Comedian talks ethnicity, disability: Maysoon Zayid calls for acceptance

By: Kristen Zdon, Staff Writer

Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian comedian known for her viral TEDWomen talk, came to campus Wednesday to discuss her cerebral palsy and her ethnicity and how they have affected her views on society.  

“The disability community is the largest minority in America. We cross all classes, genders, races, it doesn’t matter,” Zayid said.

Center for Student Diversity Associate Director of Women’s Resources Mahnoor Ahmed said that Zayid has “a very important message of resilience” that the CSD wanted to bring to campus.

“She has the unique advantage of addressing topics that are important and serious with a comedic flair. But she doesn’t minimize those issues,” Ahmed said. “On the contrary, she compels her audience to engage with her intersectional identities and her journey, and invites them to keep thinking about those things long after her program is done.”

As an actor, Zayid said a large issue she faces is receiving roles because of her appearance.

“My agent and I sit there every time we get rejected and we are like, ‘Is it because I am disabled? Is it because I am Muslim? Because I am not a size zero? Or is it because I am a woman?’ And believe me, the overlying thing that is always there is being female,” Zayid said. “It’s like when you shed everything else, being a female in comedy, being a female in politics, being a female Arab voice that people do not want to empower.”

Zayid said there are times where her disability is not a factor. They not will select her for a role because she is not a stereotype that they are trying to sell.

“We are only allowed to play two roles,” she said. “Either you can’t love me because I am disabled, or heal me. That is not my story.”

Zayid discussed “Glee” and how producer Ryan Murphy cast an able-bodied actor in a wheelchair role.

“He didn’t even let us get through the door and then Ryan Murphy tries to make it up to us by having the most populated show with actors with disabilities,” Zayid said. “You know what we played, freaks. That is not progress to me.”

According to Zayid, society has not accepted the disabled community and still likes the idea of using them as an inspiration.

“I think that TV is thought of as an escape, as a place as a fantasy world and that it makes them feel better,” she said.

Sophomore political science major Omnia Shedid took part in organizing the event, along with the CSD.

“I loved how [Zayid] made light of her misfortunes instead of letting them get her down and that’s something I will definitely try to do more often. I feel like we all need to do that more often, honestly,” Shedid said. “She’s a very bold and strong person, who seems to challenge life as much as life challenges her, which is also something we need to get into the habit of doing.”

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