SAAN Conference: Amplifying Stories to Create a New Narrative Matters More Than Ever Today

The following post is Brown Girl Magazine’s CEO Trisha Sakhuja-Walia’s opening keynote from Michigan University’s 17th annual South Asian Awareness Network’s conference, titled “Shifting Sands: Amplifying Stories to Create a New Narrative,” which recently took place on January 19, 2019. This year’s goal was to encourage attendees to open their minds to stories that are currently being told but aren’t necessarily part of the mainstream dialogue. Additionally, they intended to create a new narrative and invite others to partake in a space of dialogue where often marginalized voices are welcomed and celebrated with the intention of creating meaningful and sustainable social change.

“Good morning, friends! Thank you for having me at this year’s 17th annual SAAN conference. Grateful for the opportunity and visibility. I had a chance to interact with a few folks on the 20-person board last night and learned quite a bit about the college community and the various South Asian organizations on campus, which I am always intrigued to learn because I was preoccupied co-hosting lots of social events during my time at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York through the South Asian Student Alliance and Greek life so I am genuinely excited to see a long-standing South Asian org primarily focused on pushing the envelope to discuss topics of social justice. Kudos to the work y’all are doing and I look forward to being a part of it today and beyond.

So, I wish I could say I am going to keep this short and sweet but the folks at SAAN have requested I talk at length so I will be leaning on yall to chime in from time to time so it’s not just me doing all the work…haha. Here we go.

The beauty of our generation — in my opinion — is digital storytelling. A good story — according to Reid Hoffman’s podcast ‘Masters of Scale’ — draws you in, a better one puts you in their shoes, but a great one makes you feel their pain while giving you hope. But don’t be fooled when I say storytelling is a published link on a reputable website with your byline. Storytelling, as we know it today, is a 140-character Tweet that packs a punch, an Instagram photo that sparks engagement (and many times unsolicited hate), or a meme that sees the likes our grandparents and our too-young-to-be-on-the-internet nieces and nephews.

And what’s the motive behind telling a story? It’s to pass it on, to have dialogue and make that dialogue easily accessible to all people and their communities, and that’s why we at Brown Girl are obsessively dedicated to documenting our stories for tomorrow’s generation. I am Trisha Sakhuja-Walia, the CEO and Co-founder of Brown Girl Magazine, where we pride ourselves on having accessible, tangible conversations in the form of storytelling to build sustainable communities.

Brown Girl Magazine has been an anchor and staple in the community for almost a decade now, we’ve focused all of our energy on being a safe haven where stories have been told and retold in various ways — to be exact we’ve published more than 4,000 original stories to the website since October of 2008, which has seen more 5 million readers across the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, almost every country in South East Asia — India and Pakistan being the biggest drivers, and South Africa just to name a few. We’ve tried our best to chronicle almost everything that’s happened in the desi diaspora. From stories of immigration pre and post 9/11, the struggles of learning a new way of life in a foreign land, the shame we face when speaking our mother tongue, letting go of a stable career to pursue a creative passion, the stigma surrounding honor killings and domestic violence, mental health and the stigma we face for even mentioning the word therapist at a desi part, a woman’s body and her inherent rights she continuously has to fight for, dating a boy outside of one’s religious beliefs, sharing the intimate details of coming out to our parents, the spillover of Bollywood in our everyday lives as desi Americans, the emergence of brown faces in media and entertainment, and course, much timely coverage of living in Trump’s era and the injustices we’ve faced since his reign. You name it and we’ve covered it. To the extent that sometimes I forget to Google search a topic but instead, I will just search it directly on our homepage’s search bar — you should try and you’ll be amazed at what you find.

But are these stories enough? Do they truly encapsulate our community? Are we doing enough to tell our truth? To shed light on our struggles? To bridge the gap between us and those back home. To give space to every South Asian living in the diaspora? And the biggest question I ask myself (literally) almost every day is, are we doing enough to advocate for our people — beyond the desi community, but people of color, queer and trans people, people with disabilities and those who don’t have the privilege to Tweet their thoughts or Instastory their day.

These are just some of the questions I repeatedly ask myself about our ever-evolving content strategy. And I am constantly shrouded with the thought of — will it ever be enough? I personally can’t ever remember a time it ever was.

And that’s my biggest driver in doing what we’re doing at Brown Girl. It’s the constant need to hunt for that next story and actively spark user engagement. Our people have too much depth, history, culture, and nuance for it to ever be enough. And that’s why, almost 10 years post Brown Girl’s existence, I stand here today in front of you all with one notion in mind: no matter how far we’ve come as desi people living in the diaspora, no matter how many times we’ve told our story, we will always be in the pursuit of storytelling.

And this brings me to my next point in today’s talk. That is assuming you’re all still awake and listening? So, from storytelling comes the art of representation. We hear the term quote on quote representation matters quite a lot on social media and trending headlines. But what does representation look like? We’ve grown up hearing America is a mixed pot of cultures and backgrounds but how true is that, really? During my elementary school days (you know, back in the day, during the stone age), they thought since I was Indian, I was Native American, and kids would actually asked me what tribe I belonged to. And this story is not an isolated incident. I am assuming it’s happened to at least some folks in this room. Only in the past few years are we witnessing a revolution of this so-called mixed pot of cultures and backgrounds coming together — albeit to fight against the one who must not be named and likes to eat hamberders…but at least now we can safely it’s happening rampantly. Before this, we were all just a mixed fruit bowl, colorful and pretty in our own right but never seen as on one.

I recently shared a tidbit on Brown Girl’s Instagram in response to the trending 10-year challenge that briefly summarizes the need for our birth and how it led to representation.

10-Year Challenge

Brown Girl Magazine, circa ‘08-09: the beginnings of it all. Aditi Mehta, a University of Texas at Austin alum, felt a void in the entertainment, media landscape and more so in her immediate community, in which she barely ever saw women who looked like her. This is before we were fans of Mindy Kaling, Superwoman, Rupi Kaur, Jus Reign, or felt a type of way about Apu, and this is definitely well before womxn of our color were even considered for brand campaigns, front covers of magazines, tv shows and movies. She wanted to give space to brown people like you and us, so what formed organically 10 years later is an amalgamation of a beautiful community of people from countless South Asian backgrounds, sexualities, cultures, religions and backgrounds. We’re grateful to have been on this ride for the past decade and surprisingly enough, everything around us has changed, but Aditi’s initial goal stays intact. The following excerpt, which I am going to read is from Aditi founding note, written in October 2008.

“When I was in high school I was obsessed with seventeen and cosmopolitan. They were definitely good reads, but of course, there was one apparent flaw. I couldn’t relate to the stories, the pictures, and the advice. Secondly, I realized my South Asian girlfriends were battling with some of the issues as me — the lack of self-esteem, overbearing parents, secrecy in dating, pressure to conform to one career path, and there was no form of targeted advice. And that’s when I got the light bulb moment to start one of the first women’s magazines targeted towards South Asian women growing up in the diaspora.”

And since then we’ve played a small role in how the South Asian diaspora sees themselves in media.

Which is the most important aspect of WHY representation matters. Representation is more than us seeing ourselves on television and in movies or on gigantic ad campaigns and billboards because it looks cool and gives us bragging rights. Representation matters because it directly impacts how minority communities see themselves and how others in society see them. Research shows communities that see negative media attention see less attention from doctors to harsher sentencing by judges, lower likelihood of being hired for a job or admitted to school, lower odds of getting loans, and a higher likelihood of being shot by police.

The record-breaking response at the box office to films like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther, not to mention the surrounding social media flurry and subsequent think pieces, reveal just how hungry audiences are for stories that center those who are sorely underrepresented in mass media.

We’ve seen representation mattering time and time again, there are so many examples I can shed a positive light on, which is something I don’t take lightly and feel very privileged to do so. But before I dive into some of the more positive ones I want to acknowledge that now finally we’re in a time where doing something cool or out of the ordinary just because you’re South Asian or brown doesn’t mean its always going to be seen in a positive light, meaning, your actions speak for themselves and the color of your skin and cultural affiliation can only do so much. So it doesn’t matter if Aziz Ansari made Netflix’s Master of None or if Bobby Jindal became a common household name. Just because you look like us doesn’t mean you’re doing it right.

Acknowledging the good with the not so good is just as important — and it acts as a constant reminder to check ourselves. Because of Brown Girl, I am so wired to think of both sides of the coin. I will always first consider what the trolls on social media would say and react. But I digress.

I think for me personally, one of the earliest and most positive memories of positive representation I’ve seen for our people is Kal Penn in Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, which released in 2004. I was a 14-year-old sophomore in high school, who had co-founded the first-ever desi club at the time and saw a lot of heat for it throughout my tenure, so seeing this film, and Kumar being played in a positive light was a BIG deal at the time, and still definitely is.

More recently, I was most pleasantly surprised and happy to see a huge billboard ad at Times Square featuring an Indian American actor and model, Pritam Singh, 74, with a turban and beard, as a promotional for Dollar Shave Club, a California-based company selling hair grooming, trimming, and maintenance products. So here’s a company that’s built on shaving but somehow reversed its marketing for its new beard oil product to include a man who doesn’t shave…now that’s brilliant and hella inclusive.

The tagline to the ad, ‘Beard Oil Because for Some People Beards are Religion’, makes it apparent that it’s squarely aimed at religious minorities like the Sikh and Muslim communities.

Times Square Billboard

And the coolest part? I saw it with my own eyes the day we shared the post on our social media feeds and was in awe. I couldn’t even take my phone out to capture it for myself. I was just staring up at the billboard like a total tourist, smiling from ear to ear, thinking about every single Punjabi-Sikh uncleI’vee encountered working harder than ever at gas stations, cabs, 711s, and corner dels. This moment for them must be so empowering, others can see them how they see themselves.

Now let’s talk Anik Khan, a Bangladeshi-American hip-hop artist from Queens, New York is making waves with his consecutive hits since 2017 about the struggles of starting with humble beginnings as an immigrant from Dhaka. The line that would put him on the map and also on a billboard in Times Square in late 2018 was, “Damn it feels good to be an immigrant.” Making immigrants cool again in the day and age we live in is a lot more than you can ask for.


And then we have a new South Asian pilot called Surina & Mel to have hit the internet in the fall of last year, which we had the pleasure of releasing on social media — produced by co-stars and actresses Melanie Chandra and Surina Jindal. In their words, the show is:

“Our entrance into the first generation world of brown people. This isn’t a show about culture clashes, or an Eat, Pray, Love fest. It’s about two American-born South Asian women who are figuring out what life looks like when you’re not a model minority nor a Bollywood star fighting terrorism on an ABC show, but kinda just two best friends dealing with the messy realities of trying to be halfway decent adults. We’re proud to present a show concept that captures our world – it’s authentically brown, edgy, and a little absurd – all through the lens of the modern day South Asian woman. It’s a first of its kind.”


Of course, it would be remiss if I didn’t speak on the recent battle we (and yes, I use the word we collectively because I feel like we truly made it when it comes to a sense of belonging and representation here) aka Hari Kondabolu fought for all of us against The Simpsons.

Hari’s documentar The Problem with Apu tries to make sense of a cartoon character. But the core quest of the documentary was getting answers from the voice of Apu himself: Hank Azaria. He interviewed notable desi leaders, actors, and comedians, from the former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to Kal Penn, on the consequences of Apu. All who were interviewed shared various tales of bullying and teasing due to this character. From random people mimicking the popular phrase “Thank you come again” in a horrendous accent, to just being called Apu, it is clear the emotional scars are still present in all of us. that came to define the stereotype of being desi in this country, and how it affected his life personally.

The film is rich with humorous moments, from Hari’s own parents teasing him about his Apu-like haircut to uncomfortable white people when they learn Apu is voiced by a white man (I personally enjoyed the latter). In essence, Hari shows us Apu represents a white America. Actors like Aasif Mandvi, Maulik Pauncholy, and Sakina Jaffrey shared stories of auditioning for jobs that catered to the stereotypes. These stereotypes exist because there is no one who is desi in the writer’s room. The crux of the film lies behind whether or not Hari will get that sit down with Hank Azaria, because, as we see, the traits of Apu were created by Hank. Hari believes Hank must be held accountable for his portrayal. It was revelatory and provoking and is definitely deserving of a viewing, especially for those of us who like to say we are “woke desis.”

And later, to everyone’s pleasant surprise, Hank Azaria himself respond, stating:

“The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied, or teased, or worse based on the character of Apu on ‘The Simpsons,’ or the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing, especially in post-9/11 America.” However, what sucked post-Hari’s controversial documentary was The Simpson’s response. Who here has seen it?!

In the episode, Marge reads Lisa her “favorite book ever,” which features racial stereotyping. She looks to Lisa for advice on how to update the book, The Princess in the Garden, to make it less controversial and politically acceptable.

Lisa, however, tells her mother that there is no point in rewriting the fictional book. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” The camera then focuses on a framed photo of Apu on her nightstand, with the words, “Don’t have a cow. Apu,” signed on them.

That’s a disappointment to say the least? But the best part was Hari’s tweet that he wrote in caps lock:

TO THE JOURNALISTS WHO HAVE ASKED ME FOR A PUBLIC STATEMENT ABOUT LAST NIGHT’S SIMPSONS EPISODE, I JUST WANT SAY: ‘Congratulations to the Simpsons for being talked about & being seen as relevant again.’

Let’s watch the trailer, shall we?!


And representation that is soon to come to the big screen is going to every little girl and boy’s favorite. In late November, Disney announced a new show for their junior network, slated for release in 2020. The show is called Mira, Royal Detective and is about the adventures of a smart young girl named Mira in the kingdom of Jalpur. Though a commoner, her ability to solve mysteries for both members of the royal household and common people in the kingdom has earned her the title of Royal Detective. Each episode will feature two 11-minute stories about Mira and her merry band of mates. The show also features “authentic music, dance, and customs that are rooted in India’s vibrant heritage.” (I hope they remain true to the word “authentic” because last time I checked that Diwali episode in Fuller House, those dance moves and set-up was anything BUT authentic.

So, I’ve recounted a few very recent and poginant examples in media and entertainment of what present day representation looks like but I’ve BARELY touched the surface. I mean, we’re producing so much content at Brown Girl that focuses directly on representation across the board that sometimes it feels like we’re moving faster than ever imagined.

Here are some forms of representations you may have not heard or seen, which are courtesy our content partner, The Shatki Collective:

  • Padma Lakshmi shared a heart-wrenching narrative about how she was raped when she was 16, a sign of strength around the time of the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings
  • Singer Vidya Vox shared a beautifully honest video of her life story, opening up about her struggles with mental health, abusive father and more
  • Facing cancer, Chef Fatima Ali penned a Note to Self of the personal reflections of a woman who still has so much to offer to the world
  • Deepica Mutyala launched Tinted, an inclusive beauty community that explores identity and culture for every shade in between
  • Rooshy Roy, Nina Davuluri and Justin Silver launched aavrani, a skincare brand harnessing the power of India’s ancient beauty rituals and challenging cultural stigmas around beauty
  • Cuyana co-founders Shilpa Shah and Karla Gallardo partnered with Lola on International Women’s Day to introduce the Femme Pouch, designed to bring beauty and functionality to the idea of carrying your essentials (like tampons!) with pride
  • Influencer Diipa Khosla and her husband Oleg Büller set a beautiful example through their wedding of what it means to challenge longtime, established traditions and focus on mutual love, respect, and equality
  • Priyanka Chopra became the first Indian woman to appear on the cover of U.S. Vogue Magazine
  • U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal announced the Federal Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights that if passed, would become the first national legislation extending basic labor protections to domestic workers
  • Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code and Meena Harris, Founder of Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, joined together with other leaders to found 100K Ventures, an accelerator group that will invest in early-stage companies in Flint, Michigan
  • Meena Harris successfully launched an initiative to feature a full-page ad in The New York Times with 1,600 signatures from men in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – echoing the 1991 ad of 1,600 African American women in support of Anita Hill

And the list goes on and on.

So, the question I started off with stands alongside me always like the white elephant in the room. Are we doing enough to document and narrate our stories? What type of example and narrative are we setting for our kids? What do I want to pass on to my kids who will be first gen Indian-Americans?

Sometimes the influx of information causes us to feel drowned in our own stories, but how often do we hear the narrative of other communities and keep listening? Almost always. We listen because we can relate. As the South Asian diaspora grows in all fields of entertainment, tech, politics, activism, literature and news, it is vital that we engage with our communities to encourage the sharing of our stories continues in more inclusive, mainstream settings. Thanks to women and leaders in the industry like Nabela, Superwoman, Padma Lakshmi, Mindy Kaling and Rupi Kaur for becoming the original gatekpeers of our stories, but we need more dimension, more voices, more faces. We need you.

Become a storyteller. Not just once or twice but make it consistent. Real representation equals multiple power players, so we don’t need just one brown person in a show — fight to become that second brown person the show.

And on that note, friends I will take your leave and hope I’ve done some justice to today’s discussion at hand. I am eager to become better acquainted with you all because that’s what I thrive on — tons of young brown folks wanting to make a difference in their communities before making it in the world.

I am a big believer in seeing not what your potential is today but what your potential can be a decade from now, so if you feel like that you havent done enough to make a mark in our community or arent doing enough, just consider what you’ll accomplish just a few years from now.

Before I conclude, I would like to say that I am honored to be here today amongst other reputable speakers and activists such as Alicia Virani, Jordan Alam, Hiba Khan, Amit Patel, Tanzin Daniels, and the folks from the South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance. I look forward to having one on one time with you all.

Thank you so much for listening, y’all.”

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Indo Caribbean Actress Saheli Khan Lands Role as Young Anna in Disney’s Musical ‘Frozen’

Saheli Khan, young anna in disney frozen
Saheli Khan

From singing and acting to drawing immaculate figurines, Saheli Khan, 11, has made her debut in the North American Broadway tour as young Anna in Disney’s musical “Frozen.” As a first-generation Indo Caribbean, with roots in India and Pakistan, she continues to pave the way for young people with similar backgrounds.

[Read Related: Rebecca Ablack: The Guyanese Actress Talks Netflix’s “Ginny and Georgia” and Indo Caribbean Representation]

Khan has always enjoyed entertaining those around her and she continues to have the motivation to pursue her passions. In school, she always sought to lead her class in songs and she was encouraged by her parents and teachers to enroll in music and acting classes, even at a young age. These ventures fueled her passions even more.

Continue reading to learn more about her journey!

What do you like about acting the most?

I like to portray different characters. Specifically, I like playing characters who have strong personalities and those who portray a sense of bravery, especially during problematic occurrences.

As a first generation Indo Caribbean actress, how do you feel about your journey as a young Disney princess? Do you feel that you are paving the way for other Caribbean and South Asians who want to pursue similar paths?

Diversity has always been important to me, but in today’s society, I feel that most people would like to be accepted and encouraged. As a Disney Princess, I am simply helping to broaden the field for all young people to see that skin color should not matter.

Saheli Khan
Saheli in Hidden Folk outfit| Photo courtesy of Saheli Khan


What do you like about your character, Anna? Is there anything that you may dislike?

Young Anna is a ball of sunshine! She is happy, funny, and a delight to be around. Despite having a troubled childhood, she grows up to be just as joyous, but she is also courageous as she goes on a journey to find her sister. I love everything about young Anna and she truly embodies who I am as a person.

Who is your inspiration and why?

My parents are my inspiration. My mom is beautiful, loving, and she works hard without ever giving up. No matter the task, she finds a solution and keeps on going with a smile on her face. She always tells me, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown.” And my dad is my best friend. He’s insanely funny, caring and knows all the best places to eat! My parents are exactly how I want to be when I grow up.

If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?

I would love to be Annie on Broadway or play the lead in a series or movie. 

What is the one last thing that you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?

There are many things I do before I step on stage. I do fun and silly things quietly with my “Frozen” sister, Mackenzie Mercer, and play with my Anna pigtails for good luck.

What are your other passions?

I love to sing, act, and spend time with my younger cousin, Ayla. I also love to draw and color since it makes me feel relaxed. I was told I have a great ability to draw and make figurines ever since I was a child. And I love exploring new cities and eating at great restaurants with my family.

Saheli Khan
Saheli dressed in her “Young Anna” costume | Photo courtesy of Saheli Khan

What advice do you have for young people who are just starting their careers, specifically within the field of musical theater?

To have a positive mindset, practice diligently, and enjoy every moment within the journey. I have learned that there may be some occurrences that may not take place the way that you want them to, but there’s always an opportunity to learn from them.

 Aside from your career, how do you balance your schoolwork and acting?

I attend school virtually, which is essential when I am on tour. Each day I have scheduled school hours that allow me to focus and complete all school assignments. Once that is done, I have most of the day to work on extracurricular activities, go on outings, and hang out with my friends. Though performing takes a large chunk out of my day, it helps that I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work.

What types of roles do you see yourself playing?

I love to play humorous characters such as young Anna from “Frozen.” I truly enjoyed this role as it captures who I truly am.

What are your plans for the future?

To be the best version of myself regardless of what career path I choose.

[Read Related: Nadia Jagessar Talks Finding Love, Not Settling and Shines Light on her Indo-Caribbean Roots]

Khan’s debut marks the start of a budding career. With her array of talents and future goals, we are bound to see more of the young actress in the future and more representation of Indo Caribbeans in mainstream media. If you would like to purchase tickets for Disney’s “Frozen,” click here

Feature Image Courtesy: Saheli Khan

By Anita Haridat

Anita Haridat is the owner of the wellness website, Healthy Spectator, which is a platform to help people find inner-balance … Read more ›

‘The Black Rose’: British Asian Shweta Aggarwal Voices her Truth Against Colourism and the Battle to end her Skin Whitening Cream Addiction

Black Rose

I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.” 

Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind. 

[Read Related: Liam Neeson’s Week of Rage is Every Person of Colour’s Truth]

Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too. 

Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially  when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,

I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.

During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance. 

The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose! 

Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type —  the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way. 

[Read Related: Dear Priyanka Chopra, Endorsing Colorism and Discrimination is not ok. It Never was and Never Will Be]

It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits, 

Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you. 

I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance. 

But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,

The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and  not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour? 

I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?  

A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride! 

I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.

“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.


Photo Courtesy: Shweta Aggarwal

By Sejal Sehmi

Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. Editor Sejal Sehmi is an IT consultant by day, whose passion for writing stemmed from challenging … Read more ›

In Conversation With Kevin Wu: Creating Content in a new Generation

Kevin Wu
Kevin Wu

Kevin Wu, previously known as KevJumba, is an American YouTuber, from Houston, Texas, with more than 2.68 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 323 million views. His content consists of vlogs, social commentary, musical parodies and more. Wu also streams on Twitch and has released original music as well as freestyles. His most popular YouTube video is titled “Nice Guys” with Ryan Higa. Wu has also worked with many individuals including A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. He has also appeared in movies such as “Hang Loose,” “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” “Man Up,” and more. Wu is one of the first original YouTubers gaining popularity in 2008 and even had another channel, titled JumbaFund, now known as Team Jumba. Continue reading to learn more about Kevin Wu’s journey!

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We really enjoyed the project ‘Underneath the Lights.’ On the track “WHY U IN LA” the lyrics, “Don’t know who I might be, it might surprise me. I could be a hypebeast, That’s nothing like me, It’s so enticing.” How do you feel this speaks to the idea of self-discovery? What have you learned about yourself, diving back into making content?

I love that song we did. The artist who sang those lyrics his name is Zooty. I really provided the energy and direction for the musical piece, but I give credit to my producer Jonum and Zooty credit for the lyrics. Both guys are a slightly different generation, gen-Z, whereas I grew up as a millennial. I find that I left a lot on the table when I left YouTube at 23, so when I work with gen-Z I have so much that I want to give. Coming back to YouTube this time around, it’s all about self-reliance. Coming from movies and television, you have to depend on people to get a better product. But with YouTube, I’m going back to my roots and putting my wit and effort into every part of the process again (writing, directing, performing, producing, editing). I want the result to be authenticity and a homegrown feeling.

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When you started your YouTube channel you were known for your vlogs and social commentary. How do you feel about the new age of content creation — where content is in surplus but individuals aren’t feeling the content?

It’s hard to say whether or not individuals are or aren’t feeling content — the taste is just so wide now. It’s like living in Los Angeles; food is very competitive, and when picking a restaurant you have every ethnic variety and even fusion foods. I imagine opening a restaurant in LA to be very competitive and the attention to detail in what you make has to be authentic or hit a certain demographic. I feel on the Internet, YouTube does a decent job of catering to your sensibilities, the so-called algorithm. However, the personal connection you get with content creators has somewhat been shifted, and now it’s become more interest-based (ie gaming, how-to, music, politics, etc.)

How do you feel the original algorithm has changed, and what do you miss most about that time?

I don’t remember talking about algorithms back in 2010 to 2012. People watched their favorite Youtubers because their homepage included their subscriptions first and foremost, and then if your subscriptions hadn’t posted anything new, you would typically check the most popular page. Then trending became a thing and now you have algorithms generating your timeline based on a bunch of data. I think it’s forced creators to think externally and hanging onto identities i.e. what are my interests? Am I a gamer? Am I a streamer?

We parodied your music video for “Nice Guys” for our orchestra music camp skit back in high school. If Chester, Ryan, and you, had to recreate “Nice Guys” today, would you focus on the concept of self-love for the current generation? We also really loved “Shed a Tear.”

I definitely think self-love would be a very nice theme. Recreating it would be nice, actually. I think it’s hard to get three people to all be in the same room again, especially after leading different lives. But “Nice Guys” was something special for each one of us, and Chester See deserves a lot of credit because of his musical talent. It’s made me realize today the impact of music. I really enjoy the expression of music because it forces you to be more artistic, versus just saying what’s on your mind. Like poetry, or hearing harmonies.

You’ve worked with many individuals and groups in the past including, A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. If you could create content with any group of individuals who would be your dream collaborators?

At this stage in my life, I really enjoy coming back and rekindling those creative connections and checking in with previous friends or acquaintances. Doing a video with Ryan Higa, Jeremy Lin, Chester See, David Choi, Wong Fu, Jamie Chung, those would all be very fun. But the first step would be to just see how they’re doing. So that’s the closest thing to a best case scenario for me. I’m not trying to force any collaborations at the moment (haha!). Unless it’s convenient.

As an NBA fan you expressed you would like to talk more about basketball on Ryan’s “Off the Pill Podcast.” How do you feel watching sports and has playing sports helped you become more in tune with yourself?

After going through a lot of physical adversity after my car accident, reconnecting with sports has been really helpful. I played basketball for a while and I’d like to get back into soccer. I wanted to talk about basketball on Ryan’s podcast because I was still dipping my toes into Internet content/social media and didn’t want to talk too much about myself at the time.

As a content creator how do you balance not letting validation get to your head and authentically connecting with your audience?

We all seek validation. It’s innate, but it’s about where you seek it. Nowadays I remember to validate myself first, by starting with my mind and body. After a while, you can get a sense of when you need validation versus being totally unconscious of it. Sometimes that sense of validation is important, so we know to check in with our parents, or see if a friend needs positive feedback. To connect with the audience, that’s like number five in my priority list (haha!). Having an audience can be scary; you definitely want to be in tune with yourself first.

How do you deal with comments consisting of “I miss the old KevJumba?”

I just smile. I miss the old KevJumba too!

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As live streaming has become a new form of content now, how have you enjoyed live streaming on Twitch for the Head In The Clouds Festival both in 2021 and 2022? We really enjoyed seeing Ylona Garcia sing “Nice Guys!”

It’s fun, I enjoy live streaming and I really appreciate 88rising and Amazon Music for inviting me both years to be the host for their livestream.

What was the decision behind putting your family in your videos?

I put my Dad in my videos accidentally; we were on a ski trip. I think people responded really positively in the comments, and then I just sat down had a conversation with him on camera, and it became a hit. After that he just became his own character. I think I tend to come alive more when I am interacting with someone on camera.

We really liked seeing you upload videos to Team Jumba. Is the mission still to donate earnings to a charity that viewers suggest?

At the moment, no. The Supply, which was the charity I donated to before, has since shut down. I also don’t make much money on YouTube anymore, since I was inactive on my channel for a while, so that format from 2009 will be difficult to replicate.

We really enjoyed the ‘KevJumba and Zooty Extended Play,’ specifically the track “With You in the Clouds” featuring fuslie. How has Valorant inspired your music as well as other forms of content creation?

The album was really experimental. I find the personal connections I made in gaming to be the most enlivening. “With You in the Clouds” was inspired by TenZ and, since he’s such a legendary figure in the pro FPS community, we had to do a worthy tribute. I think paying tribute to the things you like is a really great way to think about content creation.

How do you feel your childhood experiences in Houston, and playing soccer, have shaped you to chase your dreams of acting? How have you enjoyed acting in comparison to YouTube?

I love acting. It’s a wondrous lens at which to see your relationship with others. I find that in studying acting, you are often really studying the human experience or the mind. It’s like learning psychology but you are on your feet, or you are reading great theater. Playing soccer and growing up in Houston don’t really contribute directly to why I enjoy acting, but I very much enjoy coming from Houston and thriving in soccer. It made me commit to something and seeing how consistently “showing up” can really ground your childhood and prove to be valuable, later in life.

How do you feel we can uplift each other across the Asian diaspora and unify to create ripple effects of representation?

I think listening is probably the best thing you can do. Just genuinely hearing about something, or someone, helps you really invest in them during that time that you are there. So I think that’s probably the first step.

What made you go back to school and finish your degree at the University of Houston in Psychology?

No one reason in particular. I was also studying acting at the time back in 2017-2018 when I completed the degree, so it was just testing my limits and seeing what I could balance. I finished it online.

What are your upcoming plans?

Just experimenting on YouTube for now. Making videos with my own effort.

Your first video was uploaded back in 2007 and was titled ‘Backyard,’ where you are dancing to a song called “Watch Me” by Little Brother, off of the “The Minstrel Show.” We also really enjoyed your video with Ryan Higa titled “Best Crew vs Poreotics.” Are you still dancing these days?

Yes. The body does what the body wants.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

Nothing in particular. I try to let my mind flow when I answer questions. I may have jumped to conclusions before fully investing in some of the questions, so I apologize. If you are reading, I thank you for your time and patience. I also thank Brown Girl Magazine for putting together a vast array of questions that allow my mind to stretch and work out a bit. I hope you find a stronger connection to your own truths, and I hope I did not disturb those in any way. Regards.

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Wu

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›