voice > brand

i am so utterly tired of the part of my life  that tells me to “hurry up and become a brand”, meaning “hurry up and package, polish, and make yourself presentable so that the person that comes strolling by can’t help but stop and take interest.” i want to scream, “NOOOO. maybe they shouldn’t stop. maybe they aren’t the ones that need to connect to my story. maybe i will expend too much energy in that less than authentic connection that i could have spent going deeper within. maybe my story isn’t finished yet or maybe i haven’t honed my craft enough yet or…”

don’t get me wrong. i truly get the importance of putting yourself out there as an artist, and even in doing some things that don’t feel completely true to you. if it were not for my social media presence, my networking efforts, etc. i would not have had half of the opportunities i’ve had this year. but there is something that doesn’t sit well with me when some of the leading “influencers” of my day and age instill this fear in youth/creatives/hustlers that we ought to “brand” ourselves in order to make something of ourselves.

i think that following this advice without understanding that meaning/message/self-actualization should be the core of the journey/the art is what leaves us feeling hollow. more importantly, it leaves us without GOOD ART!! it is what leaves us chasing instagram likes and followers. and like nothing is ever enough. and that there has to be a transactional element to what one produces for it to be integrous. more important than urging people to put nice ribbons and fonts and catch phrases on themselves is to urge people to find their inner truth, inner compass, and use that to steer them into the right spaces, places, aesthetics, etc. because the world ends up packaging itself around conviction, truth and true beauty pretty organically…


a hunch

i know i can wait until i am a more polished, presentable version of my myself before i am open to love. i can do that. you can do that. we can all do that. and it is so tempting. so that we will have only photogenic memories. and stories.

but i have a hunch that at that point, when we are so presentable, and love comes after we have turned out successes, be it material, social, or even spiritual. and you say you can’t live without me. and where have i been this whole time. i have a hunch that i will be so hungry still. and there will be nothing you could say, or i could do, to satisfy that hunger.

i will be hungry for the type of love that grew out of the back alleyways of my dreams, of this city. when i got off the night shift of waiting tables, grease on my all too big and unflattering black shirt. spending a little too long in the bathroom just to put on the right lipstick, manager banging on the door for me to get out, before you show up on your bike. and have not a clue of an after hours place that you could afford with the little you have left over from the week. but still that doesn’t hurt your ego so much that you’d let go of me to preserve it, type of love.

the type of love that knows of no restaurant specials or complicated bar drinks. that chooses then to walk on the dirt road. into the unknown. conversations that we don’t remember the beginnings or the ends to.

the ‘i’ve never told this to anyone, but…” type of love

the “i’ll crawl into that pit to save you from the monsters–in your closet, in your head, between us” type of love

the “i’ll help you battle the cockroaches in your apartment, right before we make another grilled cheese” type of love

the “i’m not so experienced with this part of romance” type of love. but “i’ll help you feel it out with Death Cab for Cutie playing in the background” type of love

the “i need you so much closer” type love and not the “our therapist says we need to schedule in quality time to get closer” type love

the “your dreams are tattooed into my heart” type love. and “this is what we’re going to do when we get there” type of love.






In my life, if you look at my poetry. And my pursuit of it. You see that it exists at odds with the previous generations. That in many ways, it is birthed from that friction. In a world far, far away from the world of my parents. And even further from the generation before that. But if you make the journey past my grandparents, you’ll find this place that both rips my worlds—everything I’ve known—from beneath my feet and explains everything I feel in my blood. And this world can be captured with the life and legacy of a sole individual—my great grandmother’s brother—who I call Jyanti dada. Just a few days ago, he passed away. And though we had all seen it coming as he was in a state of rapidly deteriorating health, it felt like my world froze for a few moments.

Jyanti dada has spent his life tucked away in my grandfather’s ancestral village of Atroli in the state of Gujarat, in India. He has insisted stubbornly on staying in this village despite the lure of material wealth that pulled most of his family to India’s big cities, to America, and to London. And this one time five years ago, when I sat next to him from sunrise to sunset with a voice recorder, in an effort to capture what felt like the last bit of magic remaining in the world, I asked him about his life, his choices, his heart. And his answers to me, were in poetry. I’m not saying they were “poetic”. No, no. They were…actual poetry, kavitas, shayari…allegories on allegories, rhymes, metaphors, alliteration, imagery, wisdom, truth, beauty, observations, reflections…all in our native tongue of Gujarati…most of it freestyled. You see, my great grandfather was a poet. He was also a farmer and the village mukhee (the leader who maintains the law and order), but these titles are secondary to me. And when I first learned this–that he was a poet–when I was old enough to really understand the rarity, the purity of him, it felt like the greatest miracle the universe could ever give me. It felt like permission to step into who I was without abandoning what came before me. And I had been desperate, starving for that permission for as long as I’ve known.

And Jyanti dada asked me then–5 years ago–to leave everything here and stay there with him for a while, to volunteer at the local school, to sit out under the trees and write and recite poetry to my heart’s content. I wanted to, so so so badly. But for many reasons, I wasn’t able to. And it has been one of the biggest regrets of my life. Because I knew that hidden in his world, his words, his village, were the blueprints for the kind of life that calls my name every morning. And if only I had more time to write it all down. To take notes on what currents and choices brought about the most luminescent, hilarious, wise, enchanting human being I have ever met. If only, if only. But a few days ago, I was on the phone with one of his daughters–Alpa, who is also a brilliant poet and lyricist! And when I started to tell her what I loved about her dad, she broke down in tears and told me in Gujarati, “You have some of him in you”. And I didn’t think it was possible to receive a greater gift until I heard those words. And it gives me some faith that I maybe do have an ounce of the blueprints.

My goodness. Why am I tearing up again? Jyanti dada–this post will never, ever do you justice so I will dedicate part of my life’s purpose to you, and show you what you meant to me through my actions.


so much of what makes something wholesome, just, good, morally upright and ethical centers around this idea of inclusivity. think voting rights. access to health care, clean water, food. emphasis on diversity. community. affirmative action. “how few people can we leave out?” and then, so much of what makes something desirable, enticing, notable and valuable is linked to this idea of exclusivity. think olympic athletes. specialization. competition. adele concerts. adele herself. “how few people can achieve such skill, such heights?”

in many ways, the two concepts are oppositional. either one tends to come at the expense of the other. it’s a push and pull i find myself thinking about a lot. and most recently, it’s been on my mind in the realm of music.

you guessed it.

jay z strikes an admirable balance between the two with his newest album, ‘4:44’.  this feels noteworthy because for so long, for so many years, i have been rolling my eyes when any of his songs came on the radio. he raps about his billion grammy awards, his bank account, his all too exclusive lifestyle, interests and circle of friends, all too often. “Tom Ford”, “baddest b**tch in the game”, blah, blah, blah. content-wise, this may have been appropriate and even necessary during his formative years as an artist with a rags to riches story. but a decade or two in, it gets pretty stale and uninspiring. more than that, it starts to get annoying.

with ‘4:44’ jay-z definitely doesn’t abandon his tendency towards bravado and showmanship. after all, it is his signature. but it’s tempered with such genuine concern for community, brotherhood, social justice (namely, racial justice), open introspection about fatherhood and his masculinity, his wife and all the women of his past (his apology to all of them). most of the things on this list i’d attribute to a kendrick or cole album…had i not heard ‘4:44’.

the track ‘family fued’ is but one example on the album that achieves a striking harmony between inclusivity and exclusivity. “the track is about the separation in the hip-hop culture and community. Hov is witnessing new rappers disrespecting their old heads, while old school artists and fans misunderstand the new generations. “Family Feud” stands as Jay’s call for all rappers and fans to put aside their differences and come together for the good of the culture.” he raps about the importance of unity but he also reminds everyone of what sets him apart–what puts him on top when he says, “what’s better than one billionaire? two. specifically if they’re from the same hue as you” (referring to p. diddy and himself).

before i listened to the album in its entirely, i saw this post go around on instagram that reads “jay z album gonna make you: fix your credit, pay your child support and taxes, take care of your kids, apologize to your wife, change your instagram, sell your jewelry, buy property, buy more suits, pull your pants up and start reading books.” i thought it may have been a slight exaggeration for the sake of reposts.

i admit i was so very wrong. jay’s lyrics really do make you want to work towards something larger than yourself.

and then there’s the strategy outside of the the content, the lyrics. it’s in how the album was put out into the world–in perhaps the most annoyingly exclusive way in the history of music. the day jay dropped his album, the only way you could hear it was if you were a sprint customer or if you had previously subscribed to Tidal, his own music streaming service. even if you joined Tidal that same day, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. WHAAT????

i hung out in my car for hours on end, where local radio stations were playing the album all the way through. i was itching to hear it so badly that despite my mid-day hunger pangs that warranted me making or getting a real lunch for myself, i subjected myself to McDonald’s drive-thru just so i wouldn’t have to leave the car. the album is THAT good. and because he made it so exclusive to access, it made me yearn for it more. it carved more specific memories into my head. delayed. gratification. is. important. and it’s not to be confused with deprivation and absence, as jay z has literally poured his entire soul out for you and me.

it’s almost as if jay recognized that his new, more inclusive than ever music wouldn’t be believable to us–that he had to give it to us in the most jay z way imaginable.

i was looking for every reason to critique this album, to diss jay-z. especially after cheating on beyonce, i didn’t think he could do anything to redeem himself in my eyes. he still hasn’t. but this album is seriously worth listening to. it feels believable, convincing.



Are well educated people less racist?

It may be the case that better educated people are simply better at covering up their racist tendencies.

By Neerali Patel

For me, the biggest takeaway from the 2016 presidential election and its outcome is a lingering and building curiosity about the “other.”

Perhaps due to my urban life and cosmopolitan worldview, the closest I can get to explaining–and understanding–this elusive, esoteric “other” often takes the form of Michael Moore articles and documentaries about the economically struggling, Trump-voting Rust Belt. More recently, I’ve also explored this “other” in J. D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy, which explores and exposes the generations-deep culture of the people in a small steel town in Ohio.

Many of my liberal, well-educated friends have spoken with confident disdain of those “others” who landed Trump in office—rural, racist, and uneducated voters who were keen to elect a deeply immoral man to the most influential political position in the world.

Maybe this confident attitude stems from the fact that highly educated people tend to think of themselves as progressive, as sociologist Geoffrey Wodtke has uncovered—making it easy to demonize those who are uneducated as ideologically backward.

But I am not convinced that this narrative surrounding the “other” is just, or even accurate. Specifically, I’m talking about the reinforcement of a very harmful stereotype—that of the “uneducated racist.”

This contempt may seem well-warranted. But the idea that only poor, uneducated people can be racist is deeply classist and elitist. Moreover, it’s just plain wrong.

According to a study conducted by researchers Toon Kuppens and Russell Spears, well-educated people are not less likely to be racist—they just tend to be what’s known as aversive racists.

Aversive racism refers to those who express judgemental attitudes toward racial/ethnic minorities by persistently avoiding them or otherwise harming them in subtle ways. One seminal study on aversive racism, for instance, found that white people recommended Black candidates with the same marginal credentials as white candidates 20% less often. Test subjects never stated outright that Black people were inferior—but they clearly expressed judgemental attitudes toward them.

In some ways, aversive racism is even more frightening than traditional racism, because it allows for a kind of subterfuge. According to Wodtke, being more intelligent doesn’t stop people from being racist—it simply makes them better at covering it up. I don’t mean covering it up in the way one thinks of a carefully executed CIA covert operation. I am referring to lifestyle dynamics.

Think of the affluent, white spaces that aren’t necessarily situated in the confederate flag waving lawns of the South or the Trump voting Rust Belt. Where the populace is well-educated and politically correct in speech, but perhaps in speech only. I think to the wealthy, liberal college campus spaces I’ve occupied, where I was surrounded by countless incredibly intelligent students who sternly disassociated with any mention of racism, but who also rarely if ever associated with marginalized communities (namely, low income communities of color). While what I was witnessing may not necessarily be a wholly accurate example of aversive racism, it is certainly a set of dynamics that makes aversive racism more likely to take hold.

In the case of Trump, much attention has been paid to his uneducated, racist voters. There has also been outcry–rightly so–over people like the white-supremacy-affiliated Steve K. Bannon, who is overtly racist (and, interestingly, highly educated as well).

But aversive racism among Trump’s inner circle must not be overlooked.

Take, for example, Andrew F. Puzder, Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of Labor (now resigned). Puzder has a BA in history from Cleveland State University and a law degree from Washington University. He has never said anything overtly discriminatory, as Bannon or some Trump voters have.

But he is definitely racist.

As CEO of CKE restaurants, the company that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, Puzder has implemented policies that directly harm people of color. He opposes the minimum wage, and has pushed for robots/computers to replace low-wage workers altogether.

Almost anyone who works in the service industry knows that many low-income people of color occupy this space. The percentage of Latinos (40.4) and African Americans (31.2) that occupy jobs in the low-wage service industry is significantly greater than that of white Americans (20). So while Mr. Puzder isn’t known to be hostile toward minorities through his speech and demeanor, the way he approaches business—what he considers to be good business—comes undeniably at the expense of minorities. And bringing these already damaging practices to a national scale would mean making more marginalized Americans suffer.

Similarly, there is no room for calling Betsy DeVos, who has been named the Secretary of Education, anything other than an aversive racist. DeVos is not only well educated—she earned a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College in business administration and political science—she is a philanthropist and education activist, making it easy to assume she cares about civic duty and providing opportunity for all, especially those who exist at the fringes of our society. Like Puzder, she has also never said anything overtly discriminatory.

But she, too, is most definitely is racist (and, as the confirmation hearings have illuminated to painful effect, ableist).

In Detroit, where she wielded enormous influence over educational policy, DeVos turned schools, which should be a public service, into a machine for profit. And her initiatives to turn schools into money-makers have disproportionately disadvantaged low-income, African American, and Latino communities, leaving them with the most abysmal and consistently underperforming charter schools.

As the former Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan and chair of the pro-school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, DeVos has been a shining light to members of the movement dedicated to privatizing public education. She has worked to create programs and pass laws that require the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers and similar programs.

She has also pushed hard on schools of choice, where districts open their borders to kids from other jurisdictions. In concept, this could be a great equalizer: Children from poor districts could attend schools that have many more resources. But in practice, it has played out differently. In districts in Michigan that participate in choice, white and more affluent parents have fled sooner and minority kids have come into previously white schools, establishing de facto segregation, according to a report by Bridge magazine.

DeVos isn’t an educator or an education leader, but she will continue to scale the policies and practices she’s put in place in Michigan on a national level as the Secretary of Education. And it will result in creating greater distance between white America and the rest of America.

So what conclusions can we—should we—draw definitively from all this?

Perhaps that the uneducated Americans we so often dismiss for their “backwardness” are not necessarily the poster children for American racism. In fact, in fixating on this population, we reinforce the detrimental stereotype of the uneducated racist, while overlooking the power of aversive racism.

Aversive racism is dangerous because it cannot be observed at face value, and cannot be heard through the use of certain words. It is nuanced, complex, and often hidden behind the veil of erudite political correctness.

And here’s another important point—it’s not just those associated with Trump who can be aversive racists. Educated, ostensibly progressive liberals can say and do things that affect marginalized communities, even as they never outwardly express discriminatory beliefs.

According to an article in HubPages,

“…while liberal individuals might be more outwardly friendly towards minorities, they are also more affected by subtle biases they are unaware of. A bias an individual is not aware of is also a bias they are unable to confront and overcome….[In addition], studies have shown that white, liberal employers will almost always give an open position to a highly qualified black applicant over anyone else.  No racism there, right?  The problem arises when a white candidate and a black candidate are equally qualified for a position.  In almost every instance, a black candidate and a white candidate with the exact same credentials will result in the white person being hired.

As a well-educated American myself, I know that it would be more useful to analyze the life I lead—the people/institutions/structures I affiliate with—than to point fingers. I may not be an active aversive racist, but I also don’t think I stand on moral high ground because of my liberal, educated, diverse urban background.

Nobody does.

Michelle Obama isn’t a hypocrite

Recently, Michelle Obama very publicly called out Trump on his misogyny after the release of audio tapes in which Trump openly talked about sexually assaulting women. Many people took such comfort and found such healing in the way Michelle Obama unapologetically outlined how rape culture makes women feel—how it has made her feel and continues to make her feel—that there have been many calling for her to step up to run for office during the next election cycle. She is receiving praise and accolade from women and men all over the country and all over the world.

Despite the universal appeal of Mrs. Obama’s speech, there were some who took problem with her words. I first noticed the criticism on my Facebook newsfeed. One of my friends posted a story about Michelle Obama’s speech. Her relative responded in the comments by saying, “She hangs out with rappers that rap slang hate and misogynist language. Hypocrite much???”

Though I was relieved that my friend called out her relative for their racist remarks, I was more confused about her claim that Michelle Obama is a hypocrite as it relates to matters of calling people out on misogynistic behavior. Still, I thought this comment existed in isolation until I came across an article that made the same claim. And then I came across countless other articles attempting to make the same argument in American Thinker, Snopes, Gossip Extra, Fox News, from Rush Limbaugh, etc, etc.

Knowing that this is a more widely held view than I had known to be, I feel the need to challenge it.

So it is true that the Obamas are friends with many rappers and artists at large. They have hosted many rappers at the White House, but they have welcomed them on the grounds of their public persona as artists and entertainers. The first question that comes to my mind for those holding entertainers to the same standards as the person who is trying to be taken seriously in the political realm—someone attempting to be the leader of our country—is, “on what grounds are you able to compare them?” Second is that if you are as outraged by misogyny as you claim to be, then why don’t you have a greater sense of outrage towards Donald Trump? Why is it that you need to pen articles about the misogyny in the rap world and not that which is blatantly on display in this election—for the entire country to see, not just music aficionados to hear?

Another aspect to this, perhaps the most important, is the substance and message and influence of the work of so many of the artists that the Obamas have welcomed to the White House in the recent months. The first that comes to mind is Kendrick Lamar, who was one of the artists mentioned in the articles criticizing Michelle Obama. Not that it wholly matters, but contrary to what many of these right wing pundits would think, Kendrick Lamar not only doesn’t drink or smoke, he is considered a social activist for speaking about and raising awareness of issues that plague the African American community through his music. Anyone who has listened to any of his music knows this. In his most recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly, he has sampled a Tupac Shakur’s speech in which he warns society of the dangers of violence and poverty in the African American community. And far from being misogynistic, Kendrick doesn’t even promote any sort of violent or materialistic lifestyle. His song “Alright” is an example of how he attempts to offer healing to his community. His song “I” is about overcoming depression and celebrating oneself despite the world’s opinions and setbacks.


Obama has also met with artists like Chance the Rapper, who will also be at the White House for the Tree Lighting Ceremony this Christmas. Specifically, Obama has met with Chance to discuss the topic of criminal justice reform—an issue that hits very close to home for the Chicago native—one that he knows a lot about and can offer some productive insight on. In addition, anyone who has listened to Chance—especially his recent mixtape—knows that he is an even greater anomaly to some of the harshest negative stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a rapper. His words speak to a fondness for his childhood, his loyalty to his friends and family—the deep respect and love he has for the mother of his child, a reverence for community, his tone offers a lighthearted and upbeat feeling that you just want to dance to, his style is so youthful and playful. For god’s sake—his recent mixtape is called Coloring Book!

And just a few days ago Obama met with rapper Macklemore. They met to discuss how to combat the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our country. Macklemore also uses his music as a vehicle for social good. For example, his song “Inhale Deep”—though it is technically about drug use, shows how detrimental it (drug use) is and how it took away from his own creativity and career in the past. Macklemore has also offered consolation and healing to countless members of the LGBTQ community through his hit song “Same Love”. He is well known campaigner for gay rights among other things.

To me, the types of rappers that the Obamas have welcomed to the White House seem to be doing the opposite of what the criticisms claim. They seem to be choosing those artists that are notably role model worthy—those with a positive message. And why go after artists and rappers to do the work of uplifting and inspiring and conveying positive messages to youth in the first place? Why not seek out another—perhaps less controversial—profession? Because the reality is that kids are more likely to pay attention to what their favorite artist is saying—to emulate their qualities, something they can possibly relate to—than they are in just another politician or removed public figure advising them or attempting to seek some sort of influence over them without having much of an emotional connection with them. And so what these rappers bring by being at the White House is a sense of relateability to so many people in this country that feel they exist at the margins.

Common is yet another artist who has been criticized for his affiliation with the Obamas and yet he is committed to social activism in the form of the incarceration epidemic and youth empowerment in the form of greater access to college education.

The list goes on and on.

To me, it seems that what might be more bothersome than misogyny to those criticizing Michelle Obama is the particular policy and social issues that these rappers align with and stand behind. And if that’s the case, I would hope there is a more honest conversation around policy points. Because as it stands now, dismissing an entire genre of music that happens to be rooted in the African American community frankly does seem pretty racist.









July (2016)

Khushbu Patel

If you are my friend and white, I am writing to you. If you are South Asian, raised primarily in white America, I am writing also to you. Don’t mistake my intent – there is no desire to divide for the sake of division. I was taught to write with an audience in mind; right now, I need to speak to you specifically. For even as millennials, one of the most progressive groups leading social shifts in our country, we vote differently along racial lines.

I write because I love you. Because I have shared parts of my life with you, and you have loved me back. I write because I love my black and brown students, friends, colleagues, teachers, writers, neighbors, and community members just as much.

I have been told that I can be dismissive and/or hurtful, in the process of talking about seeking justice. For that, I genuinely apologize because it brings me no joy or pride in doing so. What I do not apologize for, though, is making you feel uncomfortable while you read this, for bringing up something that bums you out, for being repetitive, relentless, for making you reflect in ways you did not ask for.

I was born into a brown body and I’m not sure why. I did not ask for this, either. I love this body. But it took many years of despising it, of ignoring it, of erasing it, to begin the journey of embracing it. There is an inarticulable complexity to Asian American acculturation. This is so deeply rooted that we would rather acculturate into whiteness, or adopt blackness than live in our own identities We are known to bleach our skin, to erase our accents, to integrate our children without teaching their history.

In not learning our history, we are deprived of the opportunity for self love. My friend told me an anecdote of being at a department store in the city and seeing this young white child running like mad through the clothing racks. This child, she imagined, will grow up never thinking twice about the consequences of that, and will enjoy the freedom of their body’s movement in a way she dreamed of for her own future black child. My dream is that my child will grow up loving themselves, their existence, in a way that wasn’t inherent for me. For any group that finds itself a minority in white America, even the act of self-love is radical. It certainly was for me. For being exemplars in this, I am grateful to the black women in my life, in my literature and media.

I have digressed, so let me get back to you. I regret my delay in speaking directly to you. I, too, have been moving through my own awareness-building, and so I can understand that what is being asked for in rectifying this country’s racial politics may run counter to your upbringing, your environment, the teachings of your skin.

That may make this process uncomfortable, but it is not valid grounds for turning away. Most of my life experiences have formed in the shadow of a blanketing white privilege – the one that comes from being upper-middle class South Asian, living in a white northeast suburb, attending a wealthy school district, going to bed with the certainty of college in my future. Our ascension in financial wealth – class – was a gateway to white America in a way that afforded me safety, stability, access.

And what was the cost?

I withstood being called the “little brown friend.” I laughed at racist remarks made by friends’ parents, biting my tongue at the expense of my parent’s dignity. I wore pants in the summer to hide my thick black hair; I wore bikinis to the beach when I never felt comfortable. I unlearned my religion, knowing far more about the origin of Easter than I did about the Mahabharata. I sat for meals at friends’ houses where they repeatedly forgot my vegetarianism; I’d go so far as to offer my own apology. I adopted die hard Beatles-fandom when I’d grown up only on my mom’s lullabies and my uncle singing Kishore Kumar. I allowed others to wear their shoes in my home, while my parents left theirs at the door.

I forgot my place in this world.

I shied away from sharing my father’s profession because even though our socioeconomic status brought us into the safety of manicured lawns, there is a special kind of fear reserved for colored bodies that makes you duck, not bow when you see an American flag waving above your neighbor’s door.

I sat as a token, the kind you could get on board with and invite to your Christmas parties. Until, of course, I learned to openly love myself and my fellow people of color. Until I demanded more of my peers, I demanded reflection and pressing into our humanity to overturn the injustices built into our structures, our socialization.

Then, I remembered who I was. I was never white. It was only a matter of time until I was found, my cloak of invisibility pulled off of a body it never belonged to. Perhaps I’ll learn at the end of my life that this skin was an opportunity to bring shared space between white and black. If that’s the case, I do not want to take my last breath knowing I sat on this satya.

So, in addition to bringing more depth to my breath, I am trying to understand the silence of yours. Even my soft voice feels loud in this part of town. Mine feels loud because it makes others uncomfortable, it makes friends, family members, acquaintences ask me to change the conversation. They hear me as the immigrant’s child who hangs on too deeply to her parent’s story, as a woman who has been overly educated on social issues, as a 20-something with too little experience of the real world.

So, I ask my peers in this letter – why, when your voice is met with so much more respect in this world than is mine, do you choose to retreat? Why, when you access spaces of immense impact that do not see you through a lens of fear, pity, or discomfort do you not bend the light toward us?

Now, because it is easy to be mistaken here, I want to explicitly aknowledge that there is no universality in the experience of privilege. Of course we have intersectional identities – you are more than your skin color, the same way I am. Your story deserves to be nuanced, to have its struggles genuinely acknowledged, and to be heard in the context of your life circumstance. But you are your skin color, also, the same way I am. When it comes to skin color, and the cultures threaded around it, whiteness comes with a beach tag of belongingness on the U.S. shores in a way no one else’s money can buy.

There are particular spectator sections reserved for white audiences that allow for the freedom of enjoying black basketball legends, moving your body to black beats, marathoning hit shows crafted by black visionaries, reading literature written by black geniuses, all while turning the television off when a black body pleads mercy on the asphalt. This is the privilege I speak of. The privilege of turning away, of not taking it as an attack on one’s own life, of being able to whisper “what a shame,” but not go to bed thinking “that could be me tomorrow.”

There lies the privilege of waking up and CHOOSING to speak of these “issues.” It is one I also share. But let us be honest with ourselves. These are not “issues” that plague us – they are our collective, historical demons that we either choose to confront and exorcise, or allow to live on in the language and values and silences we pass onto our children. Systemic racism is a reality, and it’s not going away if we aren’t educated about it. And when communities of color call it out, exposing a legacy of white empowerment that has kept it alive, they are not being “racist against whites.” To point out a historical reality is not racism, it is advocating for change.

We have an issue of class just as we do of race. We have washed our hands of slavery by sewing it into history books and big budget films, but the same hands still turn those pages. We have remained content letting vast pockets of deep, deep poverty persist in the country. The kind that can make one desperate to fund their family, the kind that determines a child’s safety based on neighborhood lines, those determined by manipulative housing policy. The kind that has a white, Catholic priest fighting unapologetically for justice in Chicago.

But I hope we do not overlook this as just a “black issue.” Our big, friendly NRA is just as silent on the 3,000 Hispanic individuals who are lost to gun violence each year. This is especially important for my South Asian brothers and sisters, the ones I hold so dear. Those of us who bought too-big houses on luscious green property and forgot that we had to demand the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 to be allowed entry here. And that our visa is conditional upon our compliance, our assimilation, our fulfilling of stereotypes, and our not being Sikh or Muslim. And, most painful to me is that despite how this country inhumanely mass-imprisoned Asian Americans, our model minority nomenclature was earned at the cost of leveraging anti-black sentiment.

We distance ourselves because the one-shade lighter skin buys us enough leverage to access better schools and stability. We continue the pattern of racism and exceptionalism that built America by demarcating ourselves from other minorities. If we could do it, why not them, after-all? Do we forget how India lives, despite 1947 and despite the abolition of caste? But there, also, we use class as a cushion to buffer against the gut wrenching poverty that claims our beautiful children. There, also, our much needed independence came at the cost of yet another border and millions of lives. So, there is little to validate our exceptionalism.

I have yet to hear a viable justification for the condition of the average black family in “post-racial” United States. I have listened to claims of this being an issue of welfare-dependency, of black-on-black crime, of over-sensitivity, of laziness, of drug habits, of broken family systems, of inherent violence, and so-on goes this painful list. I’ve listened and cannot find any way of rationally, realistically, with a decent conscience, believing it. In fact, according to THE Albert Einstein…

Many a sincere person will answer: “Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”

I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition (see here).”

These are the racialized politics we craft out of our own fear, or explanations we accept from governing bodies that help some of us sleep better at night. Because the truth is, we built entire economic systems from the labor of enslaved black families, and then offered abolition without rectifying our institutions. Without repaying stolen land and life. Without reckoning with our deepest spiritual transgressions.

Every time I write about a loss, I think, “I don’t have the words. What do I even say?” And still, I write. Because I think of my brothers and sisters who experience these losses more intimately, attend these funerals more regularly – in person or in their hearts – and they still write, still speak, still burn for our attention. So, if that is what stops you, I reveal to you: none of us have the words. We write out of our humanity, and ask you to access that same place that exists within yourself. Your language can be off, your education on the matters limited. Once you find in yourself the room to fight injustice, you grow your tools over time.

Let us think: how can we rearrange our lives, our consciousness, to encompass doing right by our peers? How can we press deeper into our own worlds, our individual trajectories, in a way that contributes also to a collective action? I’m not yearning for everyone to drop their life and take on social work. That’s quite misguided, I know better. I ask that we all be more reflective about the paths we’ve chosen, or have been chosen for, and use them consciously to right our collective wrongs. That we reflect on how our comforts, joys, safety have come at the expense of particular groups over and over and over again in history.

This does not imply that we have not earned our livelihoods and right to fantastic living. Remember, self love! However, this does mean that we stop thinking that life is handed out equitably, or that earning your way out of poverty is fair or possible. This also means that we hold an even greater responsibility to advocate for justice because we have the means, the resources, and stability to do so without serious risk to our lives.

I use this letter as an extension of my own hand, offering an invitation into deeper self-reflection and engagement with ourselves as active arbiters of the present and future. Each day that passes transitions another moment from present into history, and it’s incredible that we get to contribute to it. I offer my hand because my peers – from all around the world – have been gracious enough to offer me theirs. If you see it from that lens, it becomes apparent that infinite acts of grace have been offered by those repeatedly oppressed. These come in the form of their writing, their voices, their rage, their art, their resistance, their policy suggestions, their fellowship, their forgiveness. Each of these reminds me that there is more we can demand from ourselves in how we tolerate the conditions of others’ lives. Make no mistake – there is no enjoyment inherent in the act of fighting to prove your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is work that exhausts already expended beings. There is no comfort at the end of a day except your community and the knowledge that you fought on the right side of humanity. And even those are hard to hold onto some days.

However, we did not evolve into sophisticated social beings with moral consciousness without good reason. It is imperative we access that purpose now.

The unstoppable rise of an openly racist, Islamophobic, sexist, homophobic, authoritarian presidential nominee did not happen as an anomaly, and if all we are doing is expressing our surprise about this, it is not enough. This candidacy is the long overdue outcome of a national consciousness that has disguised fear and prejudice as patriotic values. The American values I’d like to see us embody instead are those that force us to confront and self-educate on what it means to live as an “other” in this country. In doing so, our education may liberate us from the fear that allows us to misrepresent, misunderstand, or turn our backs from others’ humanity.

One of my earliest favorite books was Walk Two Moons, titled after an American Indian proverb that loosely translates to, “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” At the time, I was a little South Asian girl in an all-white school trying to figure out how the hell to put that into practice. I’m still the same South Asian girl in mostly white institutions continually trying to figure out how the hell to put this into practice. I invite you to do this with me –to enact the wisdom of this land’s indigenous forefathers and mothers – but please, do remember, we take off our shoes in this house.

The murder of Pakistan’s “Kim Kardashian” Qandeel Baloch should make us concerned for the way our society treats the real Kim Kardashian

Unfortunately, it was only upon the news of her death—her murder—that I learned of Qandeel Baloch. When I read that Qandeel Baloch was the “Kim Kardashian” of Pakistan (albeit, a description that may not be wholly fitting, according to many South Asians), I was both intrigued and frightened. Intrigued because…well…Kim Kardashian is a pop culture icon made famous for how she presents her body, embraces her sexuality, promotes vanity, etc. I wonder what that would look like, how it would be received, in a culture as conservative and as oppressive towards women as that of Pakistan. Frightened because of the realization that the shame and hate that Pakistanis imposed on Qandeel Baloch doesn’t stray too far from much of what we do to and say about Kim Kardashian for…showing her body, for making money from exposing her body, for being famous for her body, etc.

Kim Kardashian may not be facing silencing by death in our society, but there are countless ways in which our society seeks to silence her that speak to a desire for her social disappearance or social death. In the comments section of any article you’ll find going around about Kim K (and given that she is in the news pretty regularly—there are new ones coming up on the daily), you’ll find not only criticism, but truly hateful, vitriolic language—from people calling her a piece of trash and a whore to a complete “disgrace to society”. I’ve gotten so accustomed to the hate towards Kim that I find myself laughing along with my friends and peers when they go off on her. I myself have said some pretty regrettable things about her.

It took Qandeel Baloch’s death for me to stop and reconsider how I’m contributing to some of the same culture of slut shaming that resulted in Qandeel Baloch’s death. For those of you who may have missed the story, Qandeel Baloch was a 25 year old Pakistani social media star, actress and model who was strangled to her death by her own brother. Her brother claims that he is proud to have killed her because of the shame she brought to her family in an act that exists as part of a larger, widespread phenomenom throughout the Middle East and South Asia called “honor killings”.

The point I am trying to make is not that we should all celebrate Kim—or get behind everything she does. Like many, I find it unsettling that as a culture we spend so much time on her–that so much of what infiltrates our media is dull, vapid, un-intellectual content. What I am trying to say is that shaming her, slut-shaming her, is not only disgraceful but truly damaging to women.

One of the most recurring things I read and hear about Kim is that she is only famous because of her sex tape and that outside of that, she offers no value to society. Let’s think about how damaging that is for a second. Sure, it may not be the most meritorious achievement to be known for a sex tape. But her ex released the sex tape. And it was humiliating for Kim, as she’s stated in an interview from many years ago. She says, “My dad would have been mortified and I’m not happy about it.” If an ex of mine were ever to do the same to me, to say that I would be depressed is an understatement. The phenomenon of women committing suicide because of sex tapes is common enough and yet it doesn’t seem to deter us as a society from making the victims feel like they don’t deserve to have a voice–to live and flourish.

The other thing to consider is the sexism here. Male artists, for example, get to sing and rap about their sex lives, how many women they’ve slept with, etc. and no one says a thing. If anything, they’re praised and rewarded–considered more masculine, etc. For women, it is the opposite that is true. A woman’s worth and value, according to our society, is in being modest, covering up, being cautious about who you have sex with, how many people you have sex with, not being promiscuous, etc.

Is Kim, then, not a hero for claiming what happened to her, for triumphing in the face of it all, and continuing to expose her body–to be known for her revealing her body instead of shriveling up, going into hiding, or forcing herself to be a conventionally “good role model” simply to negate your negative criticisms?

For those that make the argument that we shouldn’t be paying attention to her because she offers no value to society, should we not be more critical of the larger institutions, incentives and cultural trends that bring about celebrities like Kim Kardashian? How could she be the sole person to blame for a supposed degradation of our society, culture and values?

And then there’s this idea to consider–does she truly offer no real value to society? Could she possibly be of some–really meaningful–value to society if only we dare to look at her from a different lens?

Shiveta Vaid, a law student at the University of Minnesota pursuing a degree in biomedical ethics, with an eye toward addressing social inequities, says “I’ve been thinking more and more that one of her contributions as being un-apologetically in control of her body and image – and using that control to expose more of herself (body and self/daily life) rather than use control to create a privacy cocoon. There is nothing wrong with the latter, but the former is subversive when we think about how other women known for being in control of their image (Angelina Jolie, Beyonce) control it to limit exposure rather than expand it….Like, not the fact of exposure, but the mechanics of it, using her autonomy to be visible instead of hidden as many other women do.

Another contribution I think she makes is the example of her business acumen, which I think people are remiss to ignore. Scores of young women and girls are watching a woman without any formal education in business, finance, management, etc., succeed in an old boy’s club. She did have the extreme privilege of being born into the family she has, but it takes some serious chops to build upon what she inherited.”

It’s easy for us to point to outwardly oppressive societies like Pakistan. It’s difficult for us to look inward and examine how many of our own norms might also be damaging to women. But we need to do it.