Bad Brown Aunties: A Powerful and Unapologetically Bold Podcast

Photo Source: Shruti Parekh

Photo Source: Shruti Parekh

Bad Brown Aunties is the podcast I never knew I always wanted.

This new podcast is hosted by two queer desi immigrants, Rage Kidvai and Thanu Yakupitiyage. When listening, it doesn’t feel as if the hosts are performing in that podcast-y way. Instead, it feels as if I were listening to friends chatting in a fresh, light-hearted, fierce and authentic way. The podcast is about art, culture, politics, and legacy through the lens of amazing and creative people of color.

So far, the Bad Brown Aunties have interviewed Adam Bainbridge aka Kindness and their close friend from Hampshire College, Lupita Nyong’o . . . Yes, that Lupita. That specific episode was really beautiful and intimate. I heard the hosts speaking to the person not the persona. Lupita recounted how they all met on the first day of college at International Student Orientation, they reminisced on funny moments and then Lupita really opened up and discussed her vulnerabilities and fears about immigrating to the US in a way that only these hosts could have conjured . . .

Personal Photo: Rage Kidvai, Lupita N’yongo, Thanu Yakupitiyage

Personal Photo: Rage Kidvai, Lupita N’yongo, Thanu Yakupitiyage

Rage and I both work as attorneys at the same public defender organization in Brooklyn. When we were riding up the elevator to our offices a few weeks ago I asked Rage if they and Thanu would like to share with me what compelled them to start Bad Brown Aunties. After hearing their answers, I just can’t wait to hear more episodes!

Photo Source: Shruti Parekh

Photo Source: Shruti Parekh

I heard that you met in the airport in 2003. Were you in the same program?

R: Yup! We met at Logan Airport so we could get picked up by International Student Orientation leaders from Hampshire College (in Amherst, MA).

You are both SO multi-talented. Tell us what job pays the bills and all of your other unpaid gigs.  

R: That’s super kind of you! I think this is a place where we can sort of boast about the other person . . . so I’ll say that Thanu is one of the most hardworking people I know. I constantly feel like she has more hours in a day than I do. She’s a climate and immigrant justice organizer and uses her comms skills to support social justice work. She’s also a DJ (“Ushka”) and has been super influential as a queer immigrant woman of color DJ, paving the way for so many other folks. I think she’s using her media and social justice skills to create more and more art which makes me incredibly happy.

T:  But let me tell you about Rage! They’ve always been multi-talented. When I met Rage we were 18, I was so in awe of this young activist who had done so much to bring youth together from all over South Asia. Rage has also always been an incredible visual artist - and each of the episodes of Bad Brown Aunties has a portrait painted by Rage. Not only are they a badass lawyer and advocate fighting for abolition and for people’s freedom through their day job at Legal Aid and 5 Boro Defenders, they also went to hair school and learnt how to be a hairstylist. This is on top of having a filmmaking background! Rage sometimes does my hair for DJ gigs and honestly, without them, I’d probably be a hot mess.

Is Bad Brown Aunties a place to mesh together all of your talents in one place? I feel like very few spaces would really allow ALL of each of you.

R: I think that’s a really good assessment. As a lawyer/public defender I don’t get to have the creative parts of me satiated. And so painting happened as a response to that. But then I knew I wouldn’t be happy if making art didn’t feel connected to my politics. This podcast allows us to dream of the revolution by talking to people whose personal lives are obviously political, consistently center qtpoc as a way to push back on the notion of white “expertise” about poc issues, all while feeling like the creative parts of our brains are working.

T: Collaboration is really important to me - I think the most beautiful projects come through blending of skills. Because Rage and I became adults together and went to college together, we came into the same political understandings and activist communities together. Where we diverged was in our art. What’s awesome about Bad Brown Aunties is we bring all of ourselves to it. For example, the first episode features a musician and DJ, Kindness. It’s sort of fitting that the first episode features a musician and that we also talk about politics and the impact of imprisonment on that individual’s family. I put together the playlist featured on the blog for the episode (and will continue to curate playlists for each guest). Rage did the art. We edit each episode together. Rage has a lot of strengths in website design and I have skills in social media engagement. We just bring it all together, which is awesome.

What was missing in the podcast world that needed to be told?

T: We think this is a fresh and new concept - to delve into the creativity in our community, dig into the root of what makes people do the work that they do, and also reflect people’s inspirations and the legacy of what has led people to do what they do. We think this is something that’s been missing in a world where capitalism tells us to be so individualistic that we don’t give credit to those who came before us. We feel it honors both the present and the past.

What are the main themes that connect all of the episodes?

R: Identity, Legacy, Social Justice, Love

I was compelled to your podcast because I definitely view myself as a "Bad Brown Aunty". But more importantly I knew I would hear a perspective that we don't get to hear outside of our small communities… Is this a love letter to your community?

R: We’re thrilled you see yourself as a Bad Brown Aunty!! I think it is absolutely a love letter to our communities. When we started this project we wanted to shine a light not only on our contemporaries but the people who shaped them. We wanted to be really clear that we know people of color, queers, tgnc folks, migrants, etc . . . have been founders and leaders of movements. As for our audience, I hope our communities listen and feel appreciated and enjoy insider moments and think through the ways in which we need to grow internally. And then I hope the larger community is able to see that we are the experts of our own lives, learn from the gifts that these personal conversations are, while understanding our value doesn’t come from the approval of oppressors.

Painting of Adam Bainbridge aka Kindness by Rage Kidvai

Painting of Adam Bainbridge aka Kindness by Rage Kidvai

In the first episode your guest discusses life in South Africa and South Asian proximity to Whiteness. Will colorism and non-black POC privilege, especially within the South Asian community be discussed more?

R: I think there’s so much work that we need to do within South Asian communities to acknowledge relative privilege(s) externally and within. Our history in places like South Africa has been one of asserting relative closeness to the colonizer at the expense of Black South Africans. Also there’s a whole range of South Asian experiences, and Anti-Blackness is at the crux of conversations around colorism for instance. Being honest about power dynamics allows us to know where we need to do the work. It helps us build solidarity. Finally, critiques can be labors of love. We have so much pride in our respective heritage and cultures, and it’s precisely that love that makes us want to commit to working on the ways in which we replicate oppressive dynamics.

Your guest also brought up something really important. They mentioned how they wait for artists to approach them since they are not Black and they do Hip Hop. Will the podcast be unpacking structures amongst POC?

T:  We think it’s important to be real about dynamics between communities of color and the ways in which appropriation and replication of oppression works. We hope that by addressing this through the thoughtful conversations we have with our guests, it actually helps listeners think about how to make art and be involved in activism in responsible ways.

Original Art: Mohammed Fayaz

Original Art: Mohammed Fayaz

Why is your podcast important NOW, at this moment?

T: We’re experiencing the rise of the Right across the world right now from the U.S. to India to Brazil and parts of Europe. It’s a really anxious time for a lot of us - and in times like this it’s important to reflect on our histories as we pave the way for our future. We have survived these things before, and with each other, we will again. It’s also important to remember joy in the revolution - and we think this podcast helps do that.

What effect, if any, do you hope your podcast will have?

T: We hope the podcast will make listeners feel that they can be whomever they want to be. Queer, brown, black, immigrant folks have incredible histories and legacies, though so often erased, that can help pave the way for our communities. We hope that each episode and our guests make people feel seen and inspired to continue pushing forward their dreams and creativity. We also think it’s so important to connect art and politics - and this podcast hopefully helps people connect those dots.

Tell me about your childhood and why you came to the US. Your immigration story, if you will.

R: We grew up super differently even though we’re both South Asian. However some of the common themes are that we came to the US at 18 for college as international students. I don’t think we came with the intention of migrating - our families continue to be in our respective homelands in South and Southeast Asia. We had relatively privileged immigration stories, although still, for me as a Pakistani Muslim in a post-911 world, the process was fraught with anxiety . . . Thanu and I often talk about how fearful our immigration system makes you, and how hard it is to root yourself when you operate under a constant level of stress. How you’re constantly having to remind people of your precarity. How things like protests - which we both value immensely - can feel so vulnerable.

T: I grew up between Sri Lanka and Thailand. My father is a professor and my mother is a teacher. Because of my father’s work, I had lived in several places - a work visa-dependent baby, if you will.  There is a specific privilege about being able to come to the U.S. for university, even if on a scholarship. Certainly our ability to migrate was really impacted by increased surveillance on black and brown communities after 2001, particularly Muslim communities.. It’s been a struggle to stay in the U.S. but I’m very grateful for my community and work that has helped keep me here.

Photo Source: Seth Wessler, Rage and Thanu at Hampshire College

Photo Source: Seth Wessler, Rage and Thanu at Hampshire College

Desi Aunties have such bad raps as being gossipy and overbearing. Is that why you chose the name? Are you trying to reframe?

T:  One of the main points of Bad Brown Aunties is to rethink and reframe “aunties” as people who challenge patriarchy; to serve as a reminder of all the incredible auntie contributions to community, social movements and culture. A lot of folks have worked hard to reclaim the notion of “aunties” and we want to make sure we credit them. That said, a bulk of the tropes continue to be limited to incomplete and uncomplicated narratives of being gossipy/not talking about substance for instance, and generally being the upholders of oppressive social/ gender norms. How does that change for instance, once we remember that “aunties” aren’t necessarily cis-women; but rather that trans women and gender nonconforming people always have been and continue to be aunties? What if instead of thinking of them as “bitchy” or “catty” we think of them as powerful and unapologetically bold? We’re hoping this podcast encourages people to contend with these ideas as a path to our own liberation.

What is your self-care regimen?

R: Oh man. It’s funny, this podcast sort of started as a self-care project but now I sometimes feel like I need to think about how to care for myself through this! Although, it has felt super rejuvenating. I also love painting. Reading. Spending time with the people I love. Alone time. Saying my Namaaz even though I’m not very religious because that’s essentially how I learned to meditate as a kid. Committing to therapy when I can.

T: I need more of a self care regimen honestly. I think I’m a bit of a workaholic. I like putting on face masks, watching trashy TV, cuddling with my cats. Honestly, DJing is a kind of self care for me too.

Have you listened to the Bad Brown Aunties podcast yet? What did you think?