Actor Kal Penn was born in New Jersey, holds a degree from UCLA and has worked at the White House. Yet in the current racially-charged climate in the United States he became the target of a vulgar post on Instagram following US President Donald Trump's ban on refugees and travellers from some countries, apparently because he is simply the son of immigrants from India.
"...you don't belong in this country you f...... joke," the post on Saturday (Jan 28, 2017).
Rather than answer hate with hate, Penn responded with love - for those targeted by US President Donald Trump's immigration order. He started a crowd-funding page on Sunday under the heading: Donating to Syrian Refugees in the name of the dude who said I don't belong in America.
In less than 24 hours, the venom from the Instagram troll had been met with more than US$600,000 ($853,000) in donations for Syrian refugees.
"There's so much power and beauty in turning something hateful into love,"he told CNN, following the outpouring of love and support. "That's what we're surrounded with. It's amazing."
On the page, Penn writes: We are better than the hateful people who tell us we don't belong in our own country, that America can't be a beacon of freedom and hope for refugees from around the world. We will turn their bigotry, along with the President's, into love.
Penn has not heard anything, let alone an apology, from the one who posted the Instagram insult but he told CNN's Chris Cuomo he could care less.
"I think I'm instead focusing on the 12,000 amazing people who brought the pot up to US$500,000," he said, before the figure had risen even further.
Trump signed an executive order on Friday (Jan 27, 2017) barring refugees from entering US for 120 days and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations out for three months. Caught up in the confusion that followed at immigration checkpoints at airports across the US were people with valid visas, green cards and even an Iraqi interpreters who received death threats in his country for working with the US country.
In defence of his travel ban, Trump took to Twitter and wrote: "If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the "bad" would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad 'dudes' out there!"
That incensed Penn. In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Monday (Jan 30, 2017), he said: "I think what the President is saying and doing is completely ridiculous" he told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "I find that insulting as an American citizen that you would infer that anybody who helped our soldiers stay alive are somehow bad dudes."
Penn is no stranger to politics. In addition to portraying a White House press secretary in the TV series Designated Survivor, he served a real stint there under President Barack Obama as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Of his concern over the optics of the Trump immigration order, he noted: "I'm a pretty privileged guy. What about the 14-year-old me or the kids who look like me who don't have the luxury of this platform?"