push for because she wanted to feel as if she were pushing for social justice, even if it was through another group of minorities. She explained that even though she thought she knew why she was there, even the African Americans in her class would look at her and say, “Why are you actually here? You do not really belong here.”
It was not until postgraduate school that Farsad realized that the minorities she needs to defend are her own people. From there, Farsad became a policy advisor in the city of New York, but would still do stand-up at night, and eventually quit to enter into the film industry.
Her most recent movie, “The Muslims are Coming,” takes the audience through some of the most potentially prejudiced parts of the country, and begins interviewing people as to how they feel about Muslims.
Farsad even stands in front of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City holding a sign up that reads, “Hug a Muslim.” Although satirical and funny, Farsad questions, “Why can’t these be the icons of Iranians and Muslims? Why are our only icons men wearing berkas holding AK47s?”
Shonna Kydd, a graduate assistant at the University who is a part of the Diversity Programming Committee for the Center for Multicultural Affairs organized the entire event. Shonna’s hope was to bring in a speaker that was unlike any diversity lectures we have had at the University.
After looking over numerous speaker bios, the Diversity Committee said Negin’s style of using humor to shed light on stereotypes would be a good way to “break the ice” so to speak, where diversity is concerned.
“We also felt that her topic of Islamophobia was one that is not generally touched on in an open forum,” Kydd says. “In light of 911 and recent events involving the Middle East, we wanted to break down some of the perceptions and stereotypes that some may have about the Muslim community. Oftentimes, people are reluctant to speak about issues of diversity because they may feel uncomfortable or awkward, so we saw Negin’s approach of using comedy as a great way to break down walls and get people to think and talk about the issues.”
As for the problem of Islamophobia, Kydd believes the issue of stereotypes in the Muslim community is an important one to tackle.
“As a society in general, I think that people have preconceived ideas about the Islamic community as a whole, which stems from tragic circumstances that have occurred in our nation, as well as media coverage of those events,” she says. “I think those incidents have made Americans wary about anyone of Muslim or Middle Eastern decent. I believe that many of us have subconscious feelings of ‘Islamophohia’ at some point or another. But I believe that we need to be mindful of how we perceive others, not just in the Muslim community, but of all races and cultures that may be different from our own.”
Students who also attended the event had similar feelings towards the issue and the way Negin presented it. Senior Jessica Eby says, “The way she used humor to break open topics that are sensitive to people was effective and thought-provoking.”
Overall Negin Farsad’s performance had the audience laughing, but at the same time had the audience think seriously about the way we perceive not only the Muslim community but also all different types of races and religions. She brought up culturally sensitive topics that at first can make people uncomfortable, but hopefully now because of her lecture can get students talking about social justice and the way we see those who are different from us.