If you walked through my secondary school, you would find yourself wading through snow, a sea of white people with a person of colour showing up once in every one hundred people. Then I would look at my laptop screen and open books with a lack of brown people to find, too. It was as if my family were the only brown family that truly existed. If you had asked me if there were any famous Sikh women in western media, I would have come up blank. Moreover, if you asked me if I knew any South Asian women in western media, I would have said that random woman from that random British soap opera I never paid any attention to.
Source: Instagram, BrownGirlGang
Thankfully, the culture is changing, not because it simply is but because brown girls have decided to claim the spaces they rightfully occupy. I began following BrownGirlGang one day, thanks to my older sister, an account dedicated to South Asians supporting one another. This space is about featuring the South Asian women we have been blessed with throughout the world, from America to India and Australia, and it is generating a positive impact on our community. In turn, a sisterhood of sorts has emerged on Instagram, consisting of other young women who also identify as ‘brown women’. Sanjana Nagesh runs BrownGirlGang which boasts over 57,500 followers. There is a growing community and market for this content and this account’s popularity is not the only proof of this. The Indian Feminist is run by “2 kickass Punjabi girls smashing the patriarchy 1 post at a time” and boasts a reach of over 156,000 followers.
Source: Instagram, The Indian Feminist
Mindy Kaling, Lily Singh, even Rupi Kaur, are prominent South Asian women that are referred to as sources for inspiration. These accounts allow users to connect to other South Asian women, and men, who are pushing the boundaries and deserve recognition for taking ownership of their own identities. Through these pages I discovered Manjit Thapp, an incredible Indian illustrator based in the UK, representing pop culture through digital creative programming. Maria Qamar uses the comic-book style to portray issues that young South Asians face; she highlights how toxic aunties can be, takes inspiration from Indian soap operas and makes observations of movies and desi life. These women also show us how to become entrepreneurs by pushing our own voices out there. This is the greatness that South Asian women can create by fusing our heritage with pop culture.
These communities are important and deserve to be showcased. Without them, it would be much harder to speak to the people who are much like ourselves, especially in areas where it can feel alienating to be the only brown girl in a painfully white community. It provides a mixture of western and eastern culture that is also accessible. These accounts help another emerging desi generation, helping them feel less like an outsider, through the amalgamation of pop culture with tradition. At the end of the day, we are either children or grandchildren of immigrants, some of us are even immigrants ourselves. By promoting the works of other brown people and highlighting their successes are ways in which we can connect to our culture, in our own digital and millennial fashion, and can do so in an unapologetic manner. From my own experience, it is tiring to make that choice, and these accounts and creators have created a space where we no longer have to choose.
Source: Instagram, Maria Qamar
The connotations and identity wrapped up in being ‘brown’ is significant, especially in this new decade, with the media still stereotyping us as ‘terrorists’ or ‘nerds’. Taking pride in being a brown girl, personally, allows me to remove this label of being ‘the other’ and ‘the outsider’. When we all take pride in this, we can erase those barriers, and create a political convergence of sorts. Whether you are a Sikh, a Muslim or a Hindu, you are in this inclusive term. Whether you are Indian, Pakistani, or British, you are in this inclusive term. There are so many other nationalities, religions and ethnicities that can proudly identify as a brown girl. This is not a division of cultures either, this word should not have barriers, because it is a celebration of desi culture and being a woman of colour.
Source: Instagram, Raveena Aurora
We should not have to be told whether we are too brown, or not brown enough, that judgement is not reserved for anyone. With these Instagram accounts and these blossoming communities, we can finally take back our culture and take it where we want to go for ourselves. None of us need white saviours either. We are not always oppressed and do not always need to be protected. Watch us subvert tradition and embrace it in a way that we find acceptable. At the end of the day, we are finally rising up and taking ownership of our identities, instead of leaving them to be defined by others.