If you know me offline, you may be somewhat aware of my long-standing aversion to South Asian Diaspora Discourse™. However, after witnessing another week of Internet bickering, I’ve made my decision—it’s time to take my silly little opinions online.
The sari-lehenga debacle really was the proverbial straw that broke Anuja’s back, and I will now do what I do best—be a licensed hater for all to see.
(My editor approved this, I promise.)
For those of you who aren’t as mind-numbingly online as I am, (congratulations, by the way), here’s a brief rundown of the one seemingly inconsequential debate that practically hurled me over the edge.
Sex and the City’s much-awaited reboot featured a Diwali episode in which Sarah Jessica Parker donned a designer lehenga, only to face the diaspora’s wrath.
This time, it wasn’t your average case of appropriation—the writers saw to it by having a token Desi character state explicitly that, no, wearing traditional Indian clothing to a Diwali party is not cultural appropriation. Sadly, Carrie Bradshaw’s valiant efforts to spice up her wardrobe and ditch the lacklustre Manolos pretty much fell through.
Despite having the foresight to craft a benevolent cultural ‘appreciation’ speech, the creators of the show made the brilliantly asinine mistake of mislabelling Carrie’s lehenga as a sari—among many others.
Needless to say, people were miffed. From Twitter to major publications like Vogue, folks expressed their disappointment at the bafflingly careless, and frankly, cringey ‘representation’ throughout the episode.
How a major production could be this incredibly obtuse is mindblowing.
Or, is it?
Does it really come as a surprise that a show centered around whiteness failed to deliver even a semi-accurate representation of South Asian culture?
It’s a tale as old as time.
White show/movie makes feeble attempt at diversifying its cast → white show/movie manages to drop the ball spectacularly → white show/movie gets royally flamed online → rinse, and repeat.
But, that’s not what I’m mad about today.
Honestly, I’m tired of watching the diaspora go to war every time Western media throws us crumbs of stale, hackneyed tropes lazily gift wrapped as representation.
This is by no means a suggestion that we must stop calling for accountability—quite the opposite, actually. It seems that in our relentless pursuit for quality representation from our beloved white kin, we may have forgotten the value of introspection, to put it lightly.
Let me explain.
Some of you will be deep in the Twitter trenches, fighting against the evils of white women drinking turmeric lattes, all the while making fun of your parents’ accents.
I mean, make it make sense.
Although this in no way absolves white/western media of their transgressions, I would just like to invite my peers in the diaspora to reflect on this (frankly, bizarre) dissonance.
We seem to be at a point where we are growing to appreciate our heritage and our cultures, yet we continue to enact the same exclusionary tactics we claim to despise.
You talk about feeling shunned and out of place as a ✨child of immigrants✨, yet you continue to turn your nose up at people from the mainland. You’ll set out on a noble quest to ‘decolonize Eurocentric beauty standards’, but still make fun of the way “FOBs” (oh, how I hate that term) dress.
I understand that navigating your identity as a member of the diaspora is often a painful, complicated journey, and shunning your culture can sometimes feel like the only option. But, when you have clearly demonstrated a working knowledge of buzzwords like cultural appropriation and internalized racism, what is your excuse?
How can you say you’re ‘for the culture’, when you refuse to engage with it beyond the convenient, only claiming it when it serves you?
Even today, the community continues to consume the same tired caricatures, reducing rich, varied cultures to a few distinct quirks that have continued to circulate the interwebs since 2009.
Personally, I’d like to name check the following—memes about arranged marriages, round rotis, Pani Puri/Gol Gappa/Pucchka discourse, and, finally, K3G (God, let that movie rest). I hate to break it to you, but re-posting that one Poo quote is not a grand gesture of cultural reclamation.
You’re not entirely to blame for this cringe-fest, though. A lot of the diaspora formed relationships with their culture through self-deprecating humour and caricatures. It was all we saw growing up—a smattering of brown faces on T.V. and YouTubers who built platforms out of cultural cliches, the Raj Koothrapallis and Baljeets of yore.
It doesn’t always have to be this way, though. Perhaps it really is possible for the diaspora to take up space without exploiting lazy stereotypes for shits and giggles (just a thought, Lilly Singh).
Yet, I continue to see grown-ass South Asians building a following out of ‘bad’ accents and mocking international students. There is no reason why you should be classifying that steaming BS as ‘humour’—not at your prehistoric age, and certainly not in the year of our lord 2022.
I’d say this shtick has been done to death, but it’s alive and kicking, and painfully unfunny, as ever.
The point of all my rambling is this—in order to expect and create nuanced representation, it is crucial to experience your culture through a nuanced lens.
South Asian culture is deeply intricate, flawed and convoluted—much like Carrie Bradshaw’s outfit.
In all seriousness, though, it seems like the diaspora has forgotten that South Asia is a living, breathing entity—constantly in flux. It’s more than an identity you adopt when it pleases you. It’s more than just a place you left behind, and it exists well beyond the realm of our individual experiences.
The land, the culture and the people deserve more from you than the occasional thinkpiece or TikTok trend.
They deserve accountability, and not just from white spaces.
In order to truly engage with your culture, you must interrogate your complicity in the everyday perpetuation of coloniality within the South Asian community.
So, when will the diaspora stop pretending it is beyond reproach?
About the author
Anuja BhattMore by Anuja Bhatt
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