Weinsten Effect

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

It seems like so many men in powerful positions are falling like a deck of cards.

It started with Harvey Weinstein. It was such a disappointment because I come from a merchant community in India, and Jewish people are our role models. How, I ask, could a smart, successful Jewish businessman not know the most important rule of business?

There is a saying in our community that goes back hundreds of years. A young man entering a business world (they were all men at that time) will be successful anywhere in the world, if he is true to his word and keeps his zipper up. If Weinstein had been inculcated into this practice, he would still be ruling Hollywood.

Following Weinstein, a lot of white men in powerful positions have been exposed for their sexual misconduct. Frankly, for a brown man born and brought up in India, it has been a blessing. I have faced my own share of stereotypical remarks. Some of them are innocuous.

Recently while waiting for my order at an empty small take-out Indian restaurant in Gaithersburg, Maryland, an African-American woman in military uniform walked in and asked if we were still open. I told her that I was a customer. She apologized and then I joked that her question was based on stereotype. She apologized again and I explained that I was a stand-up comic trying new material. Another time, dressed in a suit, I drove my black Buick rental car to the front of the Marriott Hotel check-in. An old lady got in the back seat of my car thinking I was her limo driver!

The more serious biases based on stereotypes are non-verbal and you have to read the cues in the body language. There was one instance where such assumptions were obvious.

I had hired a business development consultant, an attractive white lady who was in the National Guard reserve. We had to go meet a customer in Crystal City, Virginia. She insisted on driving her own car so I asked her to pick me up from my house in Fairfax, Virginia, not too far from where she was staying. However, she refused to do that and insisted that I meet her on the emergency parking area of a busy road, follow her to a strip mall where I would leave my car and then I could ride with her.

The house I lived in was in a community of 400 houses in an affluent neighborhood and it would have been perfectly safe for her to pick me up. It was humiliating but I let it go. Eventually, I let her go, too.

Indian men are generally viewed as chauvinistic. The stereotypical view of Arab men and the similarity of skin tone does not help. I wish I could tell people that I am a Hindu and we treat our women differently than stereotypical Muslim men. But we don't. We treat them differently but still pretty badly. This is despite a quote from Sanskrit scripture written over two thousand years ago that, “Where women are treated with respect, Gods reside in that country." Maybe that's why they have millions of Gods in India — women were treated with respect at one time, so the country was flooded with Gods. The respect didn't last, but the Gods remained. Maybe they are also waiting for the right moment, to restore balance between the sexes, watching Hollywood's #MeToo movement as an example.

Now the newly shed light on the misconduct of powerful white men is a big neutralizer. When American women look at Indian men, they can be assured that we are not any worse than white men, Jewish men or African-American men.

That is a big relief because after decades of stereotyping and discrimination, brown men can be viewed and treated the same way as men of any other race.

Potential pigs!

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Los Angeles-based comedian Rajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series.