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6 South Asian Creators Whose Voices Are Changing Mainstream Media

Aanandi Murlidharan

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You’ve heard of Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, Lilly Singh, and recently Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, but who else have you heard of? There are not many South Asian creatives and influencers who have been able to reach mainstream Western media.

Often within South Asian communities, there is a significant emphasis on finding a stable 9 to 5 job. This is common in Asian countries; due to large population sizes, there is always competition for positions. Fields such as medicine, engineering, and law are valued for their stability. The idea is that even if you are mediocre in these fields, you will receive a decent salary.

This concept, paired with the fact that Asians make up less than one percent of the entertainment and art industry, has resulted in a limited number of South Asian creators in Western media. However, there are still South Asian origin creators who are making significant strides and changes within the community.

Here is a list of South Asian creators and influencers, each in different types of creative fields, who are breaking the barriers of Western mainstream media and pushing societal norms through their work.

1. Raveena

Raveena is a singer-songwriter whose songs mesmerize listeners with their warbling synths, soft piano, delicate harps, and hypnotic, honey-like vocals. Influenced by the Sikh practices and North Indian parents that she grew up with, Raveena’s music marries the experience of the South Asian diaspora with contemporary R&B and soul.

Raveena has released several EPs and a long album, each portraying a different aspect of her life. The title track of her first EP, If Only, discusses a broken, toxic relationship, but pairs it with a magical, whimsical sound.

Lucid, her 2019 debut album, tells the story of her healing process after an abusive relationship, as well as the intergenerational trauma experienced while growing up as a child of Indian immigrant parents, all while incorporating themes of sexual liberation and spiritual self-healing.

“It can definitely be challenging being a South Asian artist and not having a lot to go off of in Western music culture,” Raveena described in an interview with the website, them. “It’s easy to feel super displaced and confused, like ‘Where do I fit into all this?’ But that’s also the most exciting part about it; there isn’t a framework, so you can invent your own.”

Raveena is heavily involved not only in the music production aspect of her work, but also in her video production. In the music video for her song “Temptations,” Raveena created a dream-like garden sequence, a style often used in Bollywood, to come out to her family and friends as bisexual. “Growing up, South Asian culture and queer culture felt like oil and water. Something that just simply couldn’t mix,” Raveena said via Instagram when the video dropped.

“I’m pretty sure I liked girls before I liked boys, but it took me until this year, in my 20s, to be able to verbalize and know in my heart that this is one of my truths. I hope that for lil brown girls in the future, their queerness will feel nothing short of completely, 100% mundane and normal,” Raveena said.

2. Alok Vaid-Menon

Alok (they/them) is an Indian-American gender nonconforming writer and performer. Alok is known for challenging the gender binary through fashion, performance, poetry, and prose. Alok’s mission is to create a new beauty paradigm based on self-acceptance and self-actualization rather than conformity.

According to their official website, Alok is “the author of Femme in Public (2017) and Beyond the Gender Binary (2020). In 2019, they were honored as one of NBC’s Pride 50 and Out Magazine’s OUT 100.” In an interview with CNN, Alok discussed the challenges they have faced in their quest to create a new beauty paradigm.

They described how a stranger told them they would be more “convincing” if they shaved their beard. Alok described this experience as realizing the “danger” of beauty.

“Marginalized people learn from an early age that beauty is often about power,” Alok stated. “We see the fair, thin, and gender-conforming among us called ‘beautiful,’ while the rest of us are meant to spend our entire lives aspiring to be like them.”

Alok also has a large presence on Instagram, where they advocate for the recognition of Black, Indigenous, and people of color(BIPOC) non-binary individuals. One of their most bold and groundbreaking posts addresses the concept of “white feminism,” a form of feminism that focuses solely on the struggles of straight, cis-gendered white women. It does not include BIPOC women and LGBTQIA+ women.

The post depicts an image of Alok wearing a dress, surrounded by hate comments including “You don’t need feminism to wear that ridiculous outfit” and “Feminism is about women, Alok. Make up your own movement.” Alok took to their caption to further discuss the severity and detrimental effects of these comments.

“Womanhood is far more expansive than reproductive function. There are plenty of men and non-binary people who can give birth and plenty of women who cannot,” said Alok.

“But this has never been about facts or even cognition. This has always been about a deep, ingrained hatred and distrust for us. In order for patriarchy to work, we must be demeaned and disappeared.”

3. Maria Qamar 

Maria Qamar is a Pakistani-Canadian artist best known for her South Asian art, which she posts on her Instagram, @hatecopy. “Hatecopy” is a name that Qamar coined during her college years out of distaste for copy-writing, the career she was forced to pursue instead of the arts.

Her art gives her 196K followers a peek into the trials of the young South Asian woman’s 21st-century experience. Her comic-like desi pop art displays humorous, relatable situations for those who have grown up in Western countries. Qamar’s artwork encourages female empowerment through witty Hinglish responses to taboo topics within the desi community.

Not only has Qamar’s art been hugely successful on social media, but it has also been successful in the physical world. Qamar has decorated the sets of The Mindy Project, painted a large mural on New York City’s Bombay Bread, and even graced the cover of Elle Canada.

Qamar’s most notable work, however, was her exhibition titled “Fraaaandship!” in Richard Taittinger Gallery in New York City. The term “fraaaandship” is a euphemism of sex used by many South Asian men towards women. Qamar’s artwork counters the patriarchal undertones of this phrase by depicting strong, freethinking, sex-positive South Asian women.

While her work may portray Bollywood-esque beauties, Qamar also aims to direct her work towards other women of color.

“These are specifically the things that I have gone through that have been obstacles in my life,” Qamar stated in an interview with Art News.

“But don’t we all get bullied or picked on for being different? We’re not that different—we’re fighting for basic human rights for women and women of color.”

4. Deepica Mutyala 

Deepica Mutyala is a South Indian American beauty YouTuber and social media influencer. Mutyala is best known for a viral video that took the beauty world by storm when she used red lipstick as a color corrector to cover dark undereye circles. Dark circles and hyper-pigmentation are skin conditions that South Asians and other BIPOC, face.

Since that viral video, which now has over 10 million views, the 31-year-old beauty influencer has worked with The Today Show, collaborated with several makeup brands as an influencer, and starred in commercials for Samsung and L’Oreal.

Last year, Mutyala launched the Huestick, a product inspired by the Instagram community she built called “Live Tinted.” The Huestick is the first of its kind; it is a color corrector and multi-stick product. It can be used as a lipstick, eye-shadow, blush, or color corrector that can be dabbed on dark circles, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots.

In an interview with Forbes, Mutyala described how she built a “community first” product. She mentioned how it all began with her asking for product recommendations for dark circles. Mutayla even went a step beyond simply digital engagement and had members of the Live Tinted community try the products.

“We want to continue to ethically and responsibly reach the heights of financial success so that we can feed this process of social listening, product development, and continuous improvement,” Mutyala said.

“Above all, we want to disrupt the beauty industry and normalize diversity and representation.”

5. Sandhya Menon 

Sandhya Menon is a New York Times bestselling young adult fiction and romance author whose novels tell wholesome, heartwarming, romantic tales of Indian-American teenagers. Menon’s books contain stories of growing up in the South Asian culture that do not succumb to the stereotypes of an oppressed and depressed Brown community.

Each of Menon’s characters represents a diverse range of the Brown experience. However, what is unique about her characters is that being Indian is not the driving factor of their stories.

Her debut novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, is a love story between two college freshmen: Dimple, who is driven to prove herself as a coder, and Rishi, who is afraid to take the leap to pursue his passion as a comic artist.

From Twinkle, With Love is an epistolary novel about a 16-year-old who wants to be a filmmaker but is afraid that there is no room for her voice.

There’s Something About Sweetie tells the story of Sweetie, a confident, plus-size track star, and Ashish, a heartbroken basketball player, and how the two hide their relationship from Sweetie’s fat-shaming but well-meaning mother.

“I really just wanted to tell more fluffy, rom-com stories about all different kinds of people,” Menon said in an interview with YouTube channel xreadingsolacex.

“I feel like we don’t have enough of that, especially with marginalized communities, and so I just wanted to tell a story that wasn’t an issue book. And those are so important, but I wanted to tell a different kind of story.”

6. Hari Kondabolu

In Hari Kondabolu’s Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “Comic from Queens living in Brooklyn.” The 37-year-old stand-up comedian uses his platform to tell jokes about the racism and the divide that American politics has created among his people.

However, he is best known for the documentary The Problem with Apu. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is a character on the Simpsons that is meant to be a caricature of the South Asian immigrant community in the United States. It is meant to represent the “white man’s perception of Indian immigrants.”

In the documentary, Kondabolu talks about how the stereotypes Apu perpetuated hung over the heads of many South Asian Americans in his generation. Kondabolu does not argue for the removal of Apu, but rather for a discussion as to how stereotypes in the media can be harmful.

In an interview on Emily Todd VanDerWerff’s podcast I Think You’re Interesting, Kondabolu said, “I feel like the story isn’t ‘What do we do with this Apu character?’ The point of the whole story was really to do what Whoopi Goldberg did. She’s not saying ‘go and destroy all the blackface artifacts from the past.’ She’s saying ‘let’s talk about it and put it up out front. Let’s recontextualize these things and put it in front of you and talk about them.’ This was my ‘Minstrel Black Americana’ collection. She calls it her ‘Negrobilia.’ This is what it was for me.”

Kondabolu received severe backlash from many people for his work. He often received death threats and hate mail for “bad-mouthing the Simpsons.” The Simpsons even alluded to the documentary in the episode in one of their own episodes.

“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” said Simpson character Lisa after glancing at a frame of Apu, with the phrase “Don’t have a cow!” written on the photo.

While this might not have been the response many South Asians wanted, this scene proved that Kondabolu’s message had been heard by the creators.

“In The Problem with Apu, I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups and why this is important,” the comedian tweeted in response to the episode. “The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

Since then, Kondabolu has released his Netflix comedy special Warn Your Relatives, and he continues to address issues such as homophobia, racism, and sexism with his work.

These are only a few of the brilliant South Asian creators who are paving their paths into Western media. There are plenty of other fantastic South Asian creators who are making their marks and initiating changes in their own ways.

As the South Asian diaspora continues to grow, it is becoming even more pivotal for the community to share their experiences and their work. It is our time to shine and show the world the change that we are capable of creating.

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Why Antisemitism Is Still a Huge Issue in the U.S.

Jeff Lam

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Star of David surrounded by Hanukkah candles

At the beginning of July, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, shared a number of posts that were both degrading and offensive towards the Jewish community.

The posts included quotes that were falsely attributed to Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler. Since then, Jackson has acknowledged his mistake, apologizing for and deleting the posts. However, his doing so could just be a reaction to the backlash that he received after sharing those posts. 

At a time when the fight for equality has gained huge momentum with the Black Lives Matter movement, incidents like this show that, whilst we should continue to do everything we can to support the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice, we can’t afford to forget about the many other issues in the United States when it comes to racial inequality.

When Jackson shared those posts, there was instant outrage from people all over social media, not only from the Jewish community but also from people who are not Jewish at all; they all felt that Jackson had crossed a line with his social media activity.

His own team, the Philadelphia Eagles, ended up fining him for his actions, which were detrimental to the team. The Eagles even released a strong statement making it clear that they do not agree with any of Jackson’s views on the topic, and that his posts do not represent the beliefs of their organization.

Whilst it was nice to see his own team as well as people from the outside supporting the Jewish community, there were still others who felt that what DeSean Jackson did was not wrong at all.

For example, former NBA player Stephen Jackson commented that DeSean Jackson was both “educating others” and “speaking the truth.” 

The most shocking part about Stephen Jackson’s support of DeSean Jackson’s antisemitic posts is that just weeks prior, he was a huge figure in the Black Lives Matter movement.

He was a close friend of George Floyd and after Floyd’s death, Stephen Jackson was one of the most influential people in advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Therefore, many people felt that he came off as being hypocritical after he had spent weeks prior fighting for equality for his community, yet in this instance had turned a blind eye towards another community being attacked.

However, Stephen Jackson has also since apologized for his statement and has said that his comments were twisted and did not represent his true standing.

NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, criticized both Jacksons for their posts and shared a powerful Martin Luther King Jr quote; “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In other words, if we are fighting for racial equality and justice with the Black Lives Matter movement, we can’t afford to put down other races or religions. Doing so would just defeat the whole purpose of equality.

Newly-crowned Super Bowl champion and Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, took a different approach in reacting to DeSean Jackson’s posts. Schwartz, who is Jewish, did not criticize DeSean Jackson for his beliefs, but instead said that he believed DeSean Jackson’s actions came from a place of ignorance.

Schwartz, who played with DeSean Jackson in college, said that he doesn’t think DeSean Jackson’s intent was to promote hate. “I truly don’t think DeSean meant any sort of hate or anything,” he said. “I think it came way more from a place of ignorance.”

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Since his posts, DeSean Jackson has reached out to members of the Jewish community, including several rabbis, Philadelphia 76ers owner Michael G. Rubin, and 94-year-old Holocaust survivor, Edward Mosberg. DeSean Jackson has also agreed to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a museum dedicated to remembering the lives lost at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

DeSean Jackson has been very open-minded in these discussions and appears to have learned from his mistakes. Mitchell Schwartz has praised his former teammate for making efforts to educate himself, and he hopes that this experience will help DeSean Jackson understand what he did wrong and find a way to move forward in a better manner.

For years, Jews have been discriminated against all over the world; unfortunately, the United States is no less guilty than any other country when it comes to antisemitism.

DeSean Jackson’s posts were not the first antisemitic propaganda that made headline news and is unlikely to be the last. It is important for people to educate themselves, before making any inappropriate statements or claims. 

Learn about the history of the Jewish community and how Jews have struggled even way before World War II. The world is slowly making strides in fighting for racial equality with the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.

A major goal of the current social justice movements is to make sure that people from all walks of life feel that the United States is a safe country for them to live in and that they do not have to worry about being attacked for who they are.

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Why wearing a mask is everyone’s business

Carolyn Martinez

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Almost 20 million people have contracted COVID-19 and there have been over half a million deaths as well. Public health experts have emphasized the use of face coverings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In response, extremist groups have taken to rallying against the use of masks, claiming the required use of masks is an infringement on their rights.

“Masks make us slaves,” mentioned a lady from Berlin. 

“Let kids be kids. No masks,” mentioned another from a Salt Lake City protest. 

The use of masks has been encouraged extensively for its effectiveness in retaining bodily fluid that spreads germs and, if contracted, COVID-19. There are countless graphics and scientific studies that prove the benefits of using masks in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Even so, a Florida restaurant owner, against mandated mask use, offered an anti-mask extremist group free meals at his restaurant, which violated Orange County’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces. Now, Florida is the world’s new epicenter for the virus.

Many people protest outside of a building, people carry the US Flag and other flags, many people carry signs with black and red text.
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The use of masks, as well as the handle of the virus, has become a political topic to be debated rather than a humanitarian emergency.

When public officials require the use of masks, there is a perception that constitutional rights are being infringed. However, in that thought, there’s a selfish disregard for those that don’t have basic human needs met, such as access to proper healthcare. 

This pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted systemic disparities that exist in low-income families’ lack of access to healthcare.

Those that feel so inclined to attend rallies and protest the use of masks feel secure in their access to healthcare, the quality of treatment they may be receiving, and the fact that they can financially afford to be incapacitated by the virus. That is not a luxury that everyone has. 

A man with a beard and a black shirt shouts at a police officer with a mask on and a police uniform.
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Nevertheless, those against the use of masks are constantly in contention with the public officials that require them.

Treating masks as something worth debating invalidates the lives of those who don’t have any of the aforementioned luxuries.

Additionally, it creates an excess of conversation around something timely that can cost people’s lives. 

Some people have taken to social media to voice these protests.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but with the Black Lives Matter movement necessitating protest and attention, communities of color have had to endure two intense traumas.

Politicians have taken the opportunity to politicize the pandemic at the expense of communities of color. And as the aforementioned tweet pointed out, some people just don’t recognize oppression and thus minimize others’ experiences for their benefit. 

People have forgotten to listen to the real experts, those that are informed on the risks of the virus, and are knowledgeable about how it spreads and how to contain it. Instead, they focus on those wanting to start speculative arguments, while millions continue to die.

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4 Psychedelic Drugs That Are Shockingly Beneficial in Treating Mental Health Issues

Anna Leikvold

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Psychedelic drugs have been used across cultures for centuries, but only recently has modern science begun to tap into the potential use of these drugs as a mental health treatment.

The word psychedelic comes from two Greek roots: “psyche,” meaning mind/soul, and “Delos/delic,” meaning to reveal. Thus, the word translates to “soul/ mind revealing.”

Unfortunately, for this potentially revolutionary mental health treatment, the long-held stigma towards drugs continues to complicate research. For a while, this made it nearly impossible to continue looking into the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. These restrictions are loosening, however, and the FDA has even called psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy.” This means more and more researchers are able to study these drugs. The findings are often groundbreaking.

 Trials are currently underway to test psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and others in order to treat a predicted mental health epidemic that is beginning to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While more research is needed, preliminary findings are shockingly successful in treating mental health issues including, but not limited to, PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and anxiety.

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Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)

Research done with Psilocybin suggests that it may be successful in providing a lasting decrease in anxiety for people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer. 

In combination with therapy, the drug helped 13 participants “grapple with loss and existential distress.” Nearly all participants reported that they developed a different understanding of dying after using the drug according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

“Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence,” said Agin-Liebes.

Another study suggests that psilocybin can be used on patients with treatment-resistant depression with promising results. The results show symptom improvements for the patients after just two psilocybin treatment sessions which remained significant 6 months after the treatment.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca has played an important part in many South American traditional religions for centuries. This plant-derived psychoactive drug was first formulated by indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin.

 Some communities that use the drug regularly still exist in the 21st century despite exploitative measures of Western nations who saw the drug as “uncivilized.” The substance is typically prepared by a shaman or religious guide and ingested by members of a religious group. The substance is regarded as a valuable tool in places of worship. 

Ayahuasca has only recently been studied as a potential treatment for depression and addiction, or for people coping with trauma. 

“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism,” said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.

Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on past use of hallucinogens and their emotions and spirituality levels. The study found that using hallucinogens related to a higher level of spirituality and emotional wellbeing as well as fewer symptoms of disordered eating, depression, and anxiety.

Swirling colorful patterns depicting the affects of LSD.
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LSD

A 2016 study found that after taking LSD, healthy participants reported increased optimism and trait openness. The study seems to reinforce the idea that psychedelics improve psychological wellbeing in the mid-long term.

 LSD, like Psilocybin and Ayahuasca, shows promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression among other conditions. It is also commonly reported to increase spirituality and, in turn, emotional wellbeing. 

In an interview with an anonymous source, they claimed that taking LSD substantially decreased their levels of social anxiety.

“Going into the trip, I set an intention to address my feelings of anxiety around my self-perception,” they said. “By focusing on this throughout the trip, I was shocked by how much happier I felt afterward.”
They say that the positive effects have continued in the months following the experience. “I can’t believe how much more self-assured I feel now. It is like night and day.” 

They want to remind everyone that it is a serious drug and not to underestimate the power of it, and not to abuse it. “If you are going to trip, you need to do a lot of research and be in a safe environment with people you trust.”  While they continue to experience long-term positive effects, they know it is not the same for everyone. 

MDMA

MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is in its third and last phase of clinical trials and is hoping to win approval by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Findings from the study also suggest that the drug can help treat social anxiety in autistic adults when used in combination with psychotherapy. Twelve adults in the study with moderate to severe anxiety showed “significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms” according to the research. 

“Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” said Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. MDMA and therapy, based on this research, could be a potential breakthrough for this condition.

These studies only represent a small percentage of a larger database of information on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. While the findings are promising, more research is needed. Self-treatment using these drugs is risky and potentially dangerous.

If you are interested, contact a medical professional and continue to do extensive research before taking any type of psychedelic. Waiting until they are an FDA approved treatment option will be the safest and most effective way to treat any mental health condition.

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