As Colorlines reported earlier this week, Akilah Hughes’ “Meet Your First Black Girlfriend” has amassed more than a million views on YouTube since being released just over two months ago. It’s a pretty sharp set of takes crunched into less than two minutes. Our favorite? “You can tell me you like Scandal because of the ensemble cast, but I know it’s because you have Olitz fantasies.”
“For those of you who don’t know, 2042 — according to census figures — is the year that white people will be the minority in this country,” he says, adding, “I don’t know if there are people in the audience who are upset by this. But don’t worry, white people: you were the minority when you came to this country. Things seem to have worked out for you.”
When two famous black feminists take the stage to discuss social justice and feminism, or more specifically, how race and class impact African American women’s experiences in the US, why is it that I–an Indian American woman from pretty, affluent Briarcliff Manor, New York–feel at home? How is that this where I feel whole, recognized, and validated?
I don’t actually need the answers to these questions as some sort of navel-gazing exercise. But others seem to. When it comes to our position in social movements, identity is a big deal; it behooves us to acknowledge and take accountability for our inherent role, by default of who we are, in intersectional systems of oppression. So perhaps confusion is founded. As an upper-middle-class, straight, cissexual, conventionally feminine woman, whose ethnic minority status in America is mitigated by being part of the ‘model minority,’ it’s true that I have much going for me. I could ride the tide of my privilege. Easy.
But I started thinking about race at an early age. When we watched a video about MLK and the civil rights movement in second grade, I saw a binary and placed myself on the pigmented side of it. At 11-years-old, I adopted hip and hop and its surrounding culture as my self-expression in a white world. Would things have been different if my parents played Bollywood films in the house? I can’t be sure. Whatever it was, I identified clearly with non-whiteness. This made me an outcast in a way. I grew up around mostly white people, and the other Indians I knew seemed to see themselves on that side of the color line, or at the very least, they were more seduced by the power that came with our proximity to whiteness, as Melissa Harris-Perry put it. I am guilty of this too, but I still felt acutely that my brown skin was creating a vast gulf between my reality and that of my white friends. If I had to guess, this is where I got my sense of injustice in the world, despite my understanding that I was exceedingly blessed and shrouded in comfort, wealth, and opportunity.
I was more aware of my status as a person of color than as a woman. (It took me much longer to become aware of the endless benefits of my class position, because, well, that’s how it works). I became interested in anti-racism far before I felt drawn to anti-sexist, anti-patriarchal movements or cared about class dynamics. (Of course, I now get that it’s all connected.) But I think my internalization of my color is very telling for where I stand now when it comes to my personal feminist politics. Regardless of the particulars of the layering, all of this means I stand outside of my own ethnic community in the US–a community that, in my experience, often seems largely (not universally) brainwashed by the promise of ascending in a racist system.
Based on this, who could I have looked to as speaking to me–a little brown girl whose large suburban home had a Ganesha in a kitchen cupboard–about dissent and disruption of the status quo? What, you don’t believe in a white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy, you say? Who put these thoughts in your head?
There was no place for me there. My place was to be a good Indian girl.
A large part of last week’s talk between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks at The New School (see above) was about black women’s voices: the avenues though which they convey their messages, the shift in how they are represented, why some mainstream spaces may be more open to promoting them, even if minimally (Harris-Perry on MSNBC). I had no access to these voices when I was younger. I had some Alice Walker and Toni Morrison in high school, and then college and beyond gave me the nonfiction radical texts of bell hooks and Harris-Perry, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Roberts, and more. However, I couldn’t see that I was allowed to turn their thoughts into action in my own life, no matter how deeply they touched my heart.
The controversy surrounding Devina DeDiva’s racist posts against Megan Young, the Filipina who was recently crowned Miss World 2013, exploded all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds a few days ago. For those of you not privy to what DeDiva stated, see her Facebook feed below:
DeDiva’s words, while hurtful and racist, is so similar to sentiments I’ve heard expressed before that I was saddened but unsurprised. When the Philippines’ labour export policy has, since the late 1970s, been reliant on the export of women to work in households around the world, it is no wonder that ‘Filipinas’ are equated with domestic servitude.
But now, the white-makes-right faction of American society is making a comeback. Pissed over the fact that the racial demographics of the U.S. are turning against them, the white right of America is in full backlash mode. You may remember this viral video of an uprising at a Town Hall meeting hosted by Delaware Representative Mike Castle.
The birthers in this video are the kissing cousins of tweeters labeling our new Miss America a terrorist. In fact, angry birthers and racist tweeters complaining about the rockin’ brown blush on the cheeks of our new Miss America are just the foam on the crest of a wave of white resentment that is rising, and quickly, over the fear that white Americans are losing control of American culture, including cultural symbols like Miss America and the standard of beauty, femininity, and American accomplishment she represents.
Make no mistake, this Miss America scuffle is just one small battle in a much larger war over the meaning of “American” in a country whose future depends on the full inclusion of people of color, but whose history and contemporary political fights are all too often about limiting citizenship rights and genuine American cultural identity to white males.
Lost in the morass of morons who decided to pop up after Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America on Sunday was … well, just about everything else about her.
But as Lakshmi Gandhi pointed out at The Aerogram, Davuluri is a nerd in both the academic and pop-cultural sense: she’s holds a degree in Brain Behavior and Cognitive Science and plans to apply to medical school. She is also a self-identified Star Wars and Star Trek fan.
The New York Times‘ Jeff Yang added to this on Sett, both citing Gandhi’s post and posting a shot of Davuluri in full cosplay:
Sikh-American student Pawan Singh (center) reacts at a Nirbhau Nirvair Workshop. All images courtesy of the Junior Sikh Coalition.
No one promises junior high school will be easy. But for Pawanpreet Singh, a tall and mild-mannered Sikh-American teenager, junior high was overshadowed with the memories of classmates calling him “Osama” and “terrorist” and touching his turban. “I would hear at least one comment per day … I felt like I was less than everyone else, and some other species. It took a toll on my self esteem and academics,” he said. Now, as a high school student advocate, he hears from other students around the city who face the same insults and get no help from the school staff they call upon. At a September 5th press conference in lower Manhattan, Singh recalled a 13-year old student who reported to his teacher that his classmate had called him a “raghead.” According to the student, the teacher replied, “What’s the problem? That’s what you are.”
Based on the responses of 163 students in after school programs, youth leadership meetings and houses of workshop across the city, the report by AALDEF and the Sikh Coalition, One Step Forward, Half A Step Back, finds that half of the students surveyed had experienced bias-based harassment at school. What’s even more unacceptable, according to Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition, is that more than 25 percent of Sikh students experienced physical violence based on their identity.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the people at Axe Malaysia imagined Roshini Muniam would be in this position. But as of Wednesday morning, the 27-year-old graduate student is seemingly poised to win the online poll determining the country’s representative at its “space academy” in Florida.
The great Jaymee Gohhas been following and promoting Muniam’s candidacy — which picked up online speed under the #Rose4Space tag — and defending her against a spate of online trolls who are aghast that a woman is crashing what they see as their club.
1) Rose is a woman of colour from a particularly oppressed minority group in Malaysia.
2) I am a woman of colour, and from the same minority group.
3) I’ve been called every nasty name under the sun for exhibiting “male behaviour” that – were I male – would result in the exact opposite (i.e. I’d be called “straight-talking” and “solid” instead of “nagging Indian bitch” “shrill feminazi”.
4) QED, it’s personal, brah. My voting for Rose is pretty fucking personal.
5) If your friend can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Internet competitions are run on popularity/sentiment. He knew that.
The balloting is officially closed, with the winner to be announced on Sept. 24. But, the last reported standings were still visible on Axe Malaysia’s Facebook page:
Based on that tally, Muniam leads her closest competitor by 31,287 after completing an impressive surge to the finish line, considering that, as the Malaysian Insider reported on Saturday, she was in last place less than a week ago, and targeted for harassment on top of that:
[The newspaper] reported yesterday that the post graduate student was discriminated against and insulted on her profile featured in Axe’s Facebook page, due to her gender.
A comment posted by Syed Wazien expressed surprise at a woman’s desire to go to space while another, by Dimitriy Mirovsky, was more insulting, saying that women should be prohibited from the competition as they menstruate.
A check by The Malaysian Insider today showed that the sexist comments had been removed by Axe’s Facebook administrators.
Axe, in a statement to The Malaysian Insider, said it is committed to ensuring its online platforms are regulated and the sensitivities of its fans and consumers are safeguarded.
“We do not condone remarks that are offensive or discriminatory and have processes in place to ensure these interactions comply with our communications guidelines.”
One of the upsides to Muniam’s burgeoning campaign is, even (Heavens forbid) in the event of an 11th-hour comeback by one of the young men competing against her, Axe Malaysia would no doubt face tremendous online pressure to verify any sudden drop of hers in the standing, not to mention a side-eye for any future contests. Meanwhile, Muniam’s supporters are unlikely to fade away. As Goh mentioned on Monday, “One of the best things about this #Rose4Space campaign is finding so many cool Malaysian Tumblrites.”
And if they’re organizing now, who knows what they could do in the future if they keep coming together?
Edit: The first blockquote has been correctly atributed to Hosannas.
Twelve years after the September 11th attacks, we wanted to take this chance to revisit stories told from the perspective of Muslim communities and other communities of color dealing with the event. First, this episode of the Ask A Muslim webseries posted last year, in which Imam Murad Abdul-Zahir breaks down the backlash against Muslims following the attacks: “Anyone even resembling a Muslim were attacked and came under a lot of scrutiny.”
“They called you racist. They called you terrorist,” she explains. “I was still a child. I barely understood the words and I would ask my parents … My mom almost had her scarf pulled off in an elevator.”
There’s also this story by Amenah, a Staten Island resident, about her experience after telling classmates she was making her pilgrimage to Mecca:
“I remember distinctly that the boy who was behind me had remarks for me not to bring a bomb back,” Amenah says. “I remember that the whole class had heard his remark, and that nobody had said anything.”
But to end on a positive note, let’s also revisit this video by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) — particularly the young student featured around the :52 mark: “It’s time we raise our voices and return to our ideals — of an America that is open to diversity, accepts varied viewpoints, protects the rights of all and is tolerant of differences.”
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World