The other day my sister made a comment that struck me as a good point. Our conversation touched on tokenism in sitcoms, and I said something about how Indians (South Asians, not Native Americans) are probably featured more as token characters recently because they cover the race diversity requirement but also don’t seem to mind racist jokes as much as blacks (who would be candidates for the same roles), which offers the show more to work with. “No, they think they’re hil-arious,” she said. She works with Pakistanis in one of those jobs where no one around her really knows what she does because its some kind of boring paperwork-accounting-processing company, but the one thing we are familiar with is the South Asians she works with, and that their friendship and mostly humor are the bright spots of her days.
Shows like The Big Bang Theory and Parks and Recreation feature Indians as token racial minorities, and the writers are free to use ethnic jokes about them as much as they are free to use jokes about whites (or subsets), Jews, geeks, jocks, or any other broad stereotype. The producers of these shows don’t seem to fear a large, angry anti-racism protest and 20 TV news stations coming down to their studio, as the case would be if they made similar jokes about a black cast member (or, to some degree, a Native American).
This, it strikes me, can only help South Asians (Westerners can’t generally tell the difference between the subsets) in the West. Western Whites like to make jokes whenever we can about anything, just like we like to hear jokes about ourselves and the stereotype groups we are part of. We don’t like to feel the knot of tension at every moment when we’re in the company of someone who might take offense at anything we might say that could be taken as stereotyping. This makes me suspect that South Asians will be much more quickly and heartily welcomed into larger groups (of whites but also other majorities), compared with blacks, and will more easily find themselves in positions of leadership. Of course, a black was president almsot 10 years ago, so the color barrier is long gone in institutional terms, but the comfort levels of those around blacks may be more strained than ever, despite relatively smaller amounts of actual intent to disparage or harm blacks or think of them as significantly different from other races, and certainly when trying to overcome the “invisible color barrier” in companies and groups, comfort level and the ability to share jokes would be significant.
A last note. Obviously, Western blacks like whites and probably all cultures like to make jokes whenever and at whatever they like, so the inability to engage in this humor with other races in the West is likely best considered as something bigger than black individuals -- a cultural institution of behavior and opinion they can't break free of either, perpetrated by large social forces and powerful individuals engaged in various politics. This can be seen in the humor of the black people we all hopefully know, but also in black sitcoms, where the jokes are made, but only by other blacks, evincing perhaps a trend toward enclavism effected by barriers of racist reactionism.