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  • Quirk NLS

Passing the Mic: From Appropriation to Allyship

This article has been written by Anonymous. This image is from Pass the Mic Youth (@passthemicyouth), a youth-led and youth-centered podcast and blog (info via Medium).

The most defining event in my student life, before I entered college, was the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. I was compelled to think about my caste/class privilege and read Ambedkar – which left me aghast by the level of apathy and downright hostility I saw everywhere, in my family and friend circles. Cut to college and I found a safe haven, where despite its many significant shortcomings and fair share of problematic viewpoints, people wanted to talk and debate about issues our circles outside usually wouldn’t even venture into. Yes, the student body comes from all walks of life and has diverse perspectives that they were brought up with, but there are also people who proudly profess their identity and causes, and constructively engage with our not-so ‘there yet’ peers.

However, over my years here, I have become wary. The point of our liberal arts education, constant peer engagement and the painstaking efforts of some of our professors is to open our eyes to the broad contours of oppressions and discriminations that surround us. We are aware of what we are supposed to say and how to behave in our social circles. We know that womxn and minorities face hurdles that most of us cannot even imagine. We are constantly talking about discourse and changing the status quo. But is it just a smokescreen? While well intentioned and coming from a place of unlearning years of unchecked privilege, why do the privileged still hold the mic?

Now the distinction that I draw, and personally believe in, is that of being able to speak about issues and the praxis which one indulges in. So yes, I think it is okay for a cis-male to speak about womxn’s issues or a financially well off person to talk about gig economy workers. Only a particular community can fully comprehend the depth of their lived experiences, but there cannot be a bar on anyone else who wishes to engage with any social issue. However, the line that I wish we would draw is of not co-opting  a communities’ narratives and exclusively holding the mic, but making that tough journey of true empathy in our own personal/professional circles.

When we come from homes/schools/communities where we didn’t know or understand the existence of the many injustices around us, a place and ‘woke’ social circles which constantly talk about topics of discrimination is amazing. We constantly learn to question it and our inherent biases, but talk is all we do. I am wary of fellow savarna feminists obsessively talking about what they perceive as oppressions being faced by Muslim and Dalit women, without having a spent a day in the latters’ shoes and this much-needed critique captures my sentiments the best. We post that ‘feministflowercrown’ story or tweet about our Bania-Brahmin government being oblivious to the real issues, but where does this activism go when it comes to our personal lives? After all, the personal is political.

Questioning the content this magazine puts out, made it introspect and actively seek different voices to publish on its platform. It still takes an incredible amount of courage to write what Abhishek and Manisha recently wrote or to chronicle the sexual harassment womxn continue to face in elite spaces like this college, because these are and will still be issues till an overwhelming political and social will to actually make that change comes. But what else have we done? We shared those stories on our social media accounts where our friends, coming from almost similar backgrounds, commented ‘aah yes, caste is real’. We tell ourselves the lie that ‘discourse’, ‘spreading awareness’ and sharing different point of views is the major extent of our contribution because ‘so many people just don’t know yet and something is better than nothing’.

Anecdotally, but I suspect also statistically, (considering the break-up of our student population, based on this still insightful survey), a lot of people who ‘speak up’ are people belonging to the dominant castes/classes. Our committees and various representative bodies are filled with the more privileged and so it is natural that they are put in positions to speak up more often. However, while it is widely accepted now to acknowledge the questions of caste/class/gender/sexuality when we discuss any policy affecting the student body, why is the question of representation only a check box to be ticked and making sure voices are heard the end of our responsibility? We never pause to internalise why our friend circle has nearly the same upbringing/world view like us – they just happen to be from a different tier-I/II city. Or why our committees value the same set of social skills and always have a younger version of some ‘super-studly’ senior. Our classrooms, practice debates and social media are filled with heavy academic discussions but our praxis extends to attending/organising a few talks, tweeting/reposting about oppression or any non-committal gesture which helps us feel better about ourselves for being a #ally.

I am guilty of this – my social circle and every space I have occupied in college is filled with people similar to me. I have spoken about diversity like it is not real life but another cutesy high school Netflix movie. We live in an astounding cognitive dissonance where we constantly talk about woke things and ‘cancel’ people who do not fit the right-talking-points mould. We will share the latest article on accessibility or attend a webinar on the hardships of migrant workers, but our friend circles will comprise people like us (a choice we perhaps make subconsciously) or unthinkingly end up mentoring juniors who come from similar privileges. We will support affirmative action in educational and work spaces, but fill our committees and our moot and debate teams with different hues of similarly-placed people. We will pat ourselves on the back for asking tough questions, but still be the gatekeepers. We will speak and speak and speak, but not pass the mic.


If you wish to know more about allyship and appropriation here is a recommended read by the author – Between Savior and Seller: Critiquing Preface Politics

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