Master(s) of none
Aziz Ansari’s series ‘Master of None’ is experimental and exploratory, each episode surprising with a new vignette of the world he’s built around him. Of particular interest to me is Episode 8: ‘Thanksgiving’ written by Lena Waithe on the coming of age and coming out of her character Denise, a Black Queer woman. The episode takes you along her friendship with Dev, each Thanksgiving that he attends at her home revealing changes in Denise and her family’s life. Although I relate little to Denise I found solace in her journey growing up in a changing world. Most reviews of this episode focus on the theme of sexuality, but I focus on one political conversation around the dinner table that reminded me of my own political coming of age.
Set in the year 1995, Denise’s mother had just put aside a white dress for her to wear for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, Denise wears a jersey and Jordans and comes down the stairs in slo-mo to the song Flava In Ya Ear. Her mother expresses her disapproval and they go on talking about the politics of the time: The OJ Simpson trial.
Grandma: He didn’t do it
Denise: What about all that blood? How you know Grandma?
Mom: If Nicole was black we wouldn’t even be talking about this.
Aunt: They are always trying to take down our Black icons.
Mom: Anytime these folks see a black man coming up in the world, making himself enough. money to be able to get himself a white woman, they try to frame him.
Denise: What about Clarence Thomas?
Denise’s face is first surprised, but also disappointed, and then very certain of her disagreement. While her generation is protective of their Black idols, Denise is also critical of her family’s stance and of Black men in society, even – especially – when they are rich, famous, and married to white women (rather than excusable because they are rich, famous, and married to white women). This moment of discord managed to mark the inter-generational political divergence that families and collectives experience at watershed political moments in our communities. Our parents and elders pass on their experience of navigating the world they brought us into and we respect them because they have been right. However, with time, the world around us and around them changes, and whether slowly or suddenly we must forge a horizon for our own political future.
In 2011, an assumed political alignment with my community started to crack. When the conflict in Syria broke out, much of the Arab left saw the instability in Syria as a threat to the perceived allies of anti-imperialism. Our parent’s generation saw one too many foreign invasions destroy countries, and their fear of its recurrence is warranted, but it left little room for empathy with the struggle of the people.
As Bashar Al-Assad was exposed for crimes against his own people, the Arab nationalist and anti-imperialist leader became a sort of “OJ” of the Arab left. Arab leftists assumed innocence and victimhood because the trend stands: the US invades, the CIA meddles, Arab men are demonized, leftist leaders are targeted. Conveniently, the track record of such leaders on corruption and violence are minimized by those who defend them. But, as we learned with the OJ trial, the glove doesn’t have to fit for the rest of the world to recognize guilt.
In Denise, I saw an expression that I see in the many faces of our generation trying to navigate a new world by demanding more of the models prescribed to us by our parents’ generation. We are sons and daughters, we are masters of none. But we are also pioneers, and we will function not out of fear, but out of possibility. We must not spare or settle for one evil over the other. It is not an easy road, but our elders will see that the future is subject to change based on the will and persistence of our principles.
That look on Denise’s face that we keep seeing on our own, it’s a growing pain.