The Simpsons actor Hank Azaria, the white actor who voiced the show’s long-running Indian character, Apu, says that he feels the need “to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize” for his “participation in racism.”
“It’s practically a slur at this point,” Azaria said of the Simpsons character during a recent interview on the Armchair Expert podcast with hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman.
The actor added that it “took a while” for him to realize his so-called “participation in racism,” or “a racist practice.”
“It became apparent to me, like, ‘Do I keep voicing this character or not?’ And I couldn’t make that decision very quickly. I didn’t know how t0 make it, so I needed to educate myself a lot,” Azaria said.
“I know it’s just a cartoon character, but is this representative of a true example of structural racism, at least as it relates to show business, in this country?” the actor added, recalling the questions he asked himself back when he was still trying to figure out whether he was participating in “racism.”
Azaria added that in order to educate himself, he read, “talked to a lot of Indian people,” took seminars, and “talked to a lot of people who knew a lot about racism in this country.”
The actor also mentioned that he had also talked to Indian students at his son’s school in order to get their input, and a 17-year-old boy who had never seen The Simpsons still knew of Apu, that “this is how his [Indian] people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
Azaria added that “with tears in his eyes,” the boy asked, “will you please tell the writers in Hollywood that what they do and what they come up with really matters in people’s lives, like, it has consequences?”
The actor said that he would deliver the message.
“I really do apologize,” Azaria said. “It’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that, and participating in that.”
“Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize,” the actor added. “And sometimes I do when it comes up.”
Azaria said that he concluded that the act of “participating in racism” is all about “blind spots.”
“I really didn’t know any better, I didn’t think about it,” Azaria said. “And that was part of my — I don’t love the term ‘white privilege,’ I mean, it applies. I prefer ‘relative advantage.’ I was unaware of how much relative advantage I had received in this country.”
“I was a white kid from Queens,” he added. “I didn’t think about this stuff, because I never had to.”
Azaria stepped down from voicing Apu last year, more than two years after accusations of racism marred the long-running animated series.
Last month, however, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening said he doesn’t really care about the “chasm of criticism” that his praise for the Indian character might bring, and that despite the woke whiplash, producers still have “ambitious” plans for more stories featuring Apu.