Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always make a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom. They always ask me how tall I am and I always lie and say 5 feet 10 inches. Next time, I am going to get more adventurous. If they ask me ‘what color are you?’ I am going to say white.
By Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan on being detained at the U.S. Airport—twice. (Once, he was detained while promoting a film called “My Name is Khan" which was ironically about a person with the last name Khan suffering from repeated racial profiling.)
Multiple actors and other prominent individuals in the film industry with the last name “Khan” have been detained when entering the country. Irrfan Khan (The Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire, Spider-man) described the three times he was stopped—while on the way to receive honors for his roles in films such as The Namesake—as “humiliating.” Actor Aamir Khan was stopped and stripped searched in 2002. Director Kabir Khan, was reportedly detained at least three times in 2008 while filming in the United States. The New York Times ended up remarking on The Dangers of Fying While Khan
This much is clear:
Despite being an incredibly common surname, in the United States, Khan is a racialized last name and those who carry it suffer from additional, insulting, stigma and scrutiny.
There is no shortage of talented actors of South Asian descent whether from within the United States, from the UK, or Bollywood—and many of them even have the last name of Khan.
With Star Trek Into Darkness the name “Khan” is once again stigmatized as antagonistic, but the actors named Khan, the Khans of the world, and those who look like Khans once again have no voice about how they are represented in American media.
If you’re an award winning actor named Khan, you will still get stopped and humiliated at the airport. When that rare character in American media finally shows up sharing your name, he will be played by a white British man. That actor will wear your name for one movie and sneer and strut to great critical acclaim. You will wear your racialized name, your skin color, and hope you don’t get detained another time.