“Hey Ganesh, I’m a human samosa”- Disney and Stereotypes

Used Karma – Jessie

Disney has never been known for being “culturally sensitive”- look at some of the portrayals of various ethnicities in Disney cartoons and movies, you get the sense that instead of challenging stereotypes, Disney celebrates racism. As a kid I remember watching Aladdin and Jungle Book. (I admit, guilty pleasure, Disney is entertaining…but positive criticism will always result in better products, and I believe Disney, over the years, has strived to do just that- recent Disney cartoon portraying the first Black Disney Princess. I hope by starting a conversation and presenting Disney with an opportunity to hear back about their other programing blunders, and possibly seeing if others also feel the way I did when I stumbled on a Disney program.)

You would think that that sort of stuff doesn’t matter at a young age, but the thing is we are socialized to understand cultures and peoples around us in a particular way. I mean you think about why your parents aren’t going to let you marry a “khaalo” (black person?), it’s a prevalent South Asian (Desi) racist norm. The few inter racial marriages that have occurred happen on a hierarchy- the whiter the Desi the better, than a white person, Arabs over most others, the bottom of the pole are your Black folks and Mexicans are an absolute no.

These same perceptions influence a child on a much more intimate level. When kids are told that long shiny hair is nice, or that wearing make up makes a girl attractive, all these things are influencing their perception of who they are and what they should strive for. In the same way when kids see only negative images or idea’s associated with being Muslim they will pick up an inferiority complex when it comes to being “Muslim” and associating with “Islam”. There is a sense of shame, guilt and self-hate that builds up. Images and the media matter. We spend so much time watching TV and we are told by the TV folk what to like, how to be, what to hate, what to eat, where to vacation, what sport to play, what is normal and what is abnormal- so how will that not influence children on their self-image?

Disney is the leading perpetrator when it comes to this image impression. Being that Mickey is the most recognizable brand to kids, Disney movies and shows are gateways to various age transitions for kids- toddler to adolescent to “tweens” and on to teens. So that’s why this clip from Disney Channel’s show Jessie is so problematic.

The kid that stars as the “Indian” is Karan Brar, he’s pretty much been type casted as the immigrant son (information on him suggests he’s fluent in Punjabi, props to him!). He’s played a similar character in Diaries of a Wimpy Kid. What’s hilarious is that Karan is so talented that originally the role of Ravi in Jessie, was supposed to be a Hispanic kid but was changed because the casting directors were so impressed with Brar during the audition process, recreating the role just for his special characteristics.

The show is replete with stereotypical references to Ganesh and Indians. Worse, Ravi’s character is the typical portrayal of foreign characters, except here, it’s the kid. Remember Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s Short Round, Indiana’s eleven-year old Chinese sidekick? Well Ravi is a reincarnation of Short Round mixed in with a modern watered down racism and Disney-friendly-distortions of South Asian culture and specifically Hinduism.

When South Asians are seeing a rise in the number of folks making it in business, politics and the arts- its hard not to wonder why such stereotyping can go unchallenged. Jessie itself is a fairly new show, it just debut this past September, but the fact that it hasn’t gotten an outcry over the Ravi character in the past four months is sad.

But I want to point out that Ravi alone is not the only problem. Emma Ross is the Black girl portrayed as a bubbly precocious 11-year old, who has some significantly over emphasized Black characteristics. The thing is I am a 28 year old male, who’s pretty politicized, so maybe I might be turning something into a mountain when really its not even a mole hill. But if a

11 thoughts on ““Hey Ganesh, I’m a human samosa”- Disney and Stereotypes

  1. It isn’t racist, everything is exaggerated for simple kids entertainment, you shouldn’t be watching at 28 so of course it is annoying you. Same reasonyou don’t play with rattles or eat baby food.

    Cartoons give characters large eyes to appeal to young children and hold their attention.

    Dora screams every word which I cannot stand!

    Back to Jesse it is such bs tha tthat Stupid Ravi kid has that command of Englishv ocabulary yet retains that 30 year ingrained accent. If he is that young, he would speak either native English or Hindi / Punjabi or whatever. In real life he doesn’t even speak anything but English. Why don’ they they portray him at face value as an American born Indian descent kid? He would never really say crap like ht oh great ganesh, etcetera. The 1st gen kids I know have a perfect command of English with no cultural references or simile smattered throughout . Kids who are immigrants do not have that command of English and scripted wit please..

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    1. I think thats my contention- he could have been portrayed as a regular “American” character with whatever built in retained “ethnic” identity. He could have just been portrayed as an American born Indian kid who is third or fourth generation, thereby removed from India altogether. Apparently thats not of a distance from the motherland to not have a 30-year-old-stereotyped-immigrant-accent. I understand the over simplification and emphasis of certain traits in order to get the point across to kids, if it was just that I wouldn’t have bothered to write this post, and I doubt that the thousands (per year, and my blog is small fry, i don’t get a lot of traffic here) of hits i get from people searching “is disney jessie racist?” would have happened if it were just a matter of what you call “exaggeration”- its not, there is a lot more at play. I have come to the conclusion that Disney is very much like Abercrombie in terms of the “LOOK” they try to portray. While Disney has gotten better, I fear in other ways they are still stuck carrying around outdated modes of thought, this being one of those examples.

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  2. what i don’t understand is Zuri doesn’t make any Ugandan references, yet it seems every four to six minutes Ravi has to say something to remind us he was adopted from India.

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    1. True. Its been a while since I watched the show, like over a year now. But when I watched a couple of episodes I remember that Zuri was very much presented as being “Black”- much more pronounced then any of the other characters in asserting her stereotyped race makeup. I don’t think the show has gotten any better since I wrote this post, nor do I think that any of the Disney shows that exist now are all that better, I mean a “A Dog with a Blog….”

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  3. Yes I agree that Ravi is an indian sterotype as much as that 7 eleven guy in the Simpsons.
    It bothers me and I’m not even Indian.
    I don’t watch the show but I’ve seen bits of it for a second now and then going thru the channels.
    I don’t like how they portray Ravi as not intelligent just because he’s from another country.
    He quotes things like they used to have Chinese people do. Like Confucian say blah blah.
    I just wish they’d show him as a regular person rather than a stereotype.
    I know some kind Indian people and I just feel they deserve better than this.
    Disney is trying but as far as sitcoms go they are way behind in being culturally sensitive.
    They have much to improve on and a lot to learn.
    I’m tired of stereotypes of any kind, it just seems lazy of the writers.
    Thank you so much for the article I’m glad I’m not the only one bothered by this. maybe I could write a letter to Disney.

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